Mass. students unsure about college due to fear of financial burden on family earn full scholarships

BOSTON — It’s that time of year when high school seniors are starting to learn where they will be going off to college next year. For a group of students at Roxbury Prep High School, not only do they already know where they are going--they are getting a full ride. The school already has more than three-quarters of its seniors going off to college…and counting.

As a senior in high school, knowing what you want to do and applying for the college that is the best fit can be stressful. But for this group of hard-working students, Roxbury Prep High School has found the winning formula to crack the college code. Seven of its seniors who got accepted into colleges have less than $2,000 to pay out of pocket thanks to grants and financial aid.

Then there are six of them, including Leer Li, who got in on a full ride.

“They gave me around $348,000 for all four years,” said Leer Li, who will be attending Princeton University in the fall.

Leer li will be going to her first choice school, Princeton University, which is also a first for her family who moved from China ten years ago.

“My family is proud of me,” said Li. “And I’m also very proud of myself because it’s really scary to be the first one in your family to do anything. Especially going to college. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to do that because it was going to be a financial burden on my family.”

The financial burden is one of the main reasons many of these students didn’t even think going to college was possible.

“My mom, my brother, and I, we all live together,” said Menwongba Dahn Gokawon, who got a full ride to The College of the Holy Cross. “It’s hard for us financially already.”

“Ever since ninth grade, I always thought that it was too expensive and that maybe I should just graduate high school and find a job as soon as I graduate,” said Miguel Gomez.

After getting a full scholarship to Vassar College, Miguel Gomez hopes to double major in computer science and economics and one day work on Wall Street. He credits his high school counselor with pointing him in the right direction.

“It was in 11th grade when I found myself applying to other programs to help me get to college, and that’s when I really realized I really do have the potential to reach my best in college, and I could do it,” said Gomez.

Of the 99 seniors at Roxbury Prep High School, already 79% have been accepted to a four-year college and to date received $1.6 million in scholarships. The public charter school is part of a network of high-performing charter schools whose mission is to ensure students not only get into, but graduate from college.

“We believe all students can,” said Chelsea McWilliams, the Principal of Roxbury Prep Upper School. “And so we keep our expectations really high for them. And we believe it’s our job to deliver the support that will get them there.”

McWilliams says counselors and teachers make sure their students are prepared for the rigor of college and beyond by leveling the playing field—from offering several AP courses, SAT prep, and access to extracurricular projects.

“Particularly for this group of scholars who started during the pandemic, they have just demonstrated such resilience,” said McWilliams. “And it really proves that students can be successful when we close opportunity gaps and when we believe in them.”

With a few months left of high school, these students can take a sigh of relief.

“I’m glad that financial burden is relieved off my mom and I can focus more on my education and just enjoying the college experience in general,” said Gokawon.

But they won’t let go of the lessons and values that Roxbury Prep instilled in them.

“I feel like my academics I don’t stop here,” said Aneisya Williams, who will be attending Union College in the fall on a full scholarship. “I have to keep on going, got to keep on studying my habits. Finish off strong and not just like let that senioritis affect me.”

Principal McWilliams hopes all 99 seniors get accepted into a college. In May, the school has a big pep rally where students declare their college decisions on stage in front of their families—which solidifies the school’s mission, which is to and through college.

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