Every high school in America has at least one outstanding student with straight A's and stellar SAT scores. But if a student is low-income and a rarity at her high school — maybe the only Ivy-League-caliber applicant that school has produced in years — she's not likely to know she might qualify for admission to a top university, and even be eligible for scholarships. Many such students opt for less selective schools close to home simply because they don't know they have other options.
Most efforts to get high-achieving, low-income kids to apply to better colleges are expensive and require high social investment such as one-on-one mentoring. But a recent pilot project suggests that changing the course of an 18-year-old's life may be as simple as mailing a $6 information packet.
"It turns out that these interventions are just as effective or more effective than a lot of the in-person interventions that cost at least 100 times as much, and sometimes 300 or 400 times as much," Stanford researcher Caroline Hoxby said recently at a forum hosted by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution.
Hoxby and her colleague, the University of Virginia's Sarah Turner, combined test scores, income, and other data to find high-achieving but low-income students, and deliver relevant college-application information to their homes. The project was such a success that they're teaming with the College Board and ACT, administrators of the two standardized tests most often required for college admission, to try to put similar packets into the hands of every low-income academic superstar in the country.