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  • Exploring College

    Exploring College is a four-year enrichment program designed to support and prepare high school students for college admission and general life after high school. The program encourages collegiate aspirations and aims to improve college readiness among its participants, many of whom will be first-generation students and/or come from low-income backgrounds, and to increase the number of those students who attend college. In keeping with the mission of the Vassar College Urban Education Initiative, Exploring College also aims to create a community of learners which includes both Vassar students and students from Dutchess County public schools-- with a focus on Poughkeepsie High School (Vassar’s nearest neighboring school) and Arlington High School. Our programming meets 3 days a week afterschool and focuses on creating meaningful and supportive relationships between Vassar mentors and high school students through one-on-one tutoring, college preparation workshops, community building activities and extracurricular projects.

    We invite students from all grades and levels of academic achievement to join us, including students who are not sure what their plans are after high school. We work to create programming based on the interests and needs of our students.

    Though we meet three days a week, students are not required to attend all three days. We understand that high schoolers are busy and have many extracurricular commitments, so we would like our program to be accessible at whatever level our students desire. We also offer other opportunities for students to be involved with Exploring College, including outside tutoring and one-time events. Students can indicate which aspect of programming they are interested in on their application. See below for more information on each aspect of our programming and how to get involved!

    Exploring College Programming:

    After School Programming

    Our afterschool program meets on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3pm-5pm. Each day has a different focus.


    • We offer skill-building and how-to workshops on subjects such as college essay writing, scholarship searches/applications, resume writing, SAT techniques, etc.
    • In the second half of programming students have the option to attend Book Club where students share and read texts of their choice, or the option to work one-on-one with their mentor.


    • In the first half of programming we start with one-on-one tutoring and help students with whatever they need, be it homework support, college application advice, financial aid help, etc.
    • In the second half we do community building activities, where students are able to get to know each other a bit more and participate in games or arts & crafts.
    • occasionally we use Tuesdays to take field trips to local venues, such as Locust Grove or the Frances Lehman Loeb art museum.


    • We work on “Academic Enrichment” projects, which allows students to pursue scholarly interests they may not get to experience during the school day,
    • We meet on Vassar’s campus, inviting students to utilize college resources and attend events.

    Some recent topics in Academic Enrichment have focused on ways to reduce climate change, map making and the value/mechanics of personality quizzes like the Myers-Briggs test. We have also spent the past semester engaging with the genre of personal narrative and exploring different formats artists use to express themselves, such as poetry, visual art, podcasting and music videos. Students have had the opportunity to experiment with these formats themselves to develop their own stories, which could eventually help with their personal essay in college applications!


    The main feature of our organization is to establish one-on-one mentorships between high school students and current college students. Tutoring is built into our afterschool programming, as described above, but we also work to make this service available outside of regular programming. We are happy to schedule individual tutoring sessions according to the needs and availability of any student.

    Pop-up Events and Workshops

    We recognize that not everyone will be able to make it to afterschool programming, but we want to offer our resources to anyone interested! To help reach this goal, we organize multiple one-time events throughout the year on different topics. Examples of past events include financial aid information sessions for parents and the Spring Senior Workshop for graduating seniors planning to attend college in the fall.

    We also offer college trips over the summer and school breaks so our students are able to visit and learn more about different types of schools.

    Additionally, we invite students to events and performances at Vassar and organize for our students to attend as a group outing. Last year students attended the spring Fire Show put on by Vassar’s circus troupe, the Barefoot Monkeys.

    Exploring College Summer Intensive

    In addition to our programming during the school year, we also offer a two-week residential summer program on Vassar’s campus. Students in our program get to experience a taste of college life by living in a dorm, attending courses taught by Vassar professors, and participating in fieldwork. The theme for the 2020 intensive is climate change. Read more and apply.

    Interested in Applying?

    We would love to have you! We are currently looking for students of ALL GRADES!

    High school students interested in enrolling in Exploring College must complete the program application, attached below. Applications can be submitted in person to your student’s guidance counselor, via email to, or regular mail to the following address:

    Kelly Bernatzky, 124 Raymond Avenue, Box 45, Poughkeepsie, NY 12604

    Application form

    Information for Vassar Students

    Vassar students interested in volunteering or work-study opportunities through Exploring College should have an interest in education, college readiness and/or high school tutoring. In addition to work-study and volunteer opportunities, students may also sign-up for credit as part of Community Engaged Learning. Participants will be responsible for planning community building activities, designing and presenting workshops, organizing collaborations with Vassar organizations and developing other academically-related programming for high school students. For more information on volunteer, CEL and work-study opportunities please email or call (845) 437-5928.


    Please contact Kelly Bernatzky with any questions at or (845) 437-5928

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