University of Virginia Rotunda

Hoos First Look, which offers an all-expenses-paid visit to the University of Virginia for high school students who will be the first in their family to attend college and who wouldn’t otherwise be able to tour the school, is in its second year.

W hen Brandon Kim gave tours to prospective University of Virginia students, he frequently mentioned his own experience as a first-generation, low-income student and searched the visitors’ faces for signs of whether they could relate.

“But I quickly realized that a lot of these tours were by kids with parents who could take off work and book a ticket and fly across the country for a college tour,” said Kim, a 2019 graduate. “And that wasn’t the original reason I wanted to be a guide; I wanted to be a face for other [first-generation, low-income] students.”

In 2018, Kim and a friend, both QuestBridge scholars, decided to start a program that would offer an all-expenses-paid visit to UVa for high school students who will be the first in their family to attend college and who wouldn’t otherwise be able to tour the school. They called it Hoos First Look, and the program, now in its second year, is gearing up to bring another set of students to Charlottesville.

“There are a lot of programs here that cater to minority students who are already accepted,” Kim said. “But those students have already crossed the finish line, in a sense, and we wanted to help out students who aren’t sure yet where they’re going or what is out there.”

The project targets students who might otherwise have a hard time affording a college visit, or whose family isn’t aware of the ins and outs of the college application process. It also aims to help first-generation students — estimated to make up as much of a third of college undergraduates across the country — find their footing and a sense of community at UVa.

“I don’t want other kids to go through the trouble I had,” said Brandon Thompson, a rising fourth-year and incoming co-chair of the organization. “There’s so much to the application process that other kids that are legacy don’t have to deal with.”

Joanne Lee, a rising third-year and incoming co-chair of the program, said her first year at UVa — as a first-generation, low-income student from Philadelphia — was tough. She has become more comfortable in Charlottesville, she said, but likewise hopes that a smoother introduction to an elite university will help other first-gen students.

“I just want to help them know that going to top-tier schools is accessible,” she said. “There are a lot of programs at UVa that make an impact, but I feel Hoos First Look has the power to make an impact on an overlooked minority.”

In 2018, the organization brought 15 students to Grounds. They offered seminars, one-on-one meetings with college advisers and social events for students to experience Charlottesville and UVa culture.

“It really made kids feel like they could belong,” Thompson said, recalling a dinner at Kardinal Hall. “And that night honestly solidified, for me too, that UVa was a place where we could belong and that it was the right place for me to be.”

This year, the group hopes to serve 20 students, with one-third coming from out of state. They already have 12 applicants, and rising high school juniors have until Sept. 8 to apply.

“This experience is so invaluable because you learn so much more than what the college application process is,” Lee said. “You also learn what living at college is really like. I hope it gives students a different look at UVa and college, and helps make their decision easier.”

The organization’s two-year grant from The Jefferson Trust will expire soon, and the group is seeking additional funding to continue the program past 2019.

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Ruth Serven Smith is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7254, or @RuthServen on Twitter.

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