CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s “GEAR UP for College Week” in West Virginia.
The governor’s proclamation was aimed at recognizing the achievements of Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs across West Virginia.
GEAR UP is a grant program through the United States Department of Education that aims to help students pursue education and training beyond high school.
Since its launch in 2008, thousands of students in 10 West Virginia counties have received assistance in going to college.
Taylor Raby and Allison Epling, seniors at Scott High School in Madison, have been in the program since seventh grade and said they’re proof GEAR UP helps.
“Without this opportunity we wouldn’t know how to be a college student in the future and it’s prepared us so that we are not in the dark as far as what college is like,” said Epling.
Through the program, Raby and Epling, gained first-hand experience on a college campus.
“They’ve taken us to lots of college campuses and we’ve gotten to explore,” said Raby. “They have a camp called GEAR UP U every summer. It’s been at a different college campus and it’s let us stay in the dorm rooms and experience college life.”
From the tours Raby has selected her college destination and Epling has narrowed her choice to two campuses.
When the program was first launched in the Mountain State, it targeted high school students in counties who were less likely to be aware of key college planning information, including financial aid program requirements and deadlines. Recent surveys indicated that GEAR UP students are now better informed than students in other areas.
Raby received college information from her parents who both went to college and her sister, who is currently attending college. But Epling will be a first-generation college student.
“I always knew I wanted to go, I just didn’t know the steps that I would need to take or how to fill out applications or apply for scholarships. But definitely with GEAR UP it taught me what I needed to do and what I wanted to do with my life,” she said.
In a news release, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the program has made an impact in the state.
“By engaging students at a young age and building family and community support around them, the program makes going to college more than just an ambition for our young people,” Tomblin said. “As we continue helping West Virginians prepare for the 21st century workforce, we will certainly look to the GEAR UP program as a standard for increasing college access and improving college readiness.”
GEAR UP is coordinated by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.
Nearly 13,000 students have received college counseling and academic support through the program.