From 9th to 11th grade, I met with my guidance counselor for five minutes a year. I could see the frustration behind her face. I knew she cared, and I had so many questions: on college, on how to afford it, and on how to convince myself I was qualified enough in the first place. I also had five minutes before the next student arrived, and I was out of time. As one of 350 students assigned to my guidance counselor, I knew I shouldn’t have expected anything less, and yet I was still left frustrated for believing any differently.
Going to a public high school in Los Angeles of almost 3,000 students, I felt overwhelmed. My counselors felt overwhelmed. My friends, teachers, administrators– all overwhelmed by a lack of resources for our growing student body.
I saw that the staff and the students at my school cared about our education, but those questions I had so wanted to ask my guidance counselor were never answered. In an environment where only 30% of our students went on to attend a 4-year college, my peers and I needed to know how to make a college degree affordable and a reality.
Google became my college advisor as I spent the next few weeks scouring the internet for opportunities. The scholarships I could find were too niche. Study abroad and summer programs carried hefty price tags my family couldn’t afford, and internships were either too regional or too abstract to hold value.
After investing over 100 hours of research into my search for resources, I grew incredibly frustrated that no simple way existed to connect public high school students to the resources they need to succeed. Most of the students I knew already had part-time jobs on top of their academics, and there was simply no way they could put this sort of time into their search.
I knew opportunities were out there for other public high school students, too. From sophomore to senior year, I won opportunities to study abroad for free in Germany, Switzerland, France, and England, received $28,500 in outside scholarships and studied politics at Yale over the summer without breaking the bank. Yes, I made this system work for me, but at a cost of time and energy that I knew the vast majority of my fellow students couldn’t provide.
What if there was a way to streamline this process for high school students? What if instead of spending weeks searching dozens of websites across the internet, students could spend minutes searching one site for all the resources they could possibly need?
I asked these questions to myself, and to my fellow 2017 Coca-Cola Scholars, and the more I brainstormed, the more I became excited. Starting at my high school, my friend Alvin Kim and I spent weeks researching opportunities, and we wrote and distributed 350 twenty-six page booklets to our junior class. I saw the electric enthusiasm present at each step in the process, from other Coca-Cola Scholars suggesting their own opportunities, to the delight in our fellow students’ faces when we not only provided them booklets but affirmations of their academic potential.
From these booklets, Peerlift was born, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit I co-founded with Alvin this past August to transform access to opportunities for high school students across the United States. I didn’t want to create another scholarship website, but rather launch the first major opportunities platform specifically designed for low to middle-income students. Our site currently features six comprehensive categories: scholarships, internships, study abroad programs, awards, free college fly-ins, and summer programs. I’d like Peerlift to become the one-stop destination I wish I had in high school.
With our weekly site traffic roughly tripling each month, and our high school outreach initiatives impacting students in 49 states, Peerlift is looking to fundamentally change how high school students access opportunities.
The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation has played an integral role in that success, whether by recently listing us as a top college resource on their website or by providing a space during Scholars Weekend for us to come together and share our passions. I’m proud to say that the majority of our Board of Directors: Julie Chen, Sravya Alla, and Neha Paragi are 2017 Scholars as well. Collaborating with the Foundation holds special value to me. I’m almost reliving the excitement (and fear!) I felt driving 7 hours up to San Francisco for my Semifinalist interview or the exhilaration of telling my parents that I had won the scholarship for the first time.
For high school students looking to get involved, I would personally love to work with you as a Peerlift Student Ambassador. We’re growing our Student Ambassador Network across the country, and are looking to do local outreach in public schools in every state of the US. Join the movement through our Get Involved page, check us out on Facebook, or find your next opportunity at peerlift.org.
Sam Gorman is a 2017 Coca-Cola Scholar serving as the founder and Executive Director of Peerlift. A strong advocate for educational equity, Sam believes that access to opportunities should be open to all. Currently an undergraduate at Stanford University, he’s especially interested in applying technology to create social change. Outside of Peerlift, Sam enjoys learning foreign languages (German, French, and a bit of Spanish!), and keeping up with his favorite soccer team, Manchester United. Feel free to connect with Sam on LinkedIn, or say hi at email@example.com.