Bovard Scholars aims to help low-income students

Yale, Stanford and Harvard — these are just three of the elite schools that the USC Bovard Scholars Program has assisted low-income, high-achieving high school students from across the nation in getting into.

A group of 2017 Bovard Scholars join Vice President for Strategic and Global Initiatives Anthony Bailey (left) and Provost Michael Quick (right) at a reception to close out their residential program at USC. Photo courtesy of USC News.

The USC Bovard Scholars Program launched its first set of applications in November 2016 to admit 50 qualified high school juniors from low-income families. According to Jennifer Colin, the executive director of summer programs, the Bovard Scholars Program was established to combat “under-matching” and give students the aid that more affluent peers receive when applying to top-tier institutions.

With access to resources like college counseling and advising, high-income students can apply to a selection of reach, target and safety institutions for their undergraduate education.

However, according to a study on the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, a vast majority of low-income, yet high-achieving students have limited themselves by only applying to non-selective schools due to financial restrictions.

Colin said the program seeks to admit students who have challenged themselves in academic coursework, showed leadership skills and are ranked near the top of their class. The average GPA of applicants is 4.22, and 96 percent are first-generation college students.

According to Emily Guzman, a Bovard Scholar attending Yale University next semester, the program has not only impacted her educational trajectory, but also helped her realize her capabilities and limitations.

“To look beyond my own socioeconomic background, and to look beyond preconceived notions I had about myself, to push myself to be better, to dream bigger … I did not have the financial resources to be able to afford SAT training,” Guzman said. “I think that if it were not for the USC Bovard Scholars Program, I would not have had any sort of preparation and it really allowed my score to improve. And I think it is really important for people who are limited by finances to explore opportunities that would not be given had they not attended the program.”

Betsayda Puerta, a Bovard Scholar attending Stanford University next semester, also noted how the lack of affordable resources prevents students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds from realizing their full potential. Puerta said she is grateful for the opportunities that the program has provided her.

“I didn’t really have any knowledge on the college application process,” Puerta said. “I didn’t really know the logistics of how to apply, what to write about. So I was kind of lacking in that aspect. That is where the Bovard Scholars stepped in and filled the void … I was able to learn about top-tier universities that I deserve to apply to … the program gave me a newfound confidence in myself and my ability to go to those schools.”

According to the program’s website, in addition to financial aid support, the program also offers a wide range of initiatives, such as a three-week immersive residential experience on USC’s campus, standardized test-taking strategy training and personalized career exploration to aid with the application process.

According to Puerta, the residential experience is especially helpful in allowing scholars to bond and relate to each others’ struggles and career ambitions. By living in dorms together, Puerta said students can gain exposure to the college lifestyle, diverse cultures and humble upbringings. During the three weeks, students cultivate a community within the group that empowers them and forms lifelong bonds.

“I think that the Bovard Scholars Program really tried to replicate what a college experience is like,” Puerta said. “My parents never really had the resources to send me away … I was surrounded by first generation college students … a diverse honors student body was a new experience for me, because my community is [predominately] Latino.”

For Guzman, meeting scholars through the residential initiative was an experience that connected her back to her African American roots and expanded her knowledge of other ethnic cultures.

“These things are unspoken, but we know why we are so driven — it is because of our backgrounds,” Guzman said. “I had never really seen so many African American people in my life personally … The program has really allowed me to look at people with different eyes … I understand how people of different colored skins have more have more common than we think.”

According to Colin, the program will continue to expand to reach more students in need of financial aid and career guidance across the nation. Admissions staff for the Bovard Scholars Program are currently reaching out to college counselors at Title 1 schools nationwide and communicating directly with students that fit the program’s profile. 

“[We] provide the intensive admission support or campus experience that is at the heart of our program,” Colin said in a statement to the Daily Trojan.

Guzman said she sees the program as a hopeful avenue for students of low socioeconomic upbringings to compete with peers who are receiving additional support on a level playing field.

“I think also with time news will spread through the word of mouth,” Guzman said. “As soon as I got back from the program, I told my school counselor, ‘You need to make sure that other kids apply to this [program] next year.’ I think that it is really important for us to keep reminding people that there is the USC Bovard Scholars Program out there to help us.”