Maneuvering the college application process is difficult for any student, but oftentimes is more so for low income and first-generation applicants. While high school counseling offices are great resources, most counselors’ caseloads exceed 200 students, so many students would benefit from more individual help.

Enter CSU’s Dream Project—a “student-initiated, student-run high school outreach program that focuses on peer-to-peer mentorship.” Through the Dream Project, CSU students give their time and energy to helping first generation and low-income high school students figure out the right-fit college, maneuver the college application process, apply for financial aid, and successfully make it to higher education.

CSU’s Dream Project is closely modeled on the University of Washington’s program, embracing the same mission, values, and goals. CSU’s Dream Project not only offers high school students college application assistance that they may not have at home, but it teaches CSU students professionalism and leadership, explained Michelle Wellman, Director of CSU’s Access Center. CSU Dream Project students volunteer to be part of the program and are required to take a class for which they receive credit.

After Wellman brought the idea to CSU in 2008, students took it forward. Wellman said the Dream Project is unique because it is completely student driven. Although Wellman helped the original Dream Project student with resources, it was the students themselves that designed the program, including developing a 72-page step-by-step college application workbook. It is the CSU students that work with area high school students—a “near-peer” working relationship. Wellman said high school students often are more receptive to working with college students rather than adults.

In Fort Collins, Dream Project members have a presence at three area high schools—Poudre, Fort Collins, and Polaris—but students from any high school are encouraged to contact them. Wellman also said that students do not have to be first generation or low income to participate—any student is welcomed.

One counselor from each of the three participating high schools directs students to the Dream Project, then those students meet regularly in groups of two to three high school students and one CSU student. Beginning in the junior year, Project members point high schoolers toward courses they should take, encourage them to get involved in community service, help them research colleges, prep for the SAT and/or ACT, and help them start scholarship searches. In the senior year, Project members help students through the application process, including getting letters of recommendation, writing entrance essays, and filling out financial aid forms.

Wellman points out that the Dream Project is not CSU centered—Project members will help students apply to any school they chose. She said about half Dream Project participants first go to Front Range Community College, then transfer in to CSU or other schools. And while the Dream Project has helped students apply to Brigham Young, Harvard, CU, and others, it does offer scholarships to CSU. The Project offers 10 four-year scholarships of $2500.

Contact the Dream Team at [email protected].

P. Carol Jones is the author of “Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able.” Visit www.towardcollegesuccess.com to read excerpts and to follow her blog. Ferah Aziz is a college coach with launchphase2. Visit www. launchphase2.com/ or call 720-340-8111 to learn more about coaching for college bound students, and success coaching for college students.