"I'm just not college material."
D'Andrea Young cringes every time a student speaks those words in her office at Booker T. Washington High School in Houston. Then she works tirelessly to transform doubt and confusion into knowledge and confidence.
Young is one of 15 University of Texas at Austin graduates currently serving as college advisers with Advise TX, a program that strives to increase college access for low-income and underrepresented students. Based in the College of Education's Institute for Public School Initiatives, Advise TX is a branch of the National College Advising Corps. The program leverages recent graduates of leading universities to educate high school students about college admissions and financial aid. Advisers work full-time in at-risk schools, and as successful recent graduates themselves, they provide a positive role model for the students they mentor.
Young is well acquainted with the challenges some students face on the road to college. Not long ago, she was in their shoes.
A first-generation college student, Young credits the Longhorn Scholars program for helping her apply to The University of Texas at Austin and excel in her studies: "It was because of my mentor and the advising staff in the Longhorn Scholars office that I was able to make a smooth transition from high school to a huge university like UT."
After graduating last year with a degree in communication studies, Young came full-circle by becoming a college adviser. At Booker T. Washington, she meets with students one-on-one, holds group sessions to demystify college applications and financial aid forms, and finds scholarship and enrichment opportunities for her mentees.
The position has also given her a sense of professional direction, Young said. While she had initially planned to join the corporate world, Advise TX sparked her interest in educational inequity. After completing an optional second year as an adviser, she hopes to enter a master's program in educational administration or educational policy.
Emily Watson, program director for the Advise TX University of Texas at Austin chapter, helped bring the corps to the university last year. Now hiring for its second year, the program is expanding to Texas AandM University, Rice University, Texas Christian University and Trinity University. In fall 2011, up to 56 University of Texas at Austin grads will join 64 other advisers from across the state.
"Our advisers have been incredible advocates for their students," Watson said. "Because our advisers are close in age with the students they are serving, they can connect with students in ways that others sometimes cannot."
Watson recounted how one adviser learned that students studying cosmetology at his high school were automatically placed in a minimum graduation plan, preventing them from attending college. The adviser worked with the school staff to enroll the students in an academic plan that would give them the option to attend college.
By focusing solely on college advising, the advisers serve a unique role distinct from that of guidance counselors or other school staff. "So far this school year, the advisers have conducted over 19,500 one-on-one meetings with students to talk about college options, applications, and financial aid," Watson said.
Students and recent graduates interested in becoming a college adviser should visit the Advise TX Web site. For applicants from The University of Texas at Austin, the final application deadline is April 18.
Read a related story on Advise TX including a Q-and-A with a high school principal on how the college advisers help.