Making “Go To College!” a Reality for Democracy Prep Scholars

Teng Yang is a powerhouse on the College and Success Team. In his seven years with Democracy Prep, he has been a beloved college counselor of Democracy Prep Charter High School and now, Assistant Director of College Access and Success.

Teng’s tenacious commitment to getting Democracy Prep scholars to and through college has been recognized by the larger college admissions community. Recently, he received the “Counselors Who Change Lives” award for his strong advocacy work on behalf of Democracy Prep scholars.

For Teng, scholar advocacy in the context of college counseling is about “really knowing the students inside and out: their hopes, their dreams, family backgrounds, how they’ve grown, how they’ve changed, and advocating for them not only in a compelling way that situates them within the admissions group (the cohort of students applying to the same college) but also as a human being. I think folks are often surprised we give such thoughtful advocacy to students who need it the most, but we know that all of our students are capable of success in college and beyond.”

Teng points out that at rich, independent prep schools, there are many college counselors, and they are paid huge amounts of money to ensure their students get into elite schools. Oftentimes that doesn’t happen for low-income students.
“We [in this country] are losing out on a huge population of really smart and talented kids of color,” said Teng. “Not only are we missing out on their effect on economic growth for our country, we are simply losing out on their voices at the table.”

Teng sees Democracy Prep scholars as capable thought partners in imagining our future world and the world we want to build.

“We need more students like ours who come from distinct experiences who are underrepresented to have a voice at the table in a powerful and meaningful way, and I think a college education is the chance to gain the tools to articulate those things,” said Teng.

In the wake of the recent college admissions scandal where wealthy parents were caught paying thousands of dollars to fraudulently gain acceptances to elite colleges for their children, a group of college admissions officers from across the country decided to come together to radically reimagine the college admissions process. The movement they created is called Hack the Gates, and over 3,000 people applied to join the initial conference. Teng was one of 100 applicants selected to attend.

So what would Teng like to change about the college admissions process?

“I’ve always thought that financial aid was really broken,” said Teng. “I’d love to reimagine financial aid and the processes that oftentimes make it a huge inconvenience for our families. [I’d like to fix] systems that are broken and difficult for all students to navigate and think about how we make them more streamlined for everyone so that it’s a just system.”

The success of the College Access and Success Team was recently covered in a Wall Street Journal article. To learn more about the work of the College Access and Success Team, click here.

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