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Supporting low-income, high-merit students.

Russia's system of higher education limits the number of tuition-free spots that students can apply for. Financial need is not considered at all when students are admitted to academic institutions, and if a student's merit is not high enough, they are forced to choose other programs or universities that will offer them a free or cheaper education. Often, this means children from more rural parts of Russia are pushed into lower-paying professions —becoming teachers or childcare workers, or pursuing blue-collar careers. 

We work with local teachers and professional tutors to identify high-need, high-potential students in grades 10-11 and provide tutoring and academic support across subjects highlighted in the Unified State Exam.

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Why is this important?

In Russia, students have the opportunity to make an important decision when they are in their 9th year of school:  Will they graduate and pursue a technical career, or will they continue on to 11th grade and attempt to take the Russian Unified State Exam (USE) and attend university? 

Students from low-income households may be expected to work and help their family financially. Two more years of traditional schooling is weighed against two years of potential income. 

If students fail to perform highly on the USE, they will not be admitted to their university program of choice, and need to accept a spot in a program that is more financially probable. 

Preparation for the USE begins in 10th grade, with a renewed focus on the sciences, math, and languages. Students who make the choice to continue their education understand the importance of this simple score—the USE is the only criterion used during the college admission process. 


Students across the country take the USE right after graduation. A month later, they begin receiving their scores and must begin the difficult journey of college applications. Immediately, they know which universities are beyond their dreams, since the application process is very much public. Even before applying, students have access to public lists identifying applicants and their scores—the top applicants in each program are granted a full ride. All others must pay full tuition and are not guaranteed a stipend or any grants. 


If a student sees that their scores will guarantee them a spot among the full-ride recipients, they must deliver their application documents in person; often traveling long distances and spending significantly on transportation and housing. If it is clear that the test scores of those in the top spots are higher than their own, students make the decision to choose another program, another university, or another profession.

For many students, the USE is an opportunity for them to travel beyond their small towns and experience the world. However, because they come from the small towns and villages of Russia, they are not nearly as competitive as Western students from Moscow and Saint Petersburg—students whose highly technical parents have invested in supplemental education and the best money can buy to ensure their children’s USE success. 


However, periodically, a particularly talented student exceeds all expectations and receives exceptionally high scores. Their family and relatives rally together to raise the money needed to send them off to college, and they pursue their dream careers. 


The residents of Minusinsk, a town of 70,000, know the importance of the USE. When asked, they are grateful to the academic system that makes it possible for residents of towns like theirs to be competitive with the children of larger cities. “Before this,” said Anna, a school Director, “There was a lot of corruption. Students could pay someone to write applications for them. Parents would give money to admissions directors. It was impossible for the children of Minusinsk to be competitive in any way.” 



"Having English classes with a native speaker in America helped me prepare for the TOEFL and made me more confident in preparing my Fulbright application."

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