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GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program (GRASP)

Mission: GRASP’s mission is to help students and their families, regardless of their financial resources and at no charge to them, develop an educational plan.

Community Need: Students in Virginia missed out on millions of dollars in grants and loans for college in 2017 just because they did not fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). A vital part of the GRASP program is assisting students in completing the FAFSA which is the basis for receiving financial aid at post-secondary institutions. The students who do not complete the FAFSA disqualify themselves automatically from receiving most types of financial aid.  Statistics show that only 55% of those pursuing a post-secondary education complete the FAFSA and that filling out the application alone can increase college enrollment and lead to larger financial aid packages. There is a knowledge gap that exists regarding post-secondary financial aid and “too many of the students who need this assistance don’t know about it. Their parents, many of whom have no college experience, don’t know about it either.” (

Constituents Served: All high school students in the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro, as well as Augusta, Highland, and Nelson counties, and their parents or guardians (and grandparents) are eligible for GRASP’s services.  Their services are free of charge to all the students, but they specifically target low-income students who are at greater risk of missing admission and financial aid deadlines because of lack of expert support, complex financial aid applications, and the overwhelming aid offer notification process.  During the 2016-2017 school year, GRASP helped 732 students, of whom 58% came from families with extreme financial need. Most students were 17 or 18 years of age, 53 were 16, 11 were 15, and one was 14. While most of these students were high school seniors, 151 of the 732 students were enrolled in the Early Commitment program where they started working with their GRASP advisor in 9th or 10th Grade.

Primary Activities: Advisors work within high school counseling departments and inform students on how to fund post-secondary education and secure the resources.  Through classroom presentations and individual meetings, they help students explore an array of options from community colleges and universities to workforce credentials; overcome financial and motivational barriers; complete the FASFA, as well as other required applications; access grants, scholarships, state/federal aid; and compare award letters from educational institutions so that choices support goals while minimizing debt.

In five of the area high schools, advisors begin working with cohorts of student in the 10th Grade. This program encourages post-secondary education through a three-year mentoring process that promotes community service, good grades, appropriate behavior, and regular school attendance. During the summer following graduation, a texting program gives students a lifeline for help with roadblocks that arise between graduation and matriculation. Once enrolled, they may take advantage of GRASP’s College Success Program.  Students may continue to receive support after high school graduation through the College Success Program, which uses a near-peer approach. The College Success Advisor mentors students as they matriculate to post-secondary education. The focus on post-secondary retention is achieved through social media, email programs, and problem-solving services.

Amount Requested: $8,000

Operating Budget: $1,822,180

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