By: Shayna Cohen
Students from low-income households often struggle affording college without external assistance. Fortunately, several programs financially assist these students, including Pell Grants, Promise Programs, and private scholarships. Support Our Scholars, a nonprofit organization based in Winter Park, Florida, is an example of a private, nonprofit organization focused on supporting low-income students. The organization’s approach is unique, with aid branching from finances to support systems.
The mission of Support Our Scholars is to assist underprivileged, intelligent women in their pursuit of higher education. SOS accomplishes its goal through a combination of mentorship, financial support, and community involvement. The organization offers a template for programs striving to increase the success of individuals in low-income communities.
Admission to Support Our Scholars requires an application, three reference letters, FAFSA copies, citizenship and financial documents, and a personal essay. Students are further required to submit a transcript with nothing short of a 3.5 GPA. According to the SOS website, the program currently supports 23 scholars with diverse academic interests. Most students reside in either Orange County or Seminole County and attend in-state institutions. In recent years, the organization supported students who attended out-of-state universities, including Harvard and Carnegie Mellon.
Upon acceptance into Support Our Scholars, each student receives $10,000 per semester, financial education, leadership development, and a shopping trip to furnish her dormitory. Accepted students are further supplied with a support network and mentor. The academic sphere is overseen by a mentor, while a support network creates a sense of community by sending care packages, letters, and words of encouragement. Alicia Cotto, a student in the program, feels as though she has “an army behind [her].” The relationships foster the necessary support to facilitate a positive college experience.
Beyond these benefits, SOS focuses on specific student needs. Take the case of Amanda Gomez: a scholar hesitant to leave Florida due to her mother’s visual impairment. In response, SOS helped the family contact the Lighthouse Program, which equips visually impaired people with independent navigational skills. With confidence in her mother’s condition, Amanda attended Harvard University. Amanda is an emblem for the organization’s prioritization of each student. As a whole, the students prove the benefit of an individualized system: the students maintain a college GPA of at least 3.0, and the program boasts a 98% graduation rate.
While the program is successful, the lengthy application process and high academic expectations disadvantage some low-income students. Furthermore, the program does not have enough resources to achieve a statewide impact. Stretching farther, although seemingly beneficial, would likely sacrifice the commitment to individualized mentorship, making the program holistically less successful. Alone, SOS cannot solve the epidemic of low graduation rates. More communities need to adopt a similar template, as achieved by FSU’s CARE program. Together, these programs can prove advantageous for low-income college students.