What is College? Urban Middle and High School Students Come to NYU to Find Out

NYU Steinhardt News

What is College? Urban Middle and High School Students Come to NYU to Find Out

Universities often reach out to high school students during their junior and senior years when they appear on colleges’ radar as potential enrollees. But in urban settings like New York City, this is often too late. Many city children do not know anyone who has attended college, and perhaps are unaware of the value of a college degree.

Ten years ago NYU began College Connection, a special outreach program for New York City schoolchildren. The program offers middle school students and high school freshmen an immediate taste of college life.

Every weekday morning, Tuesday through Friday, a 6th – 9th grade class, accompanied by its teacher, comes to the Washington Square campus for a two-hour visit. The group is met by NYU volunteers, undergraduates who spend an hour talking with students about the academic and social aspects of college life, the admissions process, financial aid, and what to write in a college essay. Their message is simple: you can go to college, you should go to college, and you need to start right now getting ready for college.

For the second half of the program, the volunteers conduct a tour of the campus, which includes a visit to the library, the sports center, a classroom, a dorm room, and a nursing lab. For most of the students, it’s the first time they’ve ever been on a college campus.

The Steinhardt Office of Field Projects coordinates College Connection, which otherwise is run entirely by the student volunteers from Steinhardt, the College of Arts and Science, the Stern School of Business, the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, and the Liberal Studies Program. Because of this volunteer effort by NYU students, close to 3,000 middle school students and high school freshmen each year get a taste of college.

“College Connection is designed to get students engaged at a critical moment in their lives – before they enter high school— when there’s still time to take math and science and a foreign language and the PSAT—all the stuff that’s second nature to middle class families, but may not be known by the families of many of these children,” said Lee Frissell, the Steinhardt School’s director of field projects.

Perhaps one of the things that makes College Connection successful is the peer-to-peer interaction which comes into play between the NYU volunteers and the New York City public school students.

“I love to see that spark when the kids realize for the first time that they can go to college,” said Sara MacDonald, a College Connection guide and a CAS freshman.

“The program builds a bridge between high school and college students,” said Ryan Gee, a CAS senior. “High school students are more likely to listen to us than the ‘adults’ who try to give them the same message.”

A college student, after all, has first hand knowledge about what students do in their free time.

“Many of the questions we’re asked are about the social aspects of college,” Gee said. “And that’s another one of the great attractions of higher education.”