Elon Academy Banner

Program Overview

In summer 2007, Elon University established the Elon Academy, an intensive college access program based on academic enrichment, leadership development and family involvement. The program serves academically promising Alamance-Burlington high school students with significant financial need and/or no family history of college, historically barriers to considering a college education. The mission of the Academy is to support these students (scholars) who are underrepresented on college and university campuses as they pursue higher education, build leadership skills, and develop an active sense of social responsibility. Our goal is to provide the support and resources needed to ensure that all our Elon Academy scholars obtain college degrees, take advantage of the rich experiences of college, and contribute to the intellectual and social climate of the university (and ultimately their communities) through their active campus/community citizenship.
We have adopted a holistic youth development model that builds on the strengths the scholars and families bring to our work together. We know that with appropriate and comprehensive services, opportunities, and supports there is a college or university at which every talented young person can be successful regardless of financial status. We believe that access to information about college is essential, but that information alone is insufficient. We see it as our responsibility to provide experiences that will inspire our scholars to find their passion, find meaning in their lives, and imagine new futures for themselves and their families. To that end we have developed a four-phase program to partner with our scholars, our families, and our community to build trusting relationships over an extended period of time. The Elon Academy programs are based on academic strengthening, leadership development, college-going knowledge and culture, service, and family involvement. We believe that these young people and their families deserve the very best we have to offer. Delivering challenging, effective, and appropriate curricular and co-curricular experiences is critical to their success. We have, therefore, recruited an extremely talented, experienced and dedicated staff

Phase I: College Access Program

The College Access Program is a high school program. Each year, a new cohort of ninth graders is selected to join the Academy. The year-round program combines three intensive 4-week residential experiences at Elon University prior to the 10th, 11th and 12th grades with a monthly Saturday Academy during the academic year. The residential component of the program mirrors college life, providing exposure to academic classes, co-curricular, service and cultural experiences, as well as college planning and college visits. In addition, families and scholars meet with a college planning staff person during each summer program. University faculty, high school teachers and community members teach classes while college students serve as teaching assistants and mentors. All classes integrate reading, writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills and emphasize collaborative, organizational, study, and time management skills to increase potential for success in both high school and college. Mentors live in the residence halls with scholars. Local businesses provide paid internships for many of our scholars during the second half of the summer and during the school year, helping to develop work and leadership skills. 

The year-round program includes a monthly Saturday Academy that includes SAT preparation, college selection, essay writing, service,and college, grant, and scholarship information and guidance. Since family involvement is crucial, parallel programs are offered for family members four times per year.

Each year scholars are assigned a College Access Team (CAT) Mentor (Elon University students who have been trained by our staff) who meets with them face-to-face and virtually to answer questions and provide support and encouragement between Saturday programs. We advise our scholars to take a rigorous high school curriculum including honors and AP classes. To ensure success we provide Elon University Academic Coaches (at no cost) on an as-needed basis. Counseling services and referrals to community agencies are available to both scholars and their families. Transportation for scholars and families is provided, on request, for all activities to remove any barriers to participation.

Phase II: Transitions to College Program

The Transitions to College Program is designed to prepare scholars for the financial, academic, personal and social challenges in transitioning to college. This phase of the program includes an intensive three-day summer retreat. Peer leaders (scholars currently enrolled in college) are an integral part of this program by serving as facilitators during the transitions retreat and as mentors during the academic year.  

Phase III:  College Success Program

The College Success Program is designed to ensure college completion for scholars once they enter college. In this phase of the program, Academy staff visit scholars on their campuses to provide scholars and families with additional academic, social and mentoring/advising support, as well as assistance in securing additional financial aid. The impact of the program is expanded when Elon Academy college scholars return to the campus and the community to inspire and support Elon Academy Phase One scholars who also dream of a college education by serving as mentors and teaching assistants during the residential summer program. 

Phase IV: Alumni Program

The Alumni Program was refined in 2014 when our first cohort of scholars, the Alpha Class, began to graduate from college. Through a career transitions and graduate school retreat, graduating college scholars are supported in developing plans for life after college. Elon Academy continues to provide encouragement and support for as long as an Elon Academy scholar remains in college.

