Giving Compass' Take:

•  Legal Outreach is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping low-income students prepare for college, motivate them to excel in their high school classes, and provide summer internships. 

• How can school counselors who may not have access to programs like Legal Outreach replicate the same ideas and concepts at their schools?

• Read about other programs that are addressing the gap in college preparation for high school students. 

Conventional wisdom among guidance counselors holds that students from high-poverty high schools may struggle at the nation’s elite colleges, so placing them in less competitive environments will give them a chance. A 2012 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that most high-achieving low-income students don’t apply to any competitive colleges. A separate study of 30 million college students from 1999 to 2013 revealed that while the number of children from low-income families attending four-year institutions rose rapidly during the 2000s, the share of low-income students at selective colleges barely budged. This was despite efforts by schools such as those in the Ivy League to modify their tuition policies specifically to draw more low-income students to their campuses.

James O’Neal, founder of Legal Outreach, has dedicated the last 35 years of his career to challenging the kind of thinking that he believes holds low-income students back.

Started with the goal of getting students motivated to perform in school by sparking an interest in a legal career, the organization has evolved into a broader college prep program that offers writing courses, mentoring constitutional law debates, summer internships with blue-chip New York law firms, SAT prep, sessions to help students apply to college, a philosophy course taught by a college professor and workshops to help students and their parents prepare for college life.

Students are recommended for the program by their teachers and must come from families that earn below a certain income threshold to qualify. Legal Outreach offers an opportunity to build the critical thinking skills and self-confidence its students’ wealthier peers often accrue naturally. Through its College Bound program, summer legal institute and parent workshops, the organization serves about 400 students and 70 families each year.

Read the full article about Legal Outreach helping low-income kids get into top tier schools by Nick Chiles at The Hechinger Report.