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Get Schooled was founded five years ago through a partnership with Viacom and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Our mission has been to empower and engage young people and to give them the tools and inspiration to get the education they need to succeed.

Is Gamification Key to Unlocking The Holy Grail of College Access?

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By Nourisha Wells and Fiona Yung

For the average high school student, college is the Holy Grail of access to “the good life.” It is where teens mature into adults. It is where dreams formulate into plans. It is where students learn the world is bigger than they ever imagined and the connections they make during those four years can completely change their lives. But like the search for the Holy Grail, the journey to college is shrouded in mystery, fraught with daunting obstacles, and lends itself to all kinds of missteps. At Get Schooled, we desire to create a roadmap for the most vulnerable students to navigate the college application process so they, too, can gain access to the best college has to offer.

Get Schooled is a digital platform that places the needs of all students – but particularly students from Title I schools – at the center of our mission. We key in to what these students need to access college, and then deliver it to them through a gamified, recommendation engine that rewards their progress with recognition, prizes, and status. Our program functions on two levels: individual achievement and school-wide achievement.

Using Get Schooled’s gamification techniques and in-school Challenge competitions and USC’s innovative Mission: Admission college preparation video game, thirty-one high schools across California participated in a Challenge to cultivate their college and financial aid application strategies and earn prizes for their school and students. Close to 39,000 students in 9th to 12th grade had the opportunity to learn about the different steps needed to apply to college and for financial aid by completing Get Schooled’s digital activities and playing the Mission: Admission video game. Seniors helped increase their school’s standing in the Challenge by completing their FAFSA or California Dream Act application.

Led by their Student Ambassadors and counselors, schools built upon their existing college-going culture and engaged all their students in the college process. With every grade level seeing their college preparation activities as a crucial element in their school’s performance in the Challenge, in addition to their own personal college access plan, the Challenge reinforced the college preparation activities schools undertake with their students.

Get Schooled’s school-based Challenges tap into students’ competitive spirits, but we also want to bring our educators along for the fun as well. After all, 80% of Get Schooled students have told us that they turn to their school counselor or teacher for academic and college information. Engaging educators throughout the Challenge and helping them understand the different components of the competition helps to make our educators key stakeholders in the Challenge. It also gets them just as excited as their students, if not more so, in helping their school win the Challenge. Strong school leaders are critical in helping students navigate the often complicated high school and college landscape, but gamification in the form of a Challenge provides educators with a fun and engaging way to support their work.

More than seventy-five percent of surveyed Get Schooled students expressed a desire to attend college after high school graduation. Of those same students, nearly thirty percent believe not being able to afford college is a reason to forgo a college education. Incentivizing students to play a game that educates them on what it takes to not only apply to college, but enroll and attend college, and engaging educators in the process, drives participation.  This ultimately closes the knowledge gap between those born into a college-going culture and those trying to figure it all out as they go.

As educators, researchers, and education advocates, we know all too well the impact a college education can have on a student’s long-term quality of life. Gamification is a powerful tool for addressing the obstacles of access and affordability while driving increases in educational outcomes for all students desiring a college education.

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Fiona Yung is the Director of Education Partnerships and Outreach at Get Schooled. She cultivates and maintains relationships with Get Schooled’s partners, including educators and school administrators, school districts, schools, college access organizations, local and national education-oriented organizations, and corporate partners.

Nourisha Wells is the Director of Digital Operations and Web Development at Get Schooled. She makes sure our website is running smoothly and up-to-date with the latest tools, resources, and information to help students be the rock stars we know them to be.

The contents of this publication were developed under grant # P116F140097 from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

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