Senior challenges giving students extra incentive to apply to college


Completing college and financial aid applications early often yields its own rewards, but for students at two HISD campuses, it could also mean a free ticket to the senior prom or a day spent shadowing an admired professional.

Sharpstown High School Principal Rob Gasparello launched the Senior Challenge at his campus last fall, and students who meet all criteria are eligible to attend both the senior prom and the annual senior trip for free. 

“Prom tickets are around $50, and the trip is going to cost $500 or more, so students are really excited,” said College Access Coordinator Aaron Rodriguez. “Some of them see this as a true challenge, but it’s really designed to motivate seniors to do what they’re supposed to be doing anyway.”

At Davis High School, College Access Coordinator Alpa Sridharan is using other incentives to motivate her students, including a job-shadowing day in April.

“The students are really excited about it,” she said. “It’s motivating them to complete their applications and to think more deeply on what careers interest them and why.”

Davis is also offering its seniors a free “College 101” course in partnership with Houston Community College to help students bridge the gap between high school and higher education.

“What we have found is that sometimes student fail to persist (in college) for a lot of really simple reasons, that had they known there were health clinics or office hours available, they would have stayed,” said Sridharan. “So this helps kids who have the academic ability to succeed, but maybe not all the college knowledge.”

Assistant Superintendent of College Readiness Rick Cruz applauds educators who use creative incentive programs to motivate students.

“We certainly want our kids to be intrinsically motivated,” he said, “but many will be the first in their families to go to college. The application process can be intimidating, confusing, and daunting, so when we make it clear that it’s really important to complete, that sends a strong message.”