Introducing Strive

Michelle Obama launched the Reach Higher initiative to inspire more students to complete post-secondary education.

College as a Rite of Passage

“Wait, where’s Dad?”

I glanced at the clock in the living room: 3:04 PM. I looked at my mom and she shrugged her shoulders. Penn’s early decision results came out 4 minutes ago and we were going to check as a family. Just as I realized that my dad knew my password and did not have the patience to wait, I heard a faint “You got in!” from my parents’ bedroom. I sprinted up the stairs and confirmed with my own eyes: Penn Class of 2014. My dad was beaming and my mom was hugging me — and I had never felt prouder of myself.

That acceptance was a vindication for my parents, proof that their decades of struggle to provide an education for me were worth it. Attending college is a rite of passage for families pursuing the American Dream. These days, it’s not just useful for job placement — it’s an ever-growing part of so many people’s life journeys.

Attending an elite university has afforded me opportunities that my parents could only dream of. I’m infinitely grateful, but also painfully aware that for every student who gets an opportunity like mine, there are too many others who are not granted access to those chances.

“Getting In”

Where to attend college is the second largest financial decision that American families make. But the path toward college can be tough to navigate. According to the US Department of Education, the average student-to-counselor ratio at public schools is almost 500:1. Plus, less than 20% of counseling efforts at public school are targeted at college readiness; counselors simply have too much on their plates.

As a result, most American high school students have limited access to the resources they need to make an informed decision about college.

Here’s the big picture:

  • The admissions process is broken. Applying to college should be an exciting moment for students — an opportunity to discover themselves and find best-fit colleges that will help them pursue their unique passions. Instead, applying to college feels like a competition that defines achievement in ways that place massive pressure on students and their families.
  • As evidenced by stagnating college enrollment and college graduation rates, most American high school students don’t have the support they need to prepare for college. It’s expected that at least 2 in 3 American jobs will require postsecondary education by 2020, and currently only 1 in 3 American adults have attained a Bachelor’s degree.
  • The college process creates an uneven playing field where the barriers to entry for low-income and first-generation students are especially high. In fact, studies have shown that many low-income, high-achieving students do not apply to any selective colleges, even though those colleges will likely cost them less. If we’re looking towards higher education as an opportunity to improve social mobility, then we should be disappointed.

Starting Strive

Over the past six months, we’ve had conversations with students, parents, counselors, educators, schools, and nonprofits in order to better understand the challenges behind college readiness. We’re confident that student-centered and technology-driven college readiness tools and coaching can change how families navigate the college process. We started Strive to move a step closer in that direction.

It’s been incredibly rewarding to have worked with 50+ students to provide them with resources, one-to-one coaching, and first iterations of technology solutions — and we eagerly look forward to the path ahead.

We’re starting by offering personalized coaching for college essays. If you know of a rising high school senior who is looking for help with essays, send them our way ( Our first session is always free of charge.

If you’re interested in sharing your thoughts, learning more, or just feel excited about this, please reach out (! We have much to learn and your feedback and insights will help us build Strive the right way.