My LA2050

Grants Challenge

$1,000,000 to make LA the best place to learn, create, play, connect, and live.


Undermine College Undermatching: Using Technology to Select the Best College Fit for LA's Students

Youth Policy Institute


YPI works with ideas42, the behavioral sciences agency that developed our College Choice tool, along with the following LA Unified School District high schools: Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, Camino Nuevo, New Village Girls Academy, LA Academy of Arts & Enterprise, Larchmont Charter, RFK Community School, STEM Academy, APEX Academy, and Helen Bernstein High School. YPI also partners with UCLA, USC, Cal State Northridge, the Claremont Colleges and UC Berkeley to host college field trips.

About Your Proposal

In one sentence, please describe what your organization does.

YPI ends intergenerational poverty by providing access to high-quality cradle-to-college-and-career services for the whole family.

In one to three sentences, please describe your project proposal.

Too many low-income students “undermatch” when they apply for college, a situation where well-qualified students apply to less competitive or cheaper schools. They wind up at a community college, for example, when they could have gone to UCLA. YPI’s College Choice Tool technology matches students to the best schools based on their GPA, SAT/ACT scores and interests, resulting in higher college enrollment and completion rates, while reducing student loan debt.

How much are you applying for?


How will your proposal impact the following LEARN metrics?

  • College completion
  • College matriculation rates
  • District-wide graduation rates
  • Student education pipeline

In what areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

Central LA, San Fernando Valley, LAUSD

Describe in greater detail how your proposal will make LA the best place to LEARN?

For anyone who has gone through it, you know how stressful and daunting the college application process can be. Getting into college takes a lot of time, effort and knowledge about just which colleges you should apply to and which ones may accept you. It’s an overwhelming process culminating in a decision that has long-term effects – college graduates have a lifetime earning potential of $2,927,000 compared to $1,193,000 among high school graduates (Harrington et al, 2010). No pressure, right? Now imagine you’re the first one in your family to apply for college, your parents have an 8th grade education and do not speak English very well, and your school’s college counselor is responsible for serving 700 students. That’s the reality for many of the kids we work with at YPI, and the lack of knowledgeable support results in 'undermatching' where, for example, a high school valedictorian accepted to UC Berkeley who opts to enroll in community college due to concerns for cost.

Ironically, the more academically competitive and expensive schools generally offer the most financial aid to low-income students. And academically competitive schools have higher success rates, so a qualified student who selects Harvard over community college is more likely to complete a degree than their undermatched counterpart.

YPI sees undermatching as an opportunity. We place College Advisors (paid staff) and College Ambassadors (full-time AmeriCorps members) at high-need schools to offer college readiness workshops and 1:1 advising. Advising sessions use YPI’s College Choice Tool technology, in which students input their GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and personal preferences like distance from home, cost, academic reputation, campus feel, and diversity. The Tool then calculates best match schools for each student to reduce undermatching.

Ambassadors and Advisors served nine schools in 2014-15. In these schools, only 33 students applied to a UC, 107 applied to other CA 4-year schools, and 172 applied to a community college. In 2015-16 (the second full year of services with the College Choice Tool) results were dramatically different. 106 students applied to a UC, 242 to a CA 4-year college, and 393 to a community college. After the 2-year pilot phase, YPI is ready to expand this program to nine new schools and serve even more students. YPI’s long-term goal is to take our College Choice Tool to scale so that by 2050, all LA high school students, but especially those with limited resources, will have access to this Tool to augment limited college counseling. This will ensure that every LA high school senior is matched to their most competitive and compatible college, resulting in higher college enrollment and graduation rates. This will ensure lifetime financial stability among LA’s youth, making LA not only the best place to LEARN, but the best place to PLAY, CREATE, CONNECT, and LIVE – all feasible thanks to the foundation of LEARNING.

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

Overall outcomes associated with our project include the following:
• 1,000 low-income students utilize the College Choice Tool and receive services from YPI College Ambassadors or Advisors (approximately 50% 11th graders and 50% 12th graders)
• 252 students will enroll in college (LA2050 college matriculation metric)

Each College Ambassador works with 40 students to ensure they graduate from high school and develop a path for postsecondary success. Metrics used to ensure that the above outcomes are met include the following:

• Each student participates in College Knowledge workshops to understand their post-secondary options;
• Each student utilizes College Choice Tool technology to explore options that are the best fit for their academic achievement and interests;
• Each enrolled student develops a post-secondary plan with goals, timeline, and specific steps, ensuring they are on track to enter into their selected post-secondary option after they graduate from high school; and
• Each student participates in small group and individual advising to complete college and financial aid applications, personal statements, and enrollment paperwork.

How can the LA2050 community and other stakeholders help your proposal succeed?

  • Money
  • Volunteers
  • Technical infrastructure (computers etc.)
  • Community outreach
  • Network/relationship support
  • Quality improvement research