Kaufman hopes it eventually will branch out
to other North Carolina high schools.
Last summer, Bonilla’s SLI mentor, Mary
Williams ’07, who had previously tutored
her in English, wouldn’t let her stop working on her college applications.
“She had me doing my resume and one
of my personal statements,” Bonilla said.
“She really guided me through the process.”
With Williams teaching in Washington
this year, Bonilla turned for additional help
to Meghan Bridges ’07 of the Carolina
College Advising Corps, which places
recent Carolina graduates as advisers in
North Carolina high schools with low college acceptance rates.
Bridges splits her time between Jordan-Matthews and Chatham Central high
schools; Dexter Robinson ’06, Camille
Cates ’07 and Ebonie Leonard ’07 cover
two high schools apiece in Alamance,
Guilford and Durham counties. Their role
is to supplement the work of high school
guidance counselors, who often are
stretched thin. Next year, the program is
expected to expand to serve 26 high
schools, including some of the poorest-per-forming in the state.
Bonilla turned to Bridges so often for
advice that she calls herself Bridges’“little
stalker.” Her parents, who emigrated from
El Salvador before she was born, strongly
encourage her college goals, but they can’t
advise her on her applications.
“I’m the one at home who usually
checks over my brothers’ essays,” Bonilla
said. Because she can’t turn to her parents
for help, and because she works after
school, she has to make time during the
school day to get the counseling and feedback she needs.
Bridges said that’s a common situation.
One student spent part of his 30-minute
lunch break every day for three weeks finishing his application for UNC-Greens-boro, she said. “If they’re on free or reduced
lunch, they run in [to the cafeteria], eat that
and then go work on their application.”
Bridges’ youth helps her empathize with
the students she works with, roughly 90
percent of whom are the first in their families to go to college.
“We’re only four or five years out of
high school,” she says of herself and her fellow corps members. When students get
discouraged with the college application
process, “we can say, ‘I know you want to
‘We’re only four or five years
out of high school. [When students
get discouraged with the college
application process], we can say,
“I know you want to cry now,
but it’ll be better tomorrow.” ’
Meghan Bridges ’07
Carolina College Advising Corps
cry now, but it’ll be better tomorrow.’”
Though Bridges wasn’t a first-generation student herself, she came from a low-income family in Sanford and from a high
school where the student-counselor ratio
was about 1,000 to one. A journalism and
mass communication major with a minor
in city and regional planning, she doesn’t
plan to go into education but is passionate
about college access.
She pours herself into classroom presentations, which she’ll do for “any teacher
who lets me,” staying up until 3 in the
morning to get ready if necessary. She works
with Advancement Via Individual Determination, a national college prep program for
fourth- through 12th-graders with average
grades, meeting one-on-one with students,
encouraging them to sign up for the SAT.
“There are students ranked 30th in the
Besides her studies, Bonilla works after school
and helps her siblings with their homework.
She carves time out of the day for pre-college
counseling, calling herself Bridges’ “little
senior class who haven’t taken the SAT
because no one told them to,” she said. She
helps students navigate Web sites laden
with lingo incomprehensible to anyone
who doesn’t already know how the American higher education system works. What
are GPAs and credit hours? What’s a liberal
arts college? For that matter, what’s an
“It’s not clear that means a four-year
degree,” she said. She lets students know
that if their family income is low, they may
be able to get fees waived for the SAT and
college applications. Whenever a student
asks, she stays after school so the student
can have access to the Internet, which
many students don’t have at home —
many colleges no longer even send out
Bridges encourages students to visit
campuses because students are two to three
times more likely to stay in school if they
have visited, she says. She puts on events for
students and parents, explains how financial
aid works and lets them know that every
college is different.
She tackles some myths, such as the
perception that only the top people in a
class go to college. She explains that while
colleges like to see extracurricular activities, if a student can’t take part in clubs
because he or she is holding down two
jobs to help support a family, a college
probably will recognize that that demonstrates commitment and maturity.
Bridges’ efforts appear to be paying off.
When Jordan-Matthews held a college
application week in November, 127 out of
the school’s 180 seniors applied.
Real talent, big hurdles
The Carolina College Advising Corps is
one arm of the National College Advising
Corps, which also started last fall and is
based at Carolina in large part because of
the University’s track record with the Carolina Covenant and C-STEP programs.
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation supports
C-STEP, and it supported the establishment of the national corps with a $10 million grant. The Cooke Foundation granted
UNC $1 million over four years to start
the Carolina corps, and the University is
kicking in $700,000. Additional funding for
the Carolina corps has come from the Z.
Smith Reynolds Foundation and the Annie
Penn Community Trust.