Interview with David Allyn, CEO of Oliver Scholars

What is Oliver Scholars?

Oliver Scholars is a nonprofit that prepares high-achieving African-American and Latino students for success at the nation’s best independent schools and colleges. Oliver identifies talented New York City students and places them at top schools with robust financial aid. The Oliver experience includes up to ten years of one-on-one support, after-school and summer coursework, and pre-career training.

Oliver Scholars is distinctive among access programs for its commitment to providing transition support for the whole family, developing students’ social-emotional skills, and instilling an ethos of giving back. Nearly 90 percent of Oliver alumni have attended U.S. News & World Report top 100 colleges, and over 30 percent have attended Ivy League institutions. Since its founding in 1984, Oliver Scholars has graduated over 1,100 students.

By removing economic and social barriers to achievement, Oliver Scholars helps gifted, underserved students achieve their potential as next generation change-makers, thought-leaders and trailblazers. You can learn more by visiting

Our mission to serve low-income students of color is more critical than ever. Oliver aims to reward hard-work, recognize talent that might otherwise go ignored, and dismantle barriers to opportunity for African-American and Latino students.

How do you identify students for the program?

We work closely with hundreds of public school guidance counselors to identify students who would thrive in, and benefit from, an independent school setting. It is very competitive to get into Oliver Scholars. Last year we had close to 1,000 nominated candidates for 85 spots.

On the flip side, how is it beneficial for independent schools and families to have more diversity in the mix?

The Census Bureau projects that by the year 2100, the U.S. minority population will become the majority with non-Hispanic whites making up only 40% of the U.S. population. Meanwhile, private school tuitions have climbed rapidly over the years, and more and more independent schools appreciate the benefits of diversity and the need to provide financial aid for students with limited means.

Having a more diverse population among students is beneficial for everyone. Students who attend schools with a more diverse population develop a better understanding of themselves and the world around them. It’s one thing to discuss the history of immigration in a class filled with students whose parents and grandparents were all born here. It’s another to have that same conversation with students who have family members who came to the US as immigrants.

Diversity can be challenging at first. Let’s be honest, it’s almost always easier to get along with people who are just like you. But the benefits far outweigh the costs. By fostering tolerance and respect among students, schools and families help them to develop into adults ready to enter the “real world,” where they will likely encounter coworkers from a variety of ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds in the modern workforce.

On top of all that, Oliver scholars are top performers and natural leaders, so schools are eager to admit them. Our students are truly the next generation of thought leaders, change-makers, and trailblazers.

How can the community support Oliver Scholars?

In addition to making financial donations, we encourage the community to get involved. Support for Oliver Scholars is an investment that makes a real, transformative difference in students’ lives. Opportunities to volunteer include mentorship, hosting community events and advocacy efforts with the aim of eliminating socioeconomic barriers.

What are students saying about the program?

“Scholarship. Leadership. Service. When I first came to Oliver Scholars, I was told that these three tenets are what the program is all about. In my time with the program, I have found that the feeling that comes with doing community service is overwhelmingly positive, and I was truly honored to receive the 2017 Oliver Scholars Service Award for completing more than 500 hours of service. But, as a recent high school graduate, I know that Oliver is so much more just those tenets. It is also a place where you can discover your passions, where people care about your success, and where you are motivated to do your very best. I am truly grateful for everything Oliver has helped me to accomplish, including attending the University of Richmond in the fall. I am excited to see what the future holds as an Oliver alumna!” –Krystal Ramirez, Oliver Scholars Graduate

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