University of California President Janet Napolitano reached out this week to thousands of low-income California students who were among the state's top performers on a practice college admissions test, encouraging them to pursue higher education at UC.

In a letter sent to roughly 5,000 students across the state, Napolitano encouraged high-achieving, low-income students to take challenging classes that will prepare them for higher education. The letter is part of a new partnership between the University of California and the College Board, and targets students whose PSAT scores demonstrate their ability to do advanced academic work.

“Your performance on the PSAT places you among the top students in California,” Napolitano wrote. “It is truly impressive that you are preparing yourself so well for college. As you explore your college options, I hope you will seriously consider applying to one of our University of California campuses.”

Napolitano urges students to take the tough Advanced Placement (AP) courses that could increase their chances of UC admission, and tells them about UC's Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, which covers systemwide tuition and fees for California resident students who qualify for financial aid and whose total family incomes are less than $80,000 a year.

More than half of UC students who are California residents pay no tuition and fees thanks to the Blue and Gold program and other financial aid. There are also substantial resources available to families with incomes above $80,000.

Low-income students are less likely than other students to take the courses necessary for admission to California’s public colleges and universities, or to enroll in the advanced classes that would make them competitive for admission to highly selective research universities like the University of California.

Napolitano's letter is part of an effort to change that. The College Board, which will send the letter, has identified ninth- to 11th-graders who have done well on the PSAT but whose financial background makes them statistically less likely to apply for college.

The letter tells students about the courses they need to take to go to UC, and encourages them to look for other ways to build a competitive application, such as participating in community service.

“These are young people with potential, who have important contributions to make to the residents and the economy of this state,” Napolitano said. “I am personally reaching out to assure them that if they do their job — push themselves, get good grades and take challenging courses — we’ll make sure the doors of this great public university system are open to them.” University of California and College Board officials say the letter is just the first step in a targeted effort to identify high-performing students from underrepresented groups and encourage them to persist with their academic preparation.

UC is already active in California's public K-12 schools and other academic outreach programs. In all, it reaches more than 100,000 students annually with programs aimed at boosting college readiness and helping families navigate college admissions. But there is more to be done, UC officials say.

In January, Napolitano and other UC administrators participated in President Barack Obama's White House summit on higher education, in which they and education leaders from around the nation pledged to increase college access.

One of UC's commitments was to begin reaching students as early as middle school with resources that would help them get on track for college, whether at UC or elsewhere. UC is partnering with the California State University and California Community College systems to reach families of middle school students and make them aware of the available financial aid opportunities.

“We have a lot of high-ability students in this state,” Napolitano said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure they know UC is an option for them both academically and financially.”