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Friendly Competition Encourages High School Students to Prepare for College

It's one thing for teachers and counselors to tell students they should think about college and apply for financial aid.  It's quite another when you add an element of competition and the promise of a celebrity visit.

This year, Get Schooled, a national non-profit based in New York, partnered with Capital One Bank to create a friendly competition among 60 New York City high schools to get more students on the path to college. The latest round focused on increasing completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as FAFSA.  The High School of Fashion Industries won the round with a 20 percent boost in FAFSA completion this spring compared to 2014.

And to celebrate the accomplishment, singer and songwriter NE-YO came to the school this week to talk about the importance of college and overcoming setbacks. He also broke into song and got the auditorium of 2,000 students singing along, Marie Groark, executive director of Get Schooled, said in a phone interview.

"We pick the talent who have a passion for education and can convey the message about hard work in the face of challenge," said Groark. "It can have a significant impact." 

The first round of the competition in the fall encouraged students to apply to college and tallied applications submitted from each school. Round two was about FAFSA, and the final leg of the competition tracks how many students go on to the Get Schooled website to explore college options and resources. The top 150 students from the final round will be invited to a party at MTV headquarters.

"The goal is to connect with kids and give them inspiration they need to get to the end of the year," Groark said, adding that student ambassador groups in each school used posters and publicity to promote the competition. "We want to get the whole school involved to affect the culture of the school."

In addition to the competition in New York, Get Schooled, which was launched in 2010, has sponsored similar challenges in California with positive results. While resources are available, too often kids don't have a connection with a school counselor and aren't aware of how to navigate the college search process, Groark said. The organization's work focuses on under-resourced schools with first-generation college students who could benefit from additional support.

"Within the right framework or using a game you can motivate kids to do things they might not do otherwise," she said. "Instead of just randomly bringing talent to a school, if you suggest they have to work for it and earn it, kids start to do amazing things."

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