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Three Things Every College Applicant Can Learn from KIPP 

by Carol Barash, PhD, on Aug 14, 2013 7:27:00 PM

Last week, I attended the KIPP School Summit in Las Vegas and participated in KIPP Through College’s seminars for their college counselors. Having advised students on college admissions for over 20 years, I was amazed at how KIPP has broken down the college process and made it manageable. They are focused not just on getting students into college but getting through college to a meaningful life.

The statistics are staggering. “Only one in 10 low income students graduates from college,” explained Craig Robinson, KIPP’s National Director for Alumni Relations. “We wanted to create a clear message that everyone could focus on to improve all students’ college outcomes. Our shift from ‘KIPP to College’ to ‘KIPP through College’ is about students not just getting admitted to college, but graduating and having quality life choices.”

Every single student, parent, and even seasoned counselors involved in college admissions this year would be wise to take these three simple plays from KIPP’s college success playbook:

1. Know Your Numbers. Look for colleges where your grades and test scores are a strong match. If you have taken the most challenging courses your high school offers and done well in them, that is the strongest indicator of your success in college. If you are from a disadvantaged background, you may be given some leeway on your test scores (because you’ve likely had less money and encouragement to prep for standardized tests). And if you come from a high school that is well-known as an academic powerhouse, you can be pretty deep in your class rank and still be a very strong student. Aim for schools where most of the students have numbers similar to yours, and you will be in the right ballpark to succeed in getting into college. You should also find a few colleges that stretch just beyond the numbers as other factors may bolster the chances of your admissions such as leadership qualities, interest, geographic diversity, and perseverance. You can find great choices at College Prowler,, and


2. Build a Smart Wish List. Of all the colleges you can get into (and there will be many of them), which are the best fit for you? How robust are their academic and career support services? Is it a place where you feel like you’ll be able to ask for help? Which schools have the activities that are most important to you? If you are the lead drummer in your school’s drum corps, will you be able to expand your drumming prowess in college? If you want to mentor urban youth, make sure to find a college in a city. But even more than activities, what is the culture like? You can really only figure this out by visiting, or at least talking honestly with people who attend a school.

3. Prepare For The Cost of College. The No. One reason students don’t finish college is money. My two older kids graduated from college in 2011 and 2012, and they have high school friends who pay $800 month on interest in student loans. How many loans will you have to take out to pay for college? How likely are you to graduate with a job that will allow you to pay off your loans from undergraduate and graduate school? You need to think this through with your family and college counselor and make wise decisions. Everyone who is academically qualified should be applying to the colleges and universities that are truly need blind and will cover all of your demonstrated financial need. After that, look for colleges that are looking for students like you (Need help finding them? College Greenlight can help). In addition to financial aid from your college, research outside scholarships that will help you graduate debt free. Give yourself plenty of time to research outside scholarships; some of them have early deadlines, and they often require that you submit essays.

KIPP’s three-step process allows students to apply with confidence to nine colleges (Three reach, three target, and three likely). KIPP is so insistent that these three steps can make a difference for all their students that they created separate one-page handouts for students, parents, and counselors that explain them to each audience. They even made stickers for us visual learners to hang onto the concepts more easily!

Here’s how you can replicate KIPP’s three-step strategy to power up your own college search:

1. Make a chart with six columns.

2. In the first column list all the colleges you might apply to.

3. In the next two columns–Numbers–list each school’s median test scores and GPA. You can find that on every college’s website. Do your scores fall in this range?

4. For the fourth column–Fit–research each school’s academic and career services, and rank them 1-3 on a scale of how well they provide the services you need to be successful in your college and career, with 3 being the best.

5. For the last column–Money–determine how much money you will have to pay to attend each college (all college websites have a cost calculator, and FAFSA has one you can use for any school).

Once you have made this college list, use it as a starting point for discussions with your college counselor and parents. Making this list will simplify your applications tremendously and ensure you achieve your strongest college outcomes and life choices.

Topics:college admission