Rising high school senior Courtney Pullom learned an important lesson in the College of Charleston’s Senior Project program that she thinks will help her as she applies to colleges during the upcoming school year.

She’s not going to slack off on her studies in her final year of high school, said Pullom, who is from Hartsville. “I’ll care even more about my grades now. My high school grades do matter.”

Pullom was one of 63 rising high school seniors who are minorities or among the first generation in their families to attend college who attended the week-long program on the college’s campus this summer.

Debbie Counts, director of access initiatives and pre-college programs, said the Senior Project experience exposes students to higher education settings. After they complete the program, she said, “they can see themselves on our campus or on a college campus.”

Such programs are important, higher education leader say, because they help multicultural students make connections at a college so they feel more comfortable there. And they help first-generation students learn what they have to do apply to and enroll in college. Those students can’t get that information from their parents who didn’t attend college.

Students in the Senior Project program sit in on a college class, learn about college applications and financial aid, and take field trips to other higher education institutions. The program doesn’t push students to enroll at the College of Charleston, Counts said, just to enroll in college,

But, she said, some students attend Senior Project because they are interested in attending the College of Charleston, and others really like the school after spending a week on its campus. Last year, 52 students attended Senior Project. This fall, 20 of them will begin as freshmen at the college, six of them in its honors program.

The College of Charleston continues to try to boost diversity on the downtown campus, which predominantly white students attend, said Provost George Hynd. And the Senior Project program is a part of the effort. “It helps us reach out to students who might otherwise think the college is not a place for them.” The program, he said, “speaks to the college’s commitment to access.”

College spokesman Mike Robertson said the program this year cost about $46,000 and was part of the college’s operating budget.

The percentage of students who are not white is growing slowly on the campus, according to data from the state’s Commission on Higher Education. In the fall of 2012, of the 2,138 freshmen who enrolled, 17 percent were minorities. In the fall of 2011, 2,334 freshmen enrolled and 14 percent were minorities.

Jonathan Boutte, who is from Columbia, said he already knows he wants to attend the College of Charleston. “It’s my Number One choice hands down,” he said. He had been planning to major in biology. But after students in the program spent the day on Morris Island and at the college’s Grice Marine Lab at Fort Johnson, he said might consider narrowing that to marine biology.

Morgan Carter, a junior at the college, participated in the Senior Project program in 2010. Now, she’s a counselor. Most of her high school friends went to the University of South Carolina, she said. But she felt comfortable when she arrived on the College of Charleston campus as a freshman because she already had connections with other students and staff members. “It’s good to be in a mixed crowd,” said Carter, who is black, “but at the same time, it’s good to see someone just like you.”

More students of color are going to college, Counts said. “Students want to go to college, it just takes a little support and a little nudge.”

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.