CollegeTracks changes lives and communities by giving first-generation-to-college students the chance to go to college and succeed there.
Hiwot left Ethiopia with her father in 2008 as a political asylee. She arrived in the US not speaking English, but with a focused and determined spirit. She worked with CollegeTracks her junior and senior year of high school. As a sophomore at Smith College in Boston, Hiwot reflects on her experiences below:
I moved to Maryland from Ethiopia my junior year of high school, I was new: new to the school, the country, the language, the whole system. Right away I realize my life depended on getting into college. My parents were encouraging but didn’t know how to help. They didn’t go to college in the US. CollegeTracks was absolutely my main source of information.
With CollegeTracks, I started talking about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to study. I realized I had choices. I’ve always been interested in pre-med, engineering and the sciences. Pre-med is a way for me to help people. For a long time I’ve wanted to work for Doctors without Borders. But math and physics are also my thing so I wanted to study engineering.
CollegeTracks helped me explore my interests. Together, we found a summer program at Smith College in science and engineering for high school girls. I spent four weeks taking classes in robotics class and computer programming. I enjoyed my time there, but wasn’t sure I wanted to come for college. I applied to 15 schools and was accepted at 10. I went back to Smith to visit. I saw what it was like for the students and I got offered a very nice scholarship. CollegeTracks helped me see and understand that I had choices. I chose Smith College in Boston. If not for them, I would have gone somewhere easier, close to home.
CollegeTracks didn’t stop there. When I was a senior, after all the students got accepted to college, CollegeTracks did a college success workshop. That was helpful. College is different from high school in terms of what’s expected of you. I learned a lot about time-management, note taking, talking to your professors, and finding someone close to you on campus to talk to about problems.
I’m in my second year at Smith. I’m an engineering major doing pre-med on the side. CollegeTracks helped me arrange my pre-med studies with the engineering. CollegeTracks is like family. They are always checking in on us. It makes me feel better to know they are there and thanks to them, I continue to have choices.
CollegeTracks is the only organization in Montgomery County that works full time in the high schools to give low income, first generation students the chance to go to college where they can succeed—with enough financial aid and continuing support to help them attain the degrees they seek.
To compete for living-wage jobs that enable a family to rise above poverty, one must have a college degree. A high school diploma will no longer suffice, especially in a region such as Greater Washington where a college degree is a required credential. Nearly every job—including electrician, auto mechanic, and office worker—requires high-tech skills and education after high school.
Getting to college is vastly more complex than it used to be. While still in high school, students have to navigate taking AP and IB classes, the SAT or ACT, TOEFL, and Accuplacer placement tests. There are thousands of colleges, in and out of state, public, private, and for-profit. The cost of college has grown enormously and most low-income students do not know how to apply for financial aid from federal and state government or private sources.
How We Do It
Our professional staff is highly trained in supporting students through the college admissions and financial aid process. Each year, we recruit more than 50 community volunteers to help us give personalized, one-on-one attention to students in our program. Together, we help students achieve college admission, apply for and receive financial aid, and succeed in college.
Last year, 99% of CollegeTracks’ 322 seniors were accepted into college and were offered more than $5.5 million in financial aid. Their success translates into our opportunity –opportunity for our county to continue to flourish and grow.