UPrep creates UT student mentors at local high school

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Megan Skillern

For any high school student, the application process for college is a marathon, but for students at low-performing schools, it’s like running a marathon without shoes. 

UPrep, a student organization started in fall 2015 by recent UT graduate Christina Breitbeil, helps high school students at LBJ High School get ready for college by training volunteers to guide students through the FAFSA process and to study for exams like the SAT and ACT.

“It’s just really fun to work with the students and you get to see the same faces each time,” Breitbeil said. “You get to build relationships with them, so it doesn’t feel like a burden when you have to pick up on wherever you left off in the application process.”

Breitbeil said she loves the program because of the special relationship that student-to-student mentorship fosters, but the program itself isn’t a fix-all for the struggles students face at low-income schools.

“It’s discouraging, and sometimes frustrating, to see students who could not complete the application process for various reasons,” Breitbeil said. “The process itself is extremely grueling, having to deal with essays, but then you also have the financial and family problems.”

The leap from high school to college may be wider for students from low-performing schools like LBJ, but UPrep tutor Edward Wise says programs like his help to shorten the distance. 

“A lot of the kids come from broken homes, and sometimes they don’t have the fortitude or confidence to follow through when they run into a problem,” Wise said. “That’s where Christina comes in. She builds up their confidence and shows them that it’s not so daunting as it seems.”

After joining UPrep last spring, anthropology senior Megan Skillern said she began to notice some LBJ students harbored pessimistic views of college; many students see it as a financial burden that outweighs the potential benefits further down the road.

“A lot of them don’t wanna go through the college route out of fear that it’s gonna be exactly like high school, except now you’ll have to pay money for it,” Skillern said. “Our goal is to have them see the benefits instead of the obstacles.”

Because each high school student has unique career goals, Skillern said UPrep also doesn’t want to stigmatize those who don’t go down the four-year path and follow other vocational prospects. Last spring, UPrep even gave out their first scholarship to a student who went to attend culinary school.

Though Breitbeil said UPrep still has room for growth and hopes to expand to other schools, she said she is excited for the organization’s future and is comfortable leaving it in the hands of another generation of UT students. 

“Several of the volunteers at LBJ, including myself, would hear most often that we need more people or more groups like you,” Breitbeil said. “It’s not just a compliment. There is such a need for assistance and we want to be able to be as effective as we can.”