Scott Elfenbein, WG’17
Getting Low Income Kids to Great Colleges
Too many high-achieving, low-income (HALO) high school students don’t end up at top-tier colleges—or in many cases, any college at all. Scott Elfenbein, WG’17, founder of brEDcrumb, has made it his mission to change this.
To do so, brEDcrumb matches traditionally underrepresented high school students with college students and young professionals from similar backgrounds—whether they come from the same geographic region, or share an ethnic or socio-economic background—to mentor them through the college application process.
Mentors encourage these high school students to visit colleges to find the right fit, to take and retake the SAT or ACT exams to improve their scores, to perfect application essays, to find fee waivers for exams and applications, and to dig deep about financial aid options—which may actually be better at highly selective colleges than at lower-tier schools.
In addition, brEDcrumb is assembling an online check list—a trail of breadcrumbs, if you will—for the college admissions process, tailored to the needs of HALO students. Scott hopes that this free internet resource will go live next year, for the 2018 admissions cycle, and help many more students than brEDcrumb can mentor individually.
“We are an organization of people who used to be in this position. We went through this,” says Scott, describing himself, the three volunteers who make up his staff, and the more than 400 mentors who have signed up so far. This is far more mentors than brEdcrumb can use in the short term, but when Scott reached out on the Penn campus, asking for people who saw underrepresentation on campus as a problem, and wanted to be part of the solution, the response was overwhelming.
Last year, brEdcrumb helped send ten kids to college: to Penn, Cornell, and to their top state schools—with full financial aid. They’re all thriving. This year, they hope to send 20-30.
brEdcrumb won the 2016 Booth-Yale Education Business Plan Competition, and was a finalist in the 2016 Penn Wharton Startup Challenge. Scott has connected with admissions officers at Harvard, Yale, MIT, the University of Chicago, and, of course, Penn, learning about what they look for in applications, especially from this population of students.
Benefiting Students and Colleges
Top tier colleges, it turns out, want these students. They want to increase their geographic, ethnic, and socio-economic diversity, but finding these HALO students can be difficult and costly. In the long run, Scott hopes that brEDcrumb can act as a feeder, bringing individual students to the attention of admissions officers, to the benefit of both.
Scott Elfenbein, WG’17
Scott’s high school was a public school in a low income neighborhood in Miami, FL, where more than 70% of the students qualified for free or reduced lunch. He graduated 16th in his class, and he went to Harvard, yet he knew there were students just as intelligent, able, and driven as he was who didn’t end up at a great school. At Harvard, he noticed the lack of true geographic, ethnic, and socio-economic diversity in his class. Ever since, he’s been working on solutions.