This College Decision Season, Let’s Make ‘Undermatching’ a Thing of the Past

By Shavar Jeffries

College decision time is here. Admission letters have arrived, and more than a million high school students are weighing their options. The choice demands a lot from teenagers who, by and large, have never lived away from home.

This time of year also challenges us – the adults in their lives – to help them make the best choices for their futures. For many students, especially Black and Latinx high schoolers, that isn’t always a given – even when the most prestigious universities want them on their campuses.

Take Brandon Cruz, in Nashville, for example. He finished 11th grade with stellar grades, high test scores, a compelling personal story as a first-generation college-goer and a household income that would qualify him for generous financial aid. Yet Brandon didn’t plan to apply to a single out-of-state school, let alone one in the Ivy League.

“I’m the oldest sibling with two younger brothers. I helped with errands and paying the bills,” he says. “I didn’t want to put another financial burden on my parents.”

It took timely encouragement and coaching from educators at his high school, KIPP Nashville Collegiate, for Brandon to apply to the University of Pennsylvania. He’s now a sophomore at Penn’s esteemed Wharton School of business – with a full ride and scholarship money to spare for his flights home.

“I have access to so many open doors that I couldn’t access back in Tennessee,” Cruz says. “I will absolutely be put into a better career with better pay. I’m aiming toward the goal of retiring my parents. It’s repayment for their sacrifices. It’s my reason and my future.”

Brandon was at risk of “undermatching.” According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, about 86,000 students from low-income families in the U.S. attend postsecondary schools where less than half of all students graduate, even though they have the credentials to attend more selective colleges with far higher rates of completion.

Read the full editorial here.