There’s No Question: Hard Work in School Still Matters in College Admissions

By: Allysunn Walker-Williams, MBA, MPH

As a mother of two college-bound teens and the CEO of one of Los Angeles’ first college access nonprofits, it’s disheartening to see lower-income and first-generation students across the country feel like they can never, ever compete with kids who come from families with immense financial advantages. Every day since the college admissions scandal came into the public eye, and even before the news broke, students have been asking a powerful question: Will the hours we spend preparing for tests, juggling part-time jobs and advanced classes, and striving to overcome the odds actually make a difference when it comes to getting into college?

I can’t lie to them…which is why my answer to their question is a confident and resounding “Yes.”

How do I know? Because ethical and equitable college access organizations like Fulfillment Fund are empowering students to make college a reality – and the results of our efforts are real.

Fulfillment Fund served 2,035 students last year, with 95% ultimately enrolling in college. Throughout our history, we’ve supported more than 20,000 young people on this life-changing journey to higher education. Who are these future leaders? If you put them together in a room, 84% will have parents who do not have a four-year college degree. 87% will qualify for free or reduced-price meals, which tells us that they are living in a lower-income household. 94% will be students of color. When it comes down to it, there are no students more diligent, resilient and persevering than the ones we serve. They are tireless. They are overcomers. They are heroes – but sometimes, even heroes need a helping hand to climb higher.

Take our student David, for example. David grew up in a Los Angeles community where young people like him are automatically expected to become high school dropouts. His parents’ income was always on his mind, and he knew that there was only enough money to pay for their family’s basic necessities. He struggled with his English, avoided speaking up in class, and was on the verge of losing hope in school. Still, David couldn’t shake his curiosity about college.

In high school, David was introduced to the Fulfillment Fund’s college access services and his entire story changed. He visited top-tier colleges on field trips, attended college preparation workshops, learned more about financial aid options like scholarships, took part in extracurricular activities, improved his leadership skills, and realized that college could actually be a possibility in his future. By his senior year, he had a 4.0 GPA and his confidence in English had dramatically improved. But, his school college counselor was new to her position and wasn’t able to give him the focused attention, deadline reminders and submission support that he needed as a first-generation student. His Fulfillment Fund counselors were there to fill in the gaps, encouraging him and guiding him to ultimately submit 15 college applications.

This spring, David was accepted to Dickinson College with a full-ride scholarship. He can’t wait to continue studying English so that one day, he can give back to students like him and encourage them to strive for excellence.

David’s story is just one of thousands that showcase how college access services have the power to change a student’s future and revealing to them their superpower – that with supportive resources and a belief that they can succeed, they can compete with any other student out there.

So, as students and their parents wonder if hard work really matters and question whether it’s possible to ethically get help on their road to college, I will continue to reply with “Yes.”

Yes, sometimes the barriers lower-income and students of color face can feel insurmountable – but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to overcome them and succeed.

Yes, the college admissions system can be skewed in favor of a select few – but that doesn’t mean it is broken beyond repair.

Yes, it is possible to ethically help students earn a place in college – but genuine services like Fulfillment Fund can’t exist without the public’s support.

In the wake of this scandal, we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s hard to get into college, even for the most capable students. Now more than ever, we need to invest in the power of college access organizations like the Fulfillment Fund and other nonprofits nationwide that empower students from diverse backgrounds to get into college. Our collective future depends on it.

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