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LevelUp: To College and Beyond strives to make college application support accessible for all students who need it

A new program at the Wake County Public Library helps high school juniors and seniors navigate the college application process. LevelUp: To College and Beyond officially launched on Oct. 12. The program is completely free for students and provides a variety of support services, including seminars on SAT/ACT testing, essay writing, and scholarships. In addition, students can also meet one-on-one with librarians to discuss their individual paths. 

Over the summer, the library worked with Southeast Raleigh Promise and the Boys and Girls Club of Wake County to test out the model. The feedback from the summer trial helped the team fine-tune the program before the addition of one-on-one appointments earlier this month. Since the summer, nearly 350 students have already utilized the program.

“One of the struggles we discovered for high school students was getting through this process,” said Dayna Shields, a career and education librarian at the Wake County Library. “When I applied for college, my parents didn’t have to help. It was easy. You filled out your application and wrote your essay, and you were done. Now there’s all these other things that you have to do to compete, and it’s just navigating that is so difficult. We thought that was something we could help with.”

All of the services provided by LevelUp are free, including SAT and ACT practice tests. While the program is available to everyone, it has been specifically designed with first-generation and underserved students in mind. The LevelUp team met with student services teams across Wake County and talked to parents and students when deciding on the pieces of the program. The team continues to work with student services teams to identify students who may best benefit from the program. 

There is more to the college application process than submitting your essay and test scores. LevelUp is designed to help students navigate all of it, including completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and Residency Determination Service (RDS) processes. Both the FAFSA and RDS require significant documentation and can be difficult for students and parents who have never navigated these systems before. LevelUp was designed to assist these students, many of whom may rely on FAFSA and RDS for financial aid to make their college experience possible.

Another unique aspect of this program is that students can make as many appointments as they need with a librarian to assist them as they move through the application process. 

“The first appointment we see more as a college awareness appointment. The beautiful thing is, after this appointment, they can make follow up appointments to dig deeper into things,” Hunter Buxton, the LevelUp project lead, explains. 

During the first appointment, librarians walk students through those critical financial aid and residency applications — FAFSA and RDS. If students have more questions about these processes or simply need someone to help get them across the finish line to hit submit, they can make as many follow up appointments as necessary.

Endiah Jackson, a senior in high school, found the program helpful. She was a part of the trial cohort this past summer.

“It was really good because [the librarian] gave me a lot of tools I didn’t even know about,” Jackson said. 

Prior to participating in the LevelUp trial program, Jackson and her mom were navigating the college application process by themselves. In the program, Jackson learned about scholarship information, and the librarian gave her tips for her college essays.

“It was overwhelming at the beginning,” Jackson said. “We needed a little bit more guidance.” Luckily, they found that guidance from the LevelUp program. With the help of the program and her own proactive nature, Jackson is already finished with all of her applications and eager to recommend the program to her friends and peers. 

You can learn more about LevelUp here.

Alli Lindenberg

Alli Lindenberg is an executive fellow for EducationNC.