There’s a lot of excitement during this time of year, thanks to the start of the academic year at K-12 schools and local universities and colleges. This is also the time that high school seniors start the college application process.

While many students benefit from college application assistance from family members or high school counselors, not every student has access to the tools for success. For example, first-generation students often lack these resources because they are the first in their immediate families to attend college; these same students also often come from communities that have been historically under-represented in higher education.

But, several San Diego community-based organizations are addressing these challenges as part of the San Diego Foundation Community Scholars Initiative. If you know a San Diego student who could benefit from the support these college access and success programs offer, these organizations are here to assist throughout the region.

Barrio Logan College Institute


The Barrio Logan College Institute has a vision that “every child shall have access to higher education, not limited by culture or status, resulting in a thriving community and a better world.” It has created a college-readiness model that has positive, proven outcomes in enrolling students in college and helping them be successful while there. To date, 100% of BLCI students have enrolled in college.

Its program starts in elementary school in the third grade and continues through college. In the College Success Program, students receive academic support to improve their chances of attending a quality college or university; training such as setting goals, building professional networks and community leadership; and learn how to prepare for college entrance exams, apply to institutions and finance their higher education.

MANA de San Diego

MANA de San Diego

The mission of MANA de San Diego is “to empower Latinas through education, leadership development, community service and advocacy.” The Hermanitas Youth Leadership Mentor Program challenges Latina middle and high school students to reach beyond a high school diploma, to graduate from a higher education institution and to enter the professional workforce as Latina leaders empowered to affect positive change.

Created in 1987, the Hermanitas Youth Leadership Mentor Program has served over 600 local Latinas, ages 12 to 18. The program features a curriculum of monthly educational seminars, community service, and writing and reading assignments. The National Hermanitas Summer Institute, Girls Scouts of America and other school-based initiatives form part of the Hermanitas program.

Ocean Discovery Institute


To inspire the next generation of science leaders, Ocean Discovery Institute creates learning experiences for young people traditionally excluded from science due to race, income status and educational opportunity. The Ocean Discovery Institute was founded in 1999 and provides science experiences, mentoring and growth mindset tools for success exclusively to students in San Diego Unified School District’s Hoover Cluster, which includes elementary and middle schools that serve that serve as a pipeline to Hoover High School in City Heights.

Students who are serious about pursuing college and careers in science and science-related fields participate in a four-year pathway as an “Ocean Leader” that begins in the 9th grade and ends with the College Access Mentoring Program (CAMP 1) during their senior year of high school. In 2021, 100% of CAMP 1 students went on to higher education. According to Ocean Discovery Institute, these young people are six times more likely to graduate from college than their peers, and to date, 42% of Ocean Leaders who completed CAMP 1 have entered high-paying careers in science and related fields.

Reality Changers

Reality Changers

Reality Changers prepares youth to become first-generation college graduates and agents of change in their communities. Reality Changers’ College Apps Academy supports high school seniors throughout the college decision, application and financial aid process, and consists of small group, instructor-led sessions for 2.5 hours per week throughout the school year. As part of the program, instructors teach students how to choose, apply and pay for college; deliver ACT/SAT preparation support; and provide one-on-one, tailored assistance to students.

Reality Changers also provides students with assistance with their final college decisions, including housing and orientation deadlines, and provides post-acceptance support, such as financial literacy training, college course selection assistance and how to network.

Urban League of San Diego County

Urban League of SD

The mission of the Urban League of San Diego County’s Project Ready is to spark youth with the curiosity to increase their knowledge of self and community while investigating African American history. Project Ready is a five-year program designed to develop students’ knowledge and attitudes toward, and capacity for, post-secondary success. The program, which is presented in partnership with the National Urban League, includes presentations about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines and careers, college readiness, health and wellness, and service-learning programs, all in support of getting students ready for college, work and life.

Because of the diversity of the program’s students, Project Ready also discusses parallels, influences and connections of other underrepresented communities, such as the Latino, Afro-Latino, African and Pan-Asian communities. The Project Ready program also addresses the lack of culturally relevant and historically accurate information on the Black urban experience in America to empower youth with positive images of themselves as a people who have impacted the social, economic, political and cultural development of this nation, yesterday and today.

Tenacity Nurturing Talent


The purpose of the Sweetwater Union High School District Tenacity Nurturing Talent (TNT) college preparatory program is to provide students with the skills needed to prepare and attend a post-secondary program, such as a trade apprenticeship, community college or university. The program primarily targets young people who are in the foster youth system, homeless or unaccompanied minors.

The goal is to have students successfully pursue their post-secondary goals. TNT provides targeted specialized services to students to prepare them for college and career readiness. Topics covered include college applications, financial aid and scholarships, career planning and development, and soft skills for success in college and the workplace. The program also includes a social-emotional learning component to provide students the skills necessary to build the resiliency needed to be successful in college, career, and life.

Community Scholars Initiative

The San Diego Foundation Community Scholars Initiative helps San Diegans prepare for, pay for and persist through college. Since 2017, the initiative has resulted in $4 million invested in local college access and success programs, and nearly 500 student scholarships. Learn more about how San Diego Foundation is fostering equity of opportunity and building resilient communities through its Workforce Development and Education initiatives.