Program helps prepare low-income students for success at some of the nation's top colleges

CTY Scholars Class of 2019 will head to schools like NYU, Columbia, Princeton, Yale, and Johns Hopkins this fall

CTY Scholars group photo

Image caption: Members of the CTY Scholars Class of 2019 are headed to some of the world’s most elite universities—including JHU—this fall.

Image credit: Monica Garcia

The Johns Hopkins CTY Scholars Class of 2019 is made up of 35 high school seniors from around the country. Many of them come from single-parent families, or unsafe neighborhoods, or work part-time jobs to help their families make ends meet. Their average household income is $36,000.

These same students are also top-ranked in their high school classes. This spring, as colleges release their acceptance decisions, they are learning that their hard work will lead them to some of the most selective universities in the world. Five CTY Scholars have been accepted to Johns Hopkins University, while others are headed to Columbia, NYU, Princeton, and Yale this fall.

The CTY Scholars Program, offered through the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, is for students underrepresented in higher education. They apply as eighth-graders and are selected based on grades, household income, and an interview. Accepted students receive four years of personalized academic and college advising, tour colleges, and take CTY's advanced courses throughout high school, all on scholarship. More than 700 students have participated in the program since it was founded in 2004; many are the first in their families to attend college.

Brianna Ruiz

Image caption: Brianna Ruiz, of Montebello, Calif., said the CTY Scholars Program has helped her envision a future for herself.

Image credit: Howard Korn

CTY Scholar Brianna Ruiz, from Montebello, California, said the program has helped her envision a future beyond the expectations set for her at an early age.

"As a Latina who's been told she needs to start cleaning and cooking as soon as possible, that isn't exactly the biggest source of motivation," she said. "By having access to an amazing mentor that's been at my side for the past four years, I've been guided to take the right steps that I wouldn't have known otherwise."

Last month, Ruiz learned she had received a full scholarship to Johns Hopkins University.

"I saw in bold blue lettering, 'YOU'VE BEEN ADMITTED TO THE CLASS OF 2023!' I was absolutely ecstatic," she said. "I'm certain that my passions will be nurtured at a place like JHU."

Program advisers start shaping students' mindsets before they even set foot in high school.

"When we first meet families, we start by dispelling the myth that because they are low-income, there is no way they are going to a top-tier college," said Makaya Jackson, CTY Scholars program manager.

Advisers familiarize students with a range of colleges and help them decide which might be the best fit for their learning styles, personalities, and career interests. Affording college is also a big consideration.

"We want to make sure these kids don't leave college with large amounts of debt, so we make sure they apply to schools with historically substantial financial aid packages," adviser Monica Garcia said.

CTY Scholars are expected to maintain top grades, participate in extracurricular activities, and gain leadership experience throughout high school. For students like Henry Rodesno-Hercules, a senior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, the rewards for this hard work are invaluable. Henry has also been offered a full scholarship to attend JHU.

"I've been a lot of firsts in my family, and being able to go to college is one of the biggest firsts for me—I'm setting the example for my siblings," said Rodesno-Hercules, who is the oldest of five. "My mom has always told me to get the best grades I could so I could do something with my life. Seeing all of this hard work get a good result has made her happy."