For the past few years, I worked for a startup nonprofit organization that helped low-income, first-generation students access the most competitive and highest ranking colleges and universities. My students are attending schools like Columbia, Brandeis, Stanford, Bryn Mawr, and Harvard – many on full scholarships. The work was deeply rewarding and, I’ll admit, quite fun. I planned college trips around the country, spent hours getting to know my students personally, and hosted a Thanksgiving get together for those in the Northeast who wouldn’t be flying home for the holiday.
But right before business school, I went back to serve as a college counselor at the high school where I began my work as an educator. Here, most of the students I taught were going to our local community college – a drastically different experience. The application process, unlike the one I was used to, was quite simple. Everything else? Not so much.
I remember spending hours trying to figure out simple things with my students. Everything from how to correct an incorrect spelling of a name or street address to figuring out how to begin class registration for the Fall seemed convoluted and belabored by various steps and departments in the community college. In the end, my colleagues and I tried to circumvent the processes by creating our own matriculation procedures for our students – taking them to campus visits, arranging for group registration sessions and offering free placement test options. As the school year ended and the students left for the summer, we prayed that our efforts would have some lasting effect.
Then, a few things happened. First, many of my students who were intending on enrolling in four-year institutions decided to enroll in community college instead. Many of my students who had planned to go to community college, on the other hand, never showed up. Finally, many of those who did enroll in community college didn’t stay through the year, choosing to leave higher education for a job. As their college counselor, I couldn’t help but feel like I had failed the vast majority of my students. At a time when my students needed the most guidance and support in their transition out of the public K-12 school system, they were on their own.
So what do you get when you pair the life crises of a first-year MBA student with the sense of righteous indignation? The inklings of an entrepreneurial idea… enter BridgeYear.
The many iterations and versions of BridgeYear is a story for another day – and I’m sure it’s a story that will continue throughout the summer. I’m excited, however, for the summer ahead. Together with my co-founder and interns, we will be piloting some advising services and interviewing current, former, and prospective community college students to better understand their needs and aspirations. I’m fully aware that I don’t know how the summer will end or how BridgeYear might look in just 3 weeks (a fact that my Type A self is still getting around to embracing), but I’m settling in for quite the ride.