Students Cross College Awareness Gaps with Senior Bridge

Online Learning

Many of the students in the communities that we serve often face academic, financial, and generational challenges to college attendance which can make things difficult. Through our College Persistence initiative, a driven team of educators, and consistent academic support, we’re preparing our students for post-secondary success every day.

The collaboration between our school counselors, educators, and leaders has helped develop innovative practices and approaches to removing barriers to student success such as the opportunity and college awareness gaps. For the last four years, our school counselors and teachers have spearheaded Senior Bridge, an intensive four-week summer enrichment course that guides students through the college application process. 

“We realized that we had an opportunity in the summer to really have students focus on personal statements, college choice lists, and scholarship lists,” Erika Viramontes, our Counselor Support Specialist and past high school counselor.

Since its inception in 2017, over 600 students have received college application assistance through Senior Bridge—with over 230 students served last summer. This year the program— which is provided at no-cost to our students—was held entirely online. Impressed by the year-after-year effectiveness of this summer course, the California Association of School Counselors invited Viramontes to present Green Dot’s Summer Bridge enrichment course at its 2019 Fall Conference and Expo.

Senior Bridge helps students prepare for post-secondary success in three major areas: Solidifying a college list filled with both UC and other schools, building a compelling extracurricular activity list, and drafting for Personal Insight Questions (PIQs) for UC Admissions. Similar to supplementary essays for common college applications, PIQs allow students to share personal experiences that have impacted their achievements.

A Story to Tell

“After a while, Personal essays and PIQ components can become exhausting for students applying to multiple schools. By the time it’s November, some students experience college application fatigue and they may submit an application to a college that is not the best quality,” Viramontes said. “With Senior Bridge, we allot time for them to write and get feedback so they may feel more relaxed around this process.”

The UC admission process requires students to answer four out of eight PIQs. To prepare our students to write compelling responses, our educators have partnered with 826LA, a nonprofit aimed at providing students with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills. This collaboration connects students with a volunteer  group of professionals including writers, screenwriters and journalists, who provide students with additional feedback and guidance on their PIQs.

“In addition to helping us with volunteers, 826LA creates mini lessons around each key [PIQ],” Viramontes said. A long-time partner with Senior Bridge, 826LA quickly reformatted its seminar to an asynchronous learning experience amid the shift to distance learning. Students also had the opportunity to get real-time feedback from volunteers during the summer course. “It was pretty unique to be able to serve over 230 students in four weeks and get good feedback from trained volunteers,” she added.

Throughout the summer, students were able to access these webinars at any point, and consult with educators during live course time. Viramontes added that students who participate in Senior Bridge often feel more confident in the college application process.

Recognizing Strengths

GPAs and test scores are key considerations in a student's acceptance, however PIQs provide students with an opportunity to stand out among the other 200,000+ UC applicants. During Summer Bridge, students learn how to evaluate their life experiences outside of the classroom, ensuring they’re equipped to present themselves authentically and holistically. “A lot of our students don’t necessarily think that the activities that they do at home, like translating, or helping pay bills, are not special skills. So we help students recognize that a lot of the things that they’re doing at home, what they might think is a chore, or a way that they’re contributing to their family, is an activity,” Viramontes said. 

Since our founding 20 years ago, Green Dot has remained committed to providing students with  a high quality education, equitable educational opportunities and access to college. Under the pandemic, our distance learning model ensures students continue to receive support to and through college. We have overhauled classes such as our daily “Advisory” program with consistent academic check-ins, college search assistance, and virtual tours to support our students while we are apart. We remain steadfast in our commitment to transforming public education so all students have the skills to be successful in college, leadership, and life. Though our physical classrooms remain closed, our educators continue to be innovative and work tirelessly to help our students find success on their journey to college.