At Lesley University, we believe that potential isn’t defined by income level. That’s why we developed the Urban Scholars Initiative (USI). Launched in 2013, the program supports the financial, academic, and emotional needs of young adults, most of whom are the first in their families to go to college.

Urban Scholars Initiative provides tuition assistance, tutoring, and mentoring to enable low-income students to graduate from college with modest or no loan debt. To identify talented students, we’ve partnered with nonprofit organizations that prepare low-income students for the demands of higher education.

Overcoming Barriers

Families know that a college education is the key to economic opportunity. College graduates earn 84 percent more over their lifetimes than individuals with only a high school diploma, according to a 2011 Georgetown University study. But high costs can put college out of reach for many families.  

By lifting many of the financial pressures—from tuition bills to books and class supplies—we help students focus on what matters most: their education. And providing greater access to college is critical to helping students realize their potential—whatever their background.

A Social Justice Mission

At its core, the Urban Scholars Initiative has a social justice mission. We want to close the education gap between low-income students and their higher-income peers. By helping these extraordinary students achieve their dream, we’re expanding Lesley’s outreach and transforming lives.

"If I hadn’t found Urban Scholars Initiative, I wouldn’t be at college. I would be working full time."
Joana Martins-Tabora ’17, Urban Scholar
student with a calculator

Urban Scholars Initiative Benefits

Students accepted into the program receive financial, academic, and emotional support to meet the demands of college.

Our Urban Scholars receive:

  • Tuition discount of 50 percent off Lesley tuition each year for four years of undergraduate study
  • Book stipend to minimize the cost of textbooks
  • Opportunities for additional scholarships* to decrease costs
  • Peer mentoring: second-year USI students mentor first-year students
  • Advising to help set goals and expectations and to assess progress
  • Monthly seminars on topics ranging from professional development to personal health and well-being in college and beyond
  • Academic support such as tutoring
  • Career-oriented internships to gain hand-on experience (all undergraduate students at Lesley complete internships in their fields of interest)

* USI students with a demonstrated financial need greater than 50 percent of tuition may apply for an additional donor-supported scholarship

student discussion around a table

Requirements & Eligibility

If you’re interested in the Urban Scholars Initiative, here’s what you should know.

To be eligible, students must have:

  • Participated in, and been recommended by, one of Lesley University’s partner organizations in the Greater Boston area
  • Met all criteria for undergraduate admission to Lesley University
  • Demonstrated financial need (determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)*

*Students with DACA/undocumented status may apply without submitting a FAFSA

Program requirements:

  • Attend USI Summer Transition Week—All newly enrolled students are required to participate in the weeklong introduction to Lesley University and the USI program. Usually held during the second week of August (Sunday to Friday).
  • Remain in good academic standing—All students must remain in good academic standing and make satisfactory progress toward degree completion to remain eligible for the USI scholarship and any other related scholarships. A minimum 2.5 GPA is required.
Application Deadlines
"We believe it’s important to provide access to college, but also to provide loving, transitional support. We are a family, and we strive for all members to be successful wherever they go."
Maritsa Barros, Director, Urban Scholars Initiative
Maritsa Barros

Maritsa Barros, Director

Barros obtained a BA from UMASS Dartmouth in Psychology with a minor in African and African American History.

She also has an MS in College Student Development and Counseling from Northeastern University, where she worked in the Admissions Office, kicking off eight years of experience in college admissions and recruitment in diversity. She’s a member of National Association for College Admissions Counseling and New England Association for College Admissions Counseling.

jennifer castro

Jennifer Castro, Assistant Director

Castro earned a BS in Human Development and Family Studies and a MS in College Student Personnel from the University of Rhode Island (URI).

While completing her MS, she worked as an academic adviser for the College of Nursing and assisted in the launching of the RN to BSN online program at URI. She also served first-generation students and students of color through work with the Preparatory Enrollment Program at Rhode Island College and the Brown Center for Students of Color at Brown University.

Kayla Dias admissions staff

Kayla Dias, Admissions Coordinator

Dias has a BA in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Connecticut and an EdM from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Before joining the team at Lesley, she worked in the nonprofit sector, managing youth development and college-access programs with a focus on supporting first-generation students. While in graduate school, Kayla also provided group and one-on-one college counseling services at Prospect Hill Academy Charter School in Cambridge.