5 Ways Students Can Get Ahead in a Rural Community


Too often Americans associate low-income homes exclusively with urban areas, even though millions of them are actually in rural communities. That’s a myth that needs to be debunked because the excellence gap can be particularly wide in rural schools due to their geographic isolation and lack of access to resources.

Nearly 3.5 million American students attend rural high schools, and only one in four will graduate. Moreover, only 17 percent of rural adults age 25 and older will finish college, which is half the rate of urban adults. Not only are individual students underserved, but these numbers reflect that rural communities aren’t able to develop the talent to keep their communities competitive in the 21st Century.

We can change that. Here are just a few ways for low-income, high-achieving students living in rural communities to get ahead:

  1. Try a dual enrollment program. Far fewer rural schools are able to provide AP classes because their student bodies may be too small to warrant them, or perhaps the funding just isn’t there. However, community colleges exist in or near many rural areas and may offer college classes you can take for both high school and college credit, and your school district may be able to pay for them.

  2. Explore online education. There are countless ways to connect with great educational resources around the world through the internet. Explore what’s out there and talk to your principal or guidance counselor to see if there are ways your school can support you in such endeavors. Your local telecom provider may also have information and resources.

  3. Some scholarships are available specifically to help rural and small-town students. As just one of many, many examples, the Foundation for Rural Service offers $2,500 scholarships for rural students’ first year of college.

  4. Don’t be afraid to be the biggest fish in a small pond. Maybe the little rural school you go to doesn’t enjoy the reputation of higher-profile urban and suburban schools. That doesn’t mean you can’t stand out. If you accomplish something special—for example, complete a prestigious internship or attend an Upward Bound program—don’t hesitate to tell your community newspaper about it. Admissions officers for colleges and graduate schools often perform internet searches of candidates, and when news articles on your achievements pop up, that can give you an edge.

  5. Get creative and ask for help. When fewer opportunities are available to you, sometimes you have to make your own. One advantage of living in a rural community is that small towns are often tighter knit and more supportive of their students, and you likely have greater one-on-one access with people who can help you. For example, see if you can connect with an employer in your community that works in a field that interests you; they may be willing to serve as mentors or even employ you—certainly better for strengthening your college applications than flipping burgers!