Elon Academy Scholars

Currently the Academy serves 148 scholars (84 in college and 64 in high school) and approximately 350 family members. Our college scholars have been awarded more than $4 million in merit-based aid. Four of our Elon Academy scholars have been awarded the prestigious Gates-Millennium Scholarship. Overall, 88% of scholars who begin the high school program remain in the program for the three years. Of those who complete the college access program, 100% have been accepted into college.


Over the past seven years we have developed a more complex and nuanced understanding of challenges faced by limited-income, first-generation college students. We have also learned how powerful “near-peers” (students who are slightly older than their mentees and represent the high school and college students our scholars aspire to become) can be in supporting our scholars to ensure that their dreams of a college education are realized. In the Academy we have developed four year-round coaching/mentoring programs.
Peer leaders are Elon Academy college students who are juniors in good standing at their college of university. These Mentors are recruited, trained, and supervised by the Elon Academy Assistant Director of College Success. Peer leaders are provided on each campus where at least three Academy graduates are enrolled. This peer-to-peer model provides opportunities for one-on-one academic, social, and personal support in the transistion into college. Peer leaders also serve as facilitators during the Transistions to College Retreat (Phase 2). 

College Access Team (CAT) Mentors and Senior College Access Team Mentors are Elon University students who are hired, trained and supervised by the Elon Academy Assistant Director of Scholar Support. CAT Mentors guide scholars in their efforts to achieve academic excellence and prepare for college. They maintain regular contact with their assigned scholars by scheduling month "face-to-face" meetings between Saturday programs in order to keep abreast of scholar challenges and successes. CAT Mentors submit detailed reports to the Assistant Director of Scholar Support and also provide information about each face-to-face meeting on a private wiki. Each interaction between scholar and CAT Mentor ensures that scholars are on track, working on college-readiness skills, and receiving tutoring and/or counseling as needed.

Through the Academic Coaching Program our staff recruits and trains university students to serve as academic coaches on an as-needed basis to support our scholars in taking a rigorous honors and AP curriculum, further positioning them for college acceptances and scholarship awards. By taking honors and advanced placement courses instead of technical preparatory courses, the scholars will be more likely to enter a college of their choice, perform well in the classroom, and complete college. Academic coaching is offered for all core subject areas -- English, math, science, social sceicnes, and foreign languages. Academic coaching is also offered for SAT/ACT preparation and writing. 
The Elon Academy Ambassadors Program (EEA) provides Academy high school scholars with opportunities to share their knowledge and motivate younger students to pursue postsecondary education. Our scholars, with the guidance of our staff, plan and implement activities for elementary and middle school students developing leadership, collaborative and presentation skills while inspiring the younger children. We also provide a family night at each Elementary and Middle School where families can learn more about the path to college.

Collaboration, Research, and Outreach

In addition to the four-phase program, the Elon Academy provides support and resources for the larger community as well as raising awareness and informing the larger conversation regarding college access and success through presentations and publications. Our goal is to develop a nationally replicable model and provide materials to others engaged in this work. To date accomplishments have included the production of a documentary, UnHoped For, which follows four scholars from the charter class from acceptance into the program to the current day and a Go-4-College DVD series based on frequently asked questions from our scholars and families. Nearly 300 DVDs have been distributed to local middle and high schools. We have also linked the DVD series to our public, regularly updated, website which provides a variety of resources and information (www.elon.edu/elonacademy). We have published a book (researched and written by staff members, a research assistant, three Elon University students and 13 of our scholars), Speaking Out: Underrepresented Students Challenging the Inequities of College Access. The Academy was created after researching highly successful programs at Furman and Princeton, however our faculty and staff continue to engage in research to ensure that we remain on the cutting edge of college access and success work. We attend and present at local, state, and national meetings and conferences. In October 2014, the presentation, From the Margins to the Center: Youth Participatory Action Research was shared by ten Elon Academy scholars at the North Carolina College Personnel Association Annuael Meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina. In March 2015, the same group of scholars and EA staff shared their research at the American College Personnel Association Convenetion in Tampa, Florida. The staff regularly publish in peer-reviewed journals.