At George Westinghouse College Preparatory High School on Chicago’s west side, college enrollment and persistence is an expectation from day one.

Principal Patrick McGill, EdD Urban Education Leadership student, sees the school’s mission as more than preparing students for college access and success.  In his two years at Westinghouse, he has focused on building infrastructure and support services that position students to apply to schools that maximize their scholarship funding opportunities.

Those efforts netted $17.5 million in scholarship assistance for the Class of 2015, an all-time high for the school.  Included in that total were 10 large scale scholarships valued at up to $260,000:  three QuestBridge scholarship winners, one Gates Scholar, four Posse Foundation Scholarships, one Wentcher Foundation Scholarship, one Golden Apple Scholar and one JROTC scholarship.

“Many times, students might be under the impression that private schools are always more expensive than state schools because they look at the sticker price,” McGill said. “In reality, private institutions usually have more funds available to provide to students like ours, who predominately are high performing, minority students, from low-income environments.”

Westinghouse’s scholarship efforts center around the school’s College and Career Center, staffed by a post-secondary liaison who works with students on college applications and scholarship applications. This support is in addition to our counselors ensuring that every student is well versed in the information needed to successfully navigate the college application and enrollment process. On an individual level, the liaison and counselors reach out to students with information on scholarships tailored to the profiles of each student.  At the school level, a regular scholarship bulletin is published throughout the course of the academic year, and students engage in lessons on scholarship applications during weekly advising sessions with counselors and the post-secondary liaison.

Westinghouse’s emphasis on applying to schools that offer institutional scholarship funds stems not just from a desire to increase access for students from low-income populations.  McGill is a fervent believer that students succeed at a significantly higher level at match and reach colleges, as opposed to attending safety schools.  All students are required to apply to at least two safety schools, three match schools and two reach schools to generate a range of academic and financial aid options to choose from.

To accomplish that goal, the school’s counseling staff sets up interventions with students who have not reached the target number of college applications that focuses not just on hitting the required numbers but examines the qualitative aspects of the schools and scholarships students are applying for.

“It goes against conventional wisdom; parents and students think if a student goes to a school he or she is overqualified for, it’s going to be easier,” McGill said. “Students think they are more likely to graduate because school is easier, but the literature is clear that match and reach schools are more likely to generate college persistence and graduation.”

Over the past three years at Westinghouse, scholarship totals have increased from $5 million to $11.5 million to the current level of $17.5 million.  McGill says he sees no reason why the school’s students should not be able to reach $40 million, given their academic and socioeconomic status.  To reach that level, he sees a need for the school to ramp up the individual touches staff engage in with each student.  McGill says the infrastructure is in place for each senior to generate and follow through on a post-secondary plan, and the next step for the school is to build tracking programs that monitor each student’s progress throughout the year to better foster interventions.