A College Program for Disadvantaged Teens Could Shake Up Elite Admissions

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But the one measure available to test his college readiness — his A.P. tests — deflated him. “When I got back my 2s,” he recalled, “I was like, ‘OK, maybe I don’t have the college ability I thought I had.’”

He took the Arizona State University class “Introduction to Engineering” through the Equity Lab — and ranked No. 1 out of the 50 in the course.

“I just thought, ‘I can do this,’” he said.

Mr. Blount went on to the Harvard poetry course and is currently enrolled in his second Cornell course, “Big Data for Big Policy Problems.” He also added a few more colleges to his application list — Cornell, Duke, Columbia and Howard — which had previously been dominated by State University of New York schools.

“I now see college as fighting against a set of circumstances that were created to keep me where I am,” he said.

Jose Estevez, 17, of Buffalo, finished the “Poetry in America” course last semester with an 85, after failing his final exam.

But the affirmation of its professor still sticks with him. In December, at a closing ceremony for the course, Dr. New told the group, “Credit is such valuable currency, and you worked so hard to get it during the most challenging year any of us can remember having ever experienced.”

She added, “The most important preparation for college, I think, may not be the A.P. courses, the books you read, but really the challenges that you met with resiliency.”

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