Building Student Success

Make the Road New Jersey Launches First Youth Led Student Success Center with EPS!

In September 2019, via an innovative partnership with the Elizabeth Public Schools (EPS), Make the Road New Jersey (MRNJ) launched New Jersey’s first youth led Student Success Center (SSC), a peer-to-peer training and support network which aims to increase by 20% college applications in EPS's highest-need school and by 15% financial aid application district-wide in its first year.

History of Student Success Center 

After a survey by Make the Road youth found that more than 85% of EPS students wanted to go to college, but over 60% reported inadequate access to counseling and information about college. MRNJ sought to close this gap and, using as a starting point a model observed in Philadelphia, MRNJ designed the Student Success Center (SSC) to utilize the expertise of community based organizations and the power of youth leadership.

“When I was a junior, before the Student Success Center, I was overwhelmed by the financial aid application process. The summer training program was super helpful for me and afterwards, I knew that there still were hundreds of other students who felt like I did at the end of junior year. That’s why I decide to get involved. Now I work with students all throughout the City and help ease their fears about navigating the financial aid application process.” - Madeleine Bravo, senior, Alexander Hamilton Preparatory Academy

The SSC Model

The overarching change strategy of the SSC model is to create a culture of college possibility that permeates a schools’ climate, classrooms and activities. The SSC is a distinct space (a.k.a. a 'Drop-in Center') within a school and the program design is three-tiered:

  1. Youth leaders (a.k.a. College Ambassadors) are trained by MRNJ staff, so that they are equipped with the skills, knowledge and attitudes to educate and assist their peers with the college admissions process;
  2. Youth leaders and program staff provide group workshops, trips, and college-awareness programming to all students, all interested parents, and staff/faculty through a regular program series;
  3. Youth leaders and program staff provide 1:1 intensive college advising and financial aid assistance at the Drop-in Center.

Through this three-level approach, we increase the knowledge base, skill set and comfort-level of students, parents and school faculty and thus, raise the expectation that students will go to college. Through the SSC, we provide the key wrap-around services to engage students, faculty, parents, and alumni in transforming the schools’ culture into a college-ready environment.

Overview of the New Jersey's First-Ever SSC 

New Jersey's first-ever SSC is located inside of Halsey Academy (one of the seven EPS high schools). The SSC is open to all Halsey Academy students during the school day and open to all EPS students after school. And the SSC model of putting youth at the center of the college process has generated powerful results. In its first four months: 

  • 100% of Halsey Academy seniors have received college and financial aid access training through the SSC;
  • 85% of Halsey Academy seniors have applied to college; and
  • More than 350 EPS high school students from throughout the district have applied for financial aid with College Ambassadors' support.


Adrian is a high school senior at Elizabeth High School. He is one of 10 high school students who helps operate the SSC. Adrian has attended all 7 of Elizabeth's high school Back to School nights, distributing flyers, talking with parents, and booking appointments with students. In the last three months alone, Adrian has met with more than 140 high school seniors from throughout the City and supported them complete their college or financial aid application.


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