Brandon Isem is entering his freshman year at Claremont McKenna College, and while he’s excited for the next chapter in his journey, getting to this point hasn’t been easy.
“Senior year was pretty stressful – getting all the paperwork in, wondering whether my financial aid paperwork would get delayed, getting my transcripts in time, thinking about moving out,” said Brandon, a Class of 2021 graduate of Ambassador School of Global Leadership at RFK Community Schools.
Brandon experienced what many college-bound high school graduates often go through – summer melt, the phenomenon of college-intending students who have applied to, been accepted by and made a deposit to a college or university but fail to enroll in the fall following their high school graduation.
These students “melt” during the summer due to a variety of factors, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. GEAR UP 4 LA knows the transition from high school to higher education is a complex one and is especially daunting for students who are the first in their families to attend college.
To help students combat summer melt, GU4LA connects them with its team of first year advisors who provide targeted one-on-one support through their first year of higher education.
“GEAR UP 4 LA helped put my summer at ease and made the whole process easier,” Brandon said.
The team – including Senior Academic Advisor Karina Alcaraz and academic advisors Jose Gaspar and Carol Castro – is supporting over 800 graduates, the majority of whom are first-year college students at local colleges and universities, .
“A lot of students don’t have someone who has gone through the process of going from high school to college,” Alcaraz said. “As first-generation college students, we have been in their shoes and we’re here to let them know they don’t have to do this by themselves.”
To reach students, advisors regularly send emails, make calls and send text messages via Signal Vine to remind students to meet deadlines, sign up for orientation and take care of important tasks.
“If they need help choosing classes, or don’t know what the next step is, we walk them through it and let them know we’re here for them,” Alcaraz said. “Those reminders trigger students to ask for help.”
Students receive help with submitting financial aid and Dream Act application verification forms, transcripts, and tax information, as well as guidance on accepting financial aid offers and registering for classes.
Briana Jimenez, who graduated from West Adams Prep, is entering her freshman year at Cal State L.A. as prepared as possible thanks to the support she’s received.
“GEAR UP has helped me be more excited for college instead of nervous,” Briana said. “I’ve never been in a program this supportive, this helpful, and it makes me feel like I have a family outside of home.”
As part of GEAR UP’s comprehensive services, advisors provide social-emotional support and help students through academic challenges that may get in the way of them persisting through their second year of higher education.
“Our services are proactive – we want to avoid all of those problems and prevent students from dropping out,” Alcaraz said.