College Access

WUSTL’s new College Prep Program recruiting its first cohort

Program will prepare high-achieving students with limited resources for life on a college campus

(January 31, 2014 by Diane Toroian Keaggy)

Washington University in St. Louis has started to accept nominations for its College Prep Program, a new initiative that will prepare high-achieving high school students with limited financial resources for college. Leah Merrifield, assistant vice chancellor for community engagement, expects to name the first cohort by May 1.

The summer component of the multi-year program will run from June 9-20. About 20 rising high school sophomores will stay on the South 40 student residential area, eat at the Danforth University Center, attend lectures on campus and visit local cultural institutions. The goal is to help first-generation students feel comfortable on a college campus and to teach parents ways to support their children as they apply to and then attend college.

“Students who are prepared well do well,” Merrifield said. “The academic preparation is first and foremost. Beyond that, you must be prepared to be in a new place. College can be a jarring experience, no matter what your background. So are you prepared to work as hard as you need to work? Are you prepared to ask for help in ways you’ve never had to ask for before? Those are the things that make the difference between going to college and completing college.”

Courtney E. Brewster, Park/Mudd residential college director, will serve as program coordinator. She has led similar programs at Syracuse University and at University of St. Thomas.

“These students are high-achievers — they are ready for success,” Brewster said. “By giving them tools, resources and information, we can assist them in reaching their goals.”

The program is part of the university’s ongoing efforts to make college accessible to students from all backgrounds. Other initiatives include sponsorship of a KIPP network of charter schools in St. Louis, sponsorship of Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls, an all-girls STEM charter school slated to open in 2015 and the Institute for School Partnership’s partnership with the Hazelwood School District, where science scores have soared.

Half of the cohort will be graduates of KIPP Inspire Academy, the high-performing charter middle school in the Fox Park neighborhood. WUSTL is KIPP’s institutional sponsor, and university educators and students work closely with KIPP teachers and students. The other 10 students will come from across the region; anyone may nominate a student for the program.

Nominations are due Feb. 14; applications are due March 14.

After their first year, students will return the following two summers for three-week visits. During their second year, the students will take courses for Washington University credit. The final summer, the students also will draft a college essay and likely tour other regional college campuses.

Throughout the school year, students will return to campus for lectures and events. The College Prep Program will host college admission and financial-aid workshops for students and parents and connect families to other community organizations that support college degree attainment. Each student also will have a WUSTL student as a mentor.

Brewster said students will benefit from the sustained relationship with the university — and each other.

“This cohort, multi-year model will build a larger family,” Brewster said. “By being together here on campus, they will have an experience that is both familial and familiar. And I expect that they will stay connected throughout their years, giving each other praises, sharing in the conquering of challenges and supporting each other.”

To learn more, visit WUSTL’s Government & Community Relations site or contact Leah Merrifield at 314-935-5752 or

Read this story in the WUSTL Newsroom.