For most high-school students, the college-application process is difficult to navigate, but for disadvantaged students without many resources, applications can be so overwhelming that they might never get the chance to hold an acceptance letter.
In an effort to simplify the process, two Ransom Everglades seniors have dreamed up a way to put the information that college hopefuls need at their fingertips with an educational app, MyScholarship. The app won them third place in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge.
While Eduardo Garcia-Montes and Wesley Villano are well-versed when it comes to applying to colleges, they realized through their outreach to inner-city schools that there was a significant disparity.
Their college prep had helped them both secure acceptance to top colleges in the fall; Villano, 18, will attend Wesleyan University, and Garcia-Montes, 18, is off to Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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Although they had found the process stressful, they never saw the nuances of the applications to be a potential barrier to getting a degree, but they found this was the case with some other students.
Both are varsity soccer players, and last fall they went to Miami Edison High School to talk with the players there off the field about applying to colleges. Villano’s father, Dave, who is the soccer coach at Ransom, had organized the visit through the travel soccer club Little Haiti FC, which he co-founded.
“We grew up in a culture where everyone goes to college, so it was amazing how some of the kids had never heard of a lot of colleges, and some kids didn’t have the basic computer skills to create a common app [application] account,” Villano said.
Some of the students told them about how some college search sites felt to them like “finding a needle in a haystack,” while others could not name any colleges outside of their hometown.
‘they are smart’
Many of them were also talented soccer players who had the potential to play on the college level.
“They are smart, well-spoken kids, but they did not know where to start with colleges,” Villano said.
The pair wanted to find a way to bridge that gap but did not come across many resources that would be useful for someone who knew little about the process. They began to talk about the idea for an app last fall in their economics class.
“The college apps that are out there are mainly geared towards kids who already know about the process and have a dream school in mind, but there is nothing in terms of social impact,” Villano said.
MyScholarship would offer step-by-step guides to looking for and applying to colleges.
“We want the app to give tips and simplify the steps,” Garcia-Montes said.
The app would educate users about financial-aid options and how to fill out the complex Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms.
“Some of them had never heard of FAFSA, so the app would provide information and break down everything,” Garcia-Montes said.
MyScholarship would then help students find the right colleges by matching them using filters based on their grades and extracurricular activities. Also, it would provide students with options for college-aid packages and scholarships.
Garcia-Montes says he and Villano see colleges that want to increase matriculation from working-class and immigrant communities as potential advertisers on the app.
Once MyScholarship launches, they plan to work with South Florida school counselors and administrators to encourage students to download the app. They hope to expand their reach even further.
“Someone’s financial situation or them not knowing how to fill out applications shouldn’t hold them back,” Villano said.