For many, fall means cider and pumpkin patches, crisp colorful leaves and a hint of the winter festivities still to come. For seniors, it means getting all too familiar with commonapp.com and perfecting their answer to the question, “what are your top schools?” The thought of college looms large entering the back-to-school period, and for many seniors the excitement of higher education is paired with another feeling…
“STRESSED,” wrote two anonymous Franklin seniors when asked how they were feeling about their college search and applications. The panic of this sentiment was echoed by many of their peers. “I feel like we have to do this all by ourselves and it’s terrifying,” wrote another anonymous student. Researching and applying to colleges is a big job, and after a year alone at home, students are feeling largely left in the dark. In a survey of 86 seniors, 71 answered that they have started researching colleges. However, when it comes to applications, only 32 out of 71 indicated they have begun that process.
In a normal year, a student might begin speaking with a school counselor and thinking about what they want to do after high school as a junior. However, with school taking place entirely on-screen last year, many students weren’t able to find that same connection to the people who could help them start thinking about college. In fact, Franklin High School counselor Holly Vaughn-Edmonds described how low of a turnout counselors saw for the virtual junior and senior college presentations they organized in the 2020-2021 school year. “It was 15% max… People were just so done with Zoom,” said Vaughn-Edmonds. “And because we weren’t able to get in front of [students], that automatically negated or diminished our ability to start really having conversations about college with our juniors.”
A more positive impact of COVID-19 came from widespread testing site closures, a change that’s pushed many colleges to shift their admissions process and make sending SAT or ACT scores an option, not a requirement. In some cases, schools have gone test-blind, meaning they will not look at scores from anyone. As a result, record numbers of students are sending in applications, especially to elite schools, as those who may have weaker test scores but an otherwise strong application now have more of an opportunity. However, as much as this expands students’ options for schools to choose from, the massive numbers of applications also makes it more difficult to stand out. Devon Simpson, an independent college counselor with Compass College Counseling, described it as, “opening up the field [for students to apply]. That means more people are submitting, and it’s going to be even more competitive.” To go along with this, Vaughn-Edmonds noted that many of last year’s seniors, when left without guidance, ended up with unbalanced college lists including as many as eight or nine schools with very low acceptance rates, or lottery schools.
Despite these struggles, it’s important for seniors to remember not all is lost. Getting organized and knowing what resources are available are important first steps in staying on track for college. Out of 56 seniors from various PPS schools, only 18 answered that they have utilized their counselor, or any school resources, but at Franklin alone there is help available from a variety of places.
“We’re super lucky to have a full time college coordinator now,” said Vaughn-Edmonds. “Last year, every comprehensive high school hired a college coordinator who will be responsible for our College and Career Center so when kids come up[…]there’s full access to technical support and knowledge. ” Franklin’s college coordinator is Regina Stanton, who works in tandem with career coordinator Martin Rodriguez. Stanton described her role as helping students find a path for success once they leave Franklin. To achieve that, she spends her time in the College and Career Center providing support in nearly anything a college-bound student could want, from scholarship applications to finding colleges with the right environment to meet their needs.
Stanton also works to provide access for students to workshops on topics like the Common Application or the Free Application of Student Aid (FAFSA)/Oregon Student Aid Application (ORSA). Outside of the College and Career Center’s space, she helps students find resources that can be accessed from almost anywhere, such as district-wide virtual college visits that can be accessed on a school Chromebook or phone. These college visits, as well as virtual tours, were highlighted by Vaughn-Edmonds as an important resource that many students miss out on. “We have so many different kinds of colleges coming,” she explained. “Going and hearing about different colleges is a part of the process to help imagine yourself there, and [the visits] allow you to ask questions to college admissions officers either virtually or in person.”
Even if a student isn’t sure what they want to do or what they’re looking for, the College and Career Center is a place they can come to talk with someone who can present all their options and help them create a plan. Stanton summed up the College and Career Center by saying that, “…kids just need to be in a place where they can come and ask questions, and there’s no such thing as a silly question. We’re here to serve the kids.”
If a student is looking for more consistent one-on-one help, they can turn to the Aspire Program within the SUN Program. Aspire is run by Claudia Cedeno, and offers tutoring and mentors that can work with students to navigate helpful college tools or look over essays. Or, depending on a student’s identity, support is also available through a variety of Franklin’s partnership programs. These include the Latino Network for Latinx students or Trio for low-income or first generation students. Often information about programs is sent out through student emails or MaiaLearning, or can be found on the Franklin webpage or social media sites.
Finally, one thing that Edmonds, Stanton and Simpson all highlighted was self-advocacy and motivation. Whether it be signing up for challenging courses that will help a student prepare themselves for the workload of college, making the effort to connect and show interest in a college before applying, or just reaching out instead of giving up when the process feels overwhelming, the ability of a student to help themselves is invaluable. So, while not every event or resource that Franklin offers could possibly be covered here, every senior should know it’s more likely than not that there’s a workshop or person who can provide just the kind of help they need. The first step is simply to ask.