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roviding access to the underserved has long been a priority in college
admission. A newer trend to increase access to underserved students
are fly-in programs that enable students to visit campuses overnight, get
deeper insight into a college, and consider schools that they might not have
"The idea for fly-ins is to increase the number of underrepresented
students on campus-it's important for colleges to include a number of
student categories under this underrepresented umbrella-including
first-generation, lower-income, students of color, and students from rural
communities," explains Jonathan April, general manager of College
Greenlight, an online platform providing important resources to first-gen and
other underrepresented students.
Swarthmore College, in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, is one institution that
has launched a fly-in program. Discover Swarthmore is open to any high
school senior, but is geared toward students of color, low-income students,
rural students, first-generation-to-college students, and other traditionally
marginalized students, including DACA/undocumented students.
To make visiting a campus truly accessible to all populations, college
fly-in programs are often free for students. Discover Swarthmore covers the
costs of transportation, including flights (and even luggage fees), train fare,
and reimbursement for driving. Current Swarthmore undergrads host visiting
students and dine with them in the campus dining hall.
"Fly-ins are all about expanding access to students traditionally on the
margins of the college application process," said Windsor L. Jordan Jr.,
Swarthmore's senior assistant dean of admissions and director of multicultural
recruitment. "So for students who can't afford to travel for a campus visit,
or live in a rural environment where travel is limited, a fly-in program is
invaluable to giving them insight into a college."
The program has grown over the past few years. It is now offered twice
each fall and a spring fly-in program has started for admitted students.
Counselors and others nominate students for the fall program. Advisers
at community-based organizations, teachers, and high school counselors can
suggest students beginning in February.
"This allows us to begin communicating with counselors who are
working with these populations sooner and give them a long runway to work
with as they think about who to nominate," Jordan said.
Each campus develops a fly-in program differently, depending on their
institutional priorities. Diversity and student engagement with campus
resources are central to Swarthmore's fly-in program.
"One of the really special things about Discover Swarthmore is that
our admissions office has a chance to partner with diversity and inclusion
leaders on our campus and student groups in our cultural centers to create
programming that raises up the voices and experiences of underrepresented
students on our campus," Jordan explained. "This means when students
arrive on campus for our fly-in they get a chance to interact with folks who
share their experience and (they) can learn directly from them about what
it's like to be a student of color or a first-generation-to-college student on
our campus."
It's not just private small liberal arts colleges, like Swarthmore, that host
fly-in programs-many public universities offer them as well.
The Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan,
in Ann Arbor, started its All-Access Weekend two years ago. The event is




aimed at students interested in studying business and offers participants
the opportunity to engage in different business-based learning experiences.
Like Swarthmore, the school also offers a second fly-in program aimed at
admitted students. So far, Ross Preview Weekend has been a success: in its
first year, 75 percent of participants chose to enroll after attending, and the
number of students from limited-income families ($75,000 annual income or
below) rose 5 percent, according to C.J. Mathis, the school's assistant director
of undergraduate admissions.
He noted that the Ross events are somewhat unique because they bring
parents or guardians to campus along with their students.
"For many underrepresented students, college choice is a family decision,"
he said. "... It is equally as important to involve the family so (they) have a
sense of comfort knowing if their student chooses our institution, that they will
have the resources necessary to be successful and feel supported holistically."
Fly-in programs have positive benefits for students, said Ellen Ridyard,
director of Sponsor-a-Scholar at Philadelphia Futures, a nonprofit that
provides resources for low-income, first-generation college students to ease
access to college.
"We've definitely seen the impact of fly-ins in the way they cemented
students' connection to campus and decision to apply early decision..." said
Ridyard. "Students are able to capture significant fit details and heightened
storytelling in their supplementary essays based on their time on campus-
information you can't find by browsing the college website alone."
Philadelphia Futures has strategic partnerships with several colleges
in Pennsylvania, including: Albright College, Arcadia University, Dickinson
College, Drexel University, Gettysburg College, Franklin & Marshall College,
Haverford College, Lafayette College, Lehigh University, Penn State
University, Temple University, and Villanova University. Students visit each
partner college annually during a day trip. And program staff encourage
seniors to attend fly-in programs at any college they are seriously considering,
although Ridyard notes that space constraints limit the number of students
who can participate in any given program.
Fly-in programs not only allow students to learn more about a college and
deepen their interest in applying. They can also help prevent students from
making the wrong college choice, Ridyard noted.
"For example, last fall a student visited a selective liberal arts college with
a strong math program and quickly realized that the learning environment was
too small," Ridyard said. "From there, the student pivoted and focused their
application efforts on larger, selective research institutions."
Sometimes students and parents have misconceptions about what a fly-in
program is.
Mathis recommends that counselors and admission officers encourage
students to explore their options, while also being clear about the purposes
of the program.
"For example, invitation to a fly-in program does not guarantee admission
in many programs, so it's important that students understand this early in
order to best manage expectations for all involved," says Mathis.


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