5 Ways to Demystify College
Posted by AVID Center on 9/27/2018
By Nick Kempski, AVID Elective Teacher and Coordinator, West Chicago Community High School
As an AVID educator in a district with a majority of first-generation students, I know how scary and intimidating the idea of going to college can be. Students want to go, and their families are supportive, but they have no idea where to start. They need help in every aspect of preparing to go to college. Their families do too. Many times, they do not even know where to start or what questions to ask. I have found that providing access to college information on a continuous basis helps to ease their anxiety and increases their comfort in this new journey. Once one child goes to college and sees success, the rest will have an easier path to follow. The following are five ways in which I’ve had success demystifying college for my students.
1. Start Early and Often.
Whether I am working with freshmen or seniors, I try to expose students to as many college opportunities as I can, as early as I can. I find that it is easier to get college admissions reps on a high school campus in August because their applications have not opened yet. August is a great time to bring in admissions reps from local colleges to speak to freshmen and sophomores. In September and October, the admissions reps are more willing to come and speak to the older kids, especially seniors, but they usually are not able to spend a day presenting to underclassmen at this time. In place of admissions presentations, I find that many universities have virtual tours on their websites for underclassmen to explore. I try to add at least one virtual tour a month, in addition to all of the resources AVID provides.
2. Communicate With College Admissions Reps.
It is so important to establish relationships with college admissions reps. When I have admissions reps come in for seniors, I try to do it as an Application Workshop Day. I usually do these workshops during the AVID Elective class because I can ensure that every AVID senior applies. I also have the admissions rep book time in our College and Career Center in order to offer the application workshop to non-AVID students. What I have found is that if they come in and do an application workshop, they will waive the application fee. They will also take unofficial transcripts and SAT® scores from me directly and count them as official. This makes it extremely easy for students to start applying early, with plenty of guidance and little excuse. The relationship aspect also helps if I have a deserving kid who may not meet the minimum requirements for acceptance. The relationship helps to build trust, and admissions reps are willing to be more lenient because they trust my judgment. Finally, it is important to remain in contact with admissions reps over the course of the year and follow up with them on how admitted students are doing as they progress through college. Not only does this help to strengthen the relationship, but it also continues to provide support for former AVID students who are now in college.
3. Build Your Students’ Comfort Levels.
The more campuses they see, the more comfortable they feel. I work with the universities to see how many students they can accommodate and if they offer financial assistance for students to visit. Some schools will give the students free lunch or offer to pay for buses to get the kids there. I find that many times the only campuses that students will visit are the ones they see with their AVID classes. As a result, many of my AVID students apply to the same schools because those are the ones they feel comfortable at. The more opportunities they have to see multiple schools, the easier it will be for them to choose the college that is best for them.
4. Take the Parents.
Going along with this, I try to invite parents to come with us as well. Many of my parents moved from Mexico and have not been on a college campus. A lot of them only know about college from what they see on TV and in movies. Once they get on a campus, they are much more open to the idea of paying for college because they see that it is not one big frat party. This also helps build a comfort level for the parents. Once they visit one campus, they are more likely to take their children to visit additional campuses. This is also a way to get free chaperones because parents do not require you to pay for a substitute!
5. Share Multiple Postsecondary Options.
I spend a lot of time exposing my students to four-year universities and preparing them for gaining acceptance over the course of their high school years. I also work with my counseling department as students research careers they may be interested in. Not all students are interested in careers that require them to go to a four-year university. I look at the career clusters that my AVID students are interested in and reach out to local technical schools and community college departments who specialize in certificate programs. I ask them to come in and make admissions presentations as well. I also choose one branch of the military to visit seniors toward the end of the year. This allows students to see more of their options in addition to four-year schools.
In short, as a teacher and site coordinator, there is not one perfect way to help demystify college for students and their parents. However, the more exposure and opportunities I can give to students regarding all their postsecondary options, the better.
Nick Kempski is an AVID Elective Teacher and Site Coordinator at West Chicago Community High School in West Chicago, IL. He is a first-generation college student, who graduated from Illinois State University in 2007 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English Education, and has a Master’s Degree from Aurora University in Educational Administration. Nick works as an AVID Staff Developer certified to train AVID Implementation: High School and Culturally Relevant Teaching: Transforming Educators.
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