By Eric Garneau
In 1998, Harvard sophomore Eugenie Lang Rosenthal saw the difficulty that many students - especially those from lower-income families - had in gaining access to college, so she decided to do something about it. That led to her founding Let's Get Ready, an organization dedicated to improving college matriculation for its participants through SAT and admissions counseling. What began in a church basement now operates in many locations across the East Coast, and last year Let's Get Ready served over 2,500 students; in total, more than 12,000 college hopefuls have been helped by the program. Executive Director Lauri Novick and Director of Programs Rachel Cleaver took the time to answer our questions about how Let's Get Ready prepares students for college success.
Study.com: Your website boasts a 90% college admissions rate for participants. What do you think it is that makes it so successful? Can it be replicated by high schools?
Let's Get Ready: The program's success can be attributed to the mentoring power of our college students. Having recently gone through the college process themselves, they're intimately familiar with the SAT and know all the ins and outs of the application process. They know how to write an essay, fill out the necessary forms and research colleges to find a good fit. Being close in age to high school participants, our college students speak their language and thus relate to them well and are able to form close bonds with our participants.
Let's Get Ready operates in conjunction with high schools in the areas we have a presence; we work with guidance counselors and teachers to supplement the great work they're already doing and provide an additional service to their students that further motivates them to attend college. High school personnel can encourage their administration to sponsor a Let's Get Ready program for their students.
E-P: What made Let's Get Ready focus on SAT tests and college admissions counseling? What about those two things do you think specifically makes an impact on students getting into college?
LGR: Applying to college is scary, competitive and expensive. The SAT preparation and mentoring we provide helps our students believe in their potential. Let's Get Ready steps into students' lives at a pivotal moment when they realize they lack the critical resources necessary to achieve their dream. We provide not only instruction but also inspiration and confidence.
E-P: Your massive volunteer corps is made up of college students. Are many of your volunteers past students you've helped? How can interested students lend a hand to your cause?
LGR: Many of our high school participants come back to the program as coaches either in their home towns or at the college campuses where they attend school. Some then go on to become site directors, supervising and managing the program at a particular location. We also had one high school student actually bring the program to Tufts University in 2008. That program partners with Somerville High School and serves roughly 55-60 students each fall and spring semester.
Interested students can lend a hand by volunteering to coach in the program and by spreading the word about us to potential funders. Former students who come back as coaches and directors continue the cycle of service.
E-P: Your organization's based out of Harvard, one of the most respected institutions of higher learning in the country. What kind of opportunities does that open up for you?
LGR: The fact that it was created by a Harvard alumnus helped the organization obtain its initial funding. Currently, opportunities that open up for Let's Get Ready result mostly from our proven success stories and positive press. Although Let's Get Ready has strong roots at Harvard, our main office is now in New York City and we have an additional office near South Station in Boston. We also work with colleges from Philadelphia to Maine.
E-P: Might there be any expansion in your future? If not, what can parties in other areas of the country do to help with your mission?
LGR: Our long-term goal is expansion to other areas. The program is scalable, replicable and cost-efficient. Our curriculum has become just about as standardized as the SAT test itself. All we need is the necessary funding.
E-P: A major part of Let's Get Ready's focus involves leveling the playing field for less economically well-off high school students. What are some things you think could be done at a policy level to give more students an opportunity to go to college?
LGR: There are two major issues that face many Let's Get Ready students and other underserved students throughout the country. The first is the affordability of college. College prices continue to rise and federal aid money is always being threatened. It's important that Pell Grants increase rather than decrease. Colleges should also be accountable for making sure that their high costs are not prohibiting low-income students from attending.
The second issue is access to higher education for undocumented students. Many students came to the United States when very little have completed all of their education here, and some did not even know they were undocumented until they started the college process. Policies such as the DREAM Act will help open doors for some of these motivated students.
E-P: Your website states that 'going to college is the most definitive step a young person can take toward a successful future.' Why do you feel that's so?
LGR: Going to college opens doors to career opportunities that require a college degree, and it's a way to lift an entire family out of poverty. Education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. This is why it's certainly one of the most definitive steps a young person can take toward a successful future.
What's Amherst College doing to make admissions more fair?