Helping Virginia students get a GRASP on college

One of the most joyous moments you can have as a high school student is opening a college acceptance letter. (Need a reminder?) The late-night studying, the perfect attendance and extracurricular activities produce that one perfectly delirious moment.

Then, not long after, for many students and their families, a practical reality quickly sets in: how are you going to pay for it all.  And before you know it, that joy has turned to equal parts stress and anxiety.

That’s where GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program (GRASP) can help. The nonprofit helps ease worries about paying for college by assisting Virginia high school students through the often complex and intimidating financial aid process.

“This year, we are in 87 high schools and about 39 school districts. Our program’s core consists of advisors assigned to each of these high schools,” said GRASP Director of Outreach and Public Affairs Paula Buckley. “We work with students on the financial aid process or whatever post-secondary education or training they’re looking at doing after high school.”

GRASP believes in equity, embracing students’ unique talents, building their confidence in a secure space and ensuring career and college access for everyone.

A primary focus of GRASP is to work with students on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA).

“We especially try to target low-income and first-generation students, who may not have anybody in the family or anybody in their family that knows the financial aid process,” said Buckley.

Pivot during the pandemic

During the pandemic, GRASP adjusted to helping students virtually.

“We can use Google Meet, text, email, talk on the phone or any other avenue of communication to connect with students,” said Buckley. “Each of our advisors builds a relationship with the counseling office at the school. Using Google Classroom has made it easier to reach students because students learn from home and connect with us if they need help with financial aid or post-secondary options.”

Scholarship opportunities for high school students

GRASP aims to offer 50-100 scholarships a year for participants in their program. Students who attend one of the 87 high schools served by GRASP and have met with their GRASP counselor are eligible to apply for the last dollar scholarship.

The scholarship helps fund books, computers or other costs that a student’s financial aid package cannot cover. GRASP sponsors fund these last dollar scholarships, which allow applicants to attend the college or technical school of their choice.

Former GRASP student Destiny Coleman, celebrating her graduation from Christopher Newport University.

For students attending community college, GRASP offers the Community College Pathway Scholarship. GRASP grants $1,000 scholarships to selected students for their first year of community college. Eligible scholarship applicants must attend one of Virginia’s Community Colleges to receive a career certificate or transfer to a four-year public or private university to Virginia.

The application deadline for all GRASP scholarships is April 16.

“Those with the financial means and understand the value of education should consider donating,” said Buckley. “But I think more and more people realize that inequity exists in our country, especially with all of today’s challenges. GRASP is trying to help fill that void for the students, especially those that need assistance.”

To learn more about GRASP, to apply to one of its scholarship opportunities or to donate, visit its website, or follow the organization on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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