Penn Launches "How to Apply to College"

Over the years that I've worked with high schoolers and their families guiding them through the college admissions process, I've always tried to extend my help to those who have needed it most. Looking back, I think that pro bono work can be many times the most rewarding. That thought leads me to an exciting new program being launched by the University of Pennsylvania (“Penn").

According to a recent news release, starting in February, the admissions office at Penn, in conjunction with Steppingstone Scholars, will launch a free online learning initiative aimed at increasing access to college. The massive open online course, “How to Apply to College," will be offered via the Coursera platform.

In case you don't know about Coursera, here's some background:

Coursera /kərˈsɛrə/ is a venture-backed, for-profit, educational technology company that offers massive open online courses (MOOCs). Coursera works with universities and other organizations to make some of their courses available online, offering courses in subjects such as physics, engineering, humanities, medicine, biology, social sciences, mathematics, business, computer science, digital marketing, and data science, among others. …

“This course," said Penn Provost Vincent Price, “embodies the power of online learning to reach new audiences and to provide them with invaluable resources that can improve their lives. It reflects Penn's deep commitment to increasing access to applicants to all colleges, especially those who may come from underrepresented or underserved areas. Thanks to Penn Admissions, Steppingstone Scholars, and everyone who has worked with them, this historic initiative is becoming a reality."

Regarding Steppingstone Scholars:

Steppingstone Scholars was established in 1999 and has been providing academic enrichment programs and supports to not only their Scholars, but also families of the Scholars and the schools they attend. Steppingstone's programs focus on serving students ages 10-24, in order to help them be successful in middle and high school, and now through college. Steppingstone has seen tremendous success from its programs: 100% of Scholars from the Class of 2013 and 2014 graduated from high school, compared to the 64% graduation rate for the School District of Philadelphia; 75% of these Scholars are attending colleges and universities rated Very, Highly, and Most Competitive according to Barron's.

The course is designed to help students, family members and others navigate the college search and selection process, from finding the right school to making a successful transition to a college environment. Dean of admissions, Eric Furda, notes that the goal isn't to go to college. Rather, he says, the goal is to graduate from college. The course will be especially helpful in closing the information gap for students who are the first in their families to attend college (known as “first generation" applicants) and students who are underrepresented in higher education (sometimes referred to as “URMs" — underrepresented minorities). Penn feels that it is essential to pool all of the best resources together and share this information about a highly complex process in an easily accessible place, thus resulting in an innovative way to address access and equity issues.

Each online class is interactive with videos and quizzes that deliver an overview of the college application process, what to look for in a college, how to pay for college and how to set oneself up for success following enrollment. The course can be taken in its entirety or as individual segments according to the user's interest.

Sean Vereen, president of Steppingstone, says, “The authenticity of this course will really hit home because we are sharing the stories of first-generation students, including some Steppingstone Scholars who are applying to or already in college, as well as four students from Penn, who have traversed the process, showing first-generation, low-income students that, yes, there are people just like you who are out there doing this."

Guidance on paying for higher education, includes step-by-step exercises on how to apply for financial aid, scholarship resources, how to use a net price calculator for an easy cost comparison as well as new resources like, a way for high school students to earn money for college beginning as early as the ninth grade.

“ incentivizes smart decision-making and good academic behavior throughout high school," Vereen said, “and it lets students raise money with its partner universities. For example, if a student in high school gets a 3.0, he or she might receive $200 toward financial aid." How to Apply to College will also provide students with access to online tools that they can use after they've completed the course.

Even if you have considered negotiating the college admissions process alone, I encourage you to check out this free program. The college admissions maze is becoming more complex — and competitive — every year. This gathering of free resources just might be the answer to many of your questions, questions that you may not even anticipate asking at this point.


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