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Building Student Success

Make the Road New Jersey Launches NJ’s First Youth Led Student Success Center!

In September 2019, via an innovative partnership with the Elizabeth Public Schools (EPS), Make the Road New Jersey (MRNJ) launched New Jersey’s first youth-led Student Success Center (SSC), a peer-to-peer training and support network. Since the SSC facilitated college access trainings for thousands of EPS students district-wide, as well as for students from across the state, and raised the college application and acceptance rate by over 30% at one of Elizabeth’s lowest performing high school.


After a survey by Make the Road youth found that more than 85% of EPS students wanted to go to college, but over 60% reported inadequate access to counseling and information about college. MRNJ sought to close this gap and, using as a starting point a model observed in Philadelphia, MRNJ designed the Student Success Center (SSC) to utilize the expertise of community based organizations and the power of youth leadership.

“It was May 2020 and I still hadn’t received my financial aid package. We were in the thick of the pandemic and I couldn’t get on the phone with anyone; I couldn’t commit without it. I had worked with Jason [College Ambassador] to submit the FAFSA and NJCU’s EOF application. I texted him and for the next month he worked with me to call through whole directories, get an extension on submitting a deposit, set-up a back-up plan, and finally get in touch with the Office of Financial Aid. Jason reassured me all the while not to give up on my dream of attending NJCU.”
– Pierre F., freshman engineering major at New Jersey City University


The overarching change strategy of the SSC model is to create a culture of college possibility that permeates a schools’ climate, classrooms and activities. The SSC is a distinct space (a.k.a. a ‘Drop-in Center’) within a school and the program design is three-tiered:

  1. Youth leaders are trained by MRNJ staff, so that they are equipped with the skills, knowledge and attitudes to educate and assist their peers with the college admissions process;
  2. Youth leaders and program staff provide group workshops, trips, and college-awareness programming to all students, all interested parents, and staff/faculty through a regular program series;
  3. Youth leaders and program staff provide 1:1 intensive college advising and financial aid assistance at the Drop-in Center.

Through this three-level approach, we increase the knowledge base, skill set and comfort-level of students, parents and school faculty and thus, raise the expectation that students will go to college. Through the SSC, we provide the key wrap-around services to engage students, faculty, parents, and alumni in transforming the schools’ culture into a college-ready environment.

The SSC model of putting youth at the center of the college process has generated powerful results. Since the SSC opened in September 2019:

Since its inception, the Student Success Center has provided college readiness and financial aid trainings to over 16,000 high school students. The SSC has supported more than 2,700 high school seniors to complete their FAFSA and HESSA applications and scholarships. High school seniors from the Elizabeth School District have cumulatively received more than 22 million dollars in grants and scholarships.

  • College Ambassadors were featured in Scholastic and for their work during the pandemic.

  • Celebrated multiple college acceptances and full-tuition offers at universities throughout and outside of the state, including Howard University, Stanford University, Kean University, Rutgers University-Newark (including the Honors Living Learning Community), Stevens Institute of Technology, Union County College (including the Nursing Program), and St. Peter’s University.



Adrian is a high school senior at Elizabeth High School. He is one of 10 high school students who helps operate the SSC. Adrian has attended all 7 of Elizabeth’s high school Back to School nights, distributing flyers, talking with parents, and booking appointments with students. In the last three months alone, Adrian has met with more than 140 high school seniors from throughout the City and supported them to complete their college or financial aid application.

Support our work at the Student Success Center today! Click to donate.

To request support regarding the Student Success Center please contact or call (908) 368-1196 ext. 7.

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