DC CAP students. (Photo by courtesy of www.dccap.org)

February is a critical month for college bound high school seniors. While waiting to hear back from college admission offices, students must also secure funding. In addition to completing the free application for federal student aid, students in the District are able to apply for funding through the DC Tuition Assistance Grant (DC TAG) program, which opened Feb. 2. DC TAG provides up to $10,000 toward tuition depending upon the cost and type of institution.

While the program’s deadline is June 30, funds may be exhausted before then, according to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education’swebsite, so students must act quickly. “The cost of college can be daunting and we put college counselors into high schools who help make that process a lot less daunting,” said Ted Leonsis, DC College Access Program (DC-CAP)’s chairman of the board on Jan. 28.

DC-CAP’s advisors are located in every public and charter high school in the city and have become trusted advisors for students. They guide students through the journey of enrolling, being accepted, and attending college.

“ also teach young people and their families the economic benefits of putting off working for the four years you go to college,” says Leonsis. “They can show what your earning capacity is if you go to college, graduate, and then enter a certain field, versus if you don’t go to college and go right to work.”

The D.C. Public School system is made up of nearly 80 percent African-American students. Like many of them, Leonsis was the first in his family to attend college.  “I had an option in front of me which was to work in a local grocery store chain where I worked bagging groceries and then in produce department,” he said.

Instead of spending years climbing the ranks in the grocery store business, Leonsis navigated his way through the college admissions process and attended Georgetown University.  While in school, he was motivated to own his own business. Today, he is the chairman, majority owner and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns and operates the Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards, Washington Mystics, and the Verizon Center.

“I’m sure none of that could have been accomplished, had I not gone to college,” said Leonsis, who was elected as DC-Cap’s chair on Jan. 27, five years after joining the board in 2010 and serving in numerous other leadership positions. As board chairman, Leonsis plans to create a culture in the District where students graduate from high school, attend college and return to the District to start careers and raise families.

“It just uplifts the whole community and we believe that there’s such an enabling power in education,” he said. “If you aspire to go to college there should be no impediment in your way – you should be given all of the tools, funding and support you need to go to college and graduate.”

Since 1999, DC-CAP has celebrated the success of more than 6,500 college graduates who otherwise never would have had the opportunity for higher education. In addition to assisting students in receiving federal and private funds, the organization has also awarded more than 15,660 students with “Last Dollar Scholarships,” which provide up to $2,070 per year for five years for students who need extra funding to close the financial gap between resources, financial aid, and actual college expenses.