We Must Reimagine College Guidance Programs - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Authors

Rina Nagashima

Rina Nagashima was born in Japan and raised in Honolulu. She attends Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., where she plans on pursuing the Humanities Major in Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture. She is also the co-director of the College Key Foundation’s Hawaii branch, an organization providing free college guidance to disadvantaged students.

Natalie Winter

Natalie Winter from Honolulu currently studies International Relations at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. As an advocate for education equality, she also works with the College Key Foundation to provide college guidance to FGLI students.

June, typically marking the beginning of summer vacation for high school students across Hawaii, takes on a more serious tone this year. The economic and academic disruption from COVID-19 has brought to light and exacerbated the systemic inequalities of our education system.

One such marker of inequality is how high school students spend their summers.

Rising high school seniors in particular often view summer as a critical period to prepare for the fall college application season. However, first-generation low-income (FGLI) persons, immigrants, and students from other disadvantaged backgrounds are often left behind in this process.

For these students, existing college guidance programs are either too costly or, if they are targeted at disadvantaged students, are competitive and have complex application processes.

UH Manoa Holmes Hall. Engineering building.
The Hawaii branch of the College Key Foundation hopes to reach out to the University of Hawaii System. Pictured is Holmes Hall at UH Manoa. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The College Key Foundation attempts to turn this traditional model of college guidance on its head. The College Key Foundation is a nonprofit college guidance organization for disadvantaged students.

The program is led by a team of college students across the country and offers a free four-week summer program taught by admissions officers from top universities (with workshops on FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), the CommonApp, essays, and more), with no barriers to admission. The fellowship also features an individualized mentorship program that pairs high school students with current college students of similar backgrounds.

Individualized Support

Jacky Huang (Harvard ’24) and Lucas Leanza (Stanford ’23), FGLI students themselves and founders of the College Key Foundation, met informally through QuestBridge (a college match program for high achieving low-income students). The two formed a mentor-mentee relationship and friendship that not only helped with the college application process but inspired the mentorship model for their organization.

For immigrant students navigating the legal jargon of the FAFSA application alone or first-generation college students who don’t have a network to lean on, that peer-to-peer support from someone who has been through the same challenges can make all the difference.

For these reasons, founder and president of the organization, Jacky Huang, felt that individualized support was a key factor lacking from existing guidance programs. “After reflecting upon my own college application journey, I realized just how powerful it was to give someone the opportunity to gain not only a mentor but a friend,” Huang said.

He hopes that the College Key Foundation’s combination of one-on-one mentorship in addition to traditional information sessions will help support students in all aspects of the college application process.

In line with this philosophy of individualized support, Huang and Leanza reached out to fellow college students across the U.S. in order to better represent each region of the country and their specific needs – including Hawaii, a state often overlooked in the context of national programs.

The freedom given to the Hawaii branch to create its own section of the program is crucial because the needs of Hawaii students often differ from those on the mainland. While attending college out-of-state is typically as easy for students as driving across state borders, in Hawaii, logistical difficulties such as booking plane tickets and visiting campuses are even more inaccessible for students from disadvantaged families. In fact, attending college far from home may not be an option for many.

Fostering relationships between high schools and local universities is especially important in Hawaii.

Taking such challenges into account, the Hawaii branch of the College Key Foundation hopes to distinguish itself by inviting local college representatives to speak on the specific challenges of applying to college from Hawaii, as well as the various opportunities for FGLI students such as the Holomua Commitment at Hawaii Pacific University and the TRiO-Student Support Services program at Hawaii Community Colleges and the University of Hawaii system.

Fostering relationships between high schools and local universities is especially important in Hawaii, where college matriculation rates within the state are decreasing and fewer students choose to enroll in Hawaii institutions.

This shows that there is a lack of resources and programs in Hawaii that encourage students to attend college locally, thereby excluding an entire demographic of high school students.

To fulfill the College Key Foundation’s mission to increase college-going rates, recruitment practices in Hawaii aim to reach all demographics of students by systematically contacting every high school in the state, as well as seeking local mentors attending college both in Hawaii and on the mainland.

The difficulties that FGLI students and those from other disadvantaged backgrounds face throughout the college admissions process are all too often overlooked, and economic crises like in the present exacerbate these difficulties.

In the same way that COVID-19 has caused the nation’s education model to adapt, the growing inequalities of our education system has caused the College Key Foundation to reimagine the way college prep is delivered to students of disadvantaged backgrounds.

Applications are due on June 30 for interested mentors and rising high school seniors. Email collegekeyfoundation@gmail.com directly for any questions about the program. You can also follow the College Key Foundation on Instagram at @collegekeyfoundation and on Facebook at College Key Foundation.

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About the Authors

Rina Nagashima

Rina Nagashima was born in Japan and raised in Honolulu. She attends Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., where she plans on pursuing the Humanities Major in Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture. She is also the co-director of the College Key Foundation’s Hawaii branch, an organization providing free college guidance to disadvantaged students.

Natalie Winter

Natalie Winter from Honolulu currently studies International Relations at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. As an advocate for education equality, she also works with the College Key Foundation to provide college guidance to FGLI students.


Latest Comments (0)

Kids drop out of college at a 50% rate.  They either don't fit socially, don't feel or see the relevance of what they are studying, or feel it's too expensive.  CCP-19 will be a big driver of badly overdue change to the college industrial complex.

Sally · 2 years ago

I certainly benefitted from mentoring when I was a seventeen year-old. Life is much more difficult to negotiate today.        Thanks to the Ms Nagashima, Ms Winter and the College Keys Foundation for being there for Hawaii students. Big Mahalo!  

George3 · 2 years ago

Authors both, keep up the great work -- it may be unsung, but it is noticed and very much valued.

Jray · 2 years ago

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