Bridging the gap when applying to college (Transcript)

Produced by Gabrielle DiBenedetto and Kate Jungers

Gabrielle DiBenedetto: For some high school students, attending a four year university is something that is expected. These students typically come from well-educated and financially stable families. Unfortunately, for many students throughout the state of Wisconsin and the nation, attending an institution of higher education may be extremely unlikely or even nearly impossible given the limited resources and opportunities they face.

Along with family and financial history, some students may not have the opportunity to attend K-12 schools that have the resources to properly prepare students for college. For example, some rural high schools may not have ACT prep classes, AP course programs or counseling advisers.  A combination of all of these factors may prevent many minority or low income students from being accepted or encouraged to apply at all.  Rommel Jimenez, a UW-Madison admissions representative, addresses some of the ways UW reviews applications from students that may be from low income or underprivileged backgrounds.  

Rommel Jimenez: “So we look at everyone in the context of their school and how they challenged themselves with what was available for them, so we are aware that some students from certain schools might not have much of an AP class curriculum, but we are still looking for those students who have challenged themselves as best as possible.”

GD: The university understands that not all students are the same, and that some need more guidance than others. In these situations, there are many programs at UW that are specifically equipped to assist students with particular areas of need.

RJ: “We also then recommend for those additional support programs for students where we feel that they will do well, and this is also not limited to for example students in urban centers, this also applies to students sometimes from rural Wisconsin where the resources aren’t there, first generation students, and that’s where we then recommend them to COE programs things like that, just so they have a bit of additional advising to help them through because a lot of times these students don’t really know what to expect, they don’t have older siblings, they don’t have their parents to tell them make sure you start looking at what classes to take halfway through your first semester, so it kind of helps them give them that extra support of advising while they are here.”

GD: One of the most prominent programs that UW-Madison offers to people of color and low income students is the PEOPLE Program, which stands for Pre-college Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence. Savion Castro, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been a member of the PEOPLE program since sixth grade.

Savian Castro: “It was made in 1999 as part of the diversity plan so it’s an effort to make the university more diverse, kind of predicated on the wisconsin idea thing that we should help communities outside of the university’s borders, it’s goal is to get underrepresented communities into the university.  It’s not just some free giveaway, you have to go through all the programs and all the work starting at sixth grade.”

GD: The PEOPLE program is very demanding of students starting at a young age. The program requires students to study for two to six hours a day, four days a week, depending on the student’s GPA. In the summer, over 1,000 PEOPLE program students spend a duration of three weeks on UW-Madison’s campus in Witte Hall to explore possible major and career options ranging from law, computer science, to physics. In the summer of their senior year, students spend six weeks on campus, and also must hold an internship. For example, Castro worked on the 2012 Obama Campaign, registering people to vote and tweeting from the campaign twitter account.

The goal for students in the PEOPLE Program is to graduate and be accepted to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. If accepted, they will receive a full scholarship to the university, and will continue with the program until they successfully graduate and begin a career. On average, 94% of students in the PEOPLE program graduate high school and enter some form of higher education. When enrolled at UW-Madison, college students are helped with resume, interview and professional skills to help them find a job. Castro attributes much of his success at UW to the PEOPLE program.      

SC: “I really connected with people who went through similar experiences as I, so that really helped because there wasn’t a lot of that in my high school I’ve made some of my best friends in PEOPLE program. I wouldn’t have as diverse a friend group, I wouldn’t be as smart, I might not even be at this university.”

GD: Not only does the PEOPLE program assist students with their admissions process but the support continues on campus in the fall.

RJ: “It’s been really well, we follow up with the students and their GPAs when they get here, it’s also a great way for students to get to know other students that have similar backgrounds when they get here because there are cases when students may come here and they have nothing in common with other students in residence halls just because they have completely different backgrounds, but of course that’s part of the learning and part of learning in a university.  I’d say most students benefit from these programs with an additional bit of help.”

GD: In conclusion, programs like PEOPLE are helping students from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds join the campus community.