On Saturday, March 11, college-bound students from all over Philadelphia will participate in the 4th annual Step Into College Pre-College Conference. That event got me thinking about my own experiences with college and coaching my daughter through the process of deciding where she would go.
I was 16 years-old and my youngest sister was 6 when my mother became a widow at age 37 after my father suddenly passed away. She was left to raise five girls and one boy. She made it very clear that there were three things that were non-negotiable in her home: respect, decency, and hard work marked by excellence and completing a college education.
The year was 1970, my senior year at the Philadelphia High School for Girls. President Richard Nixon occupied the White House and Mayor James H.J. Tate occupied the second floor of City Hall. The number-one songs were "ABC" by the Jackson 5 and "Ain’t No Mountain High Enough" by Diana Ross. I was captain of my Gold Gymnastics Team, and it was time to apply to college.
I had two choices: Penn State University and West Chester University. West Chester denied me admission, and the Delaware County Campus of Penn State gave me a chance. Who knew?
So although the process was intimidating in the eyes of my mom and me, I knew I had no options. As the oldest of my siblings, college was not optional. It was required for all seven of us, and all seven of us graduated.
In speaking to my siblings, I found that each one of us had a different journey toward our college choice. There are numerous approaches to the college admission process. Although I cannot possibly review them all in this article, I can offer a little advice to minimize the stress.
The amount of time you spend preparing for college will lead to great benefits. It is a personal investment and opens up a world of opportunity. You see, preparing for college starts long before the application process. It starts with mastering habits and the expectations you set for yourself beginning in elementary school and continuing through high school.
The 2016-17 edition of Philadelphia Futures’ Step Up to College Guide points out: “Becoming a successful college applicant and college student takes planning, vision and dedication. Understanding yourself, your goals and your options — and doing your best in high school — puts you in a position to make good choices about your future.”
A decade ago, only half of the students who attended Philadelphia’s District-run high schools graduated. However, our students have begun to achieve significant progress through a series of initiatives enacted during Michael Nutter’s term as mayor to improve the graduation rate.
According to a 2015 Pew study, the four-year graduation rate in Philadelphia rose to 65 percent for the class of 2014. As educators and elected officials, it is imperative that we remain committed to furthering this upward trend.
As I advised my daughter during the summer before her senior year: Practice the 6 P’s – prior, proper, planning will prevent a poor performance and yield a better outcome in your school choice. Together, we created a grid. She had her four criteria, and I had my two criteria. Initially, she approached me with a list of 30 schools. The list was richly diverse, public, private, HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), urban, and suburban, but none was local.
However, I was not going to travel with her to 30 schools and neither would she be applying to 30 schools. Once she reduced her list to 15 schools, we carefully examined each one based on our criteria and filled in the grid. This led to further school eliminations. She ultimately applied to nine schools and was accepted to seven.
All of her applications were completed by Thanksgiving of her senior year. This, of course, allowed us to breathe through the pending holidays without the weight of college applications hanging over our heads. On Dec. 4, 2013, she received the acceptance letter from her first choice, Syracuse University. Thank you, God!
College is not just about the application process. Once you and your parents have endured the gruesome and stressful college search and college application journey, staying in college will require discipline. It will require what my mother refers to as “gumption.” It will require the strength you always knew you had and the requirement that you must strive for excellence. The attitude you bring and the character you build throughout your college career will be invaluable in connecting your talents and skills to your future.
I encourage you to seek your parents' guidance, but understand that this is your journey. Lean on your high school guidance counselor for all of the advice, expected encouragement, and guidance they have been trained to provide.
Uncertainty is inevitable when it comes to change, but please remember how exciting this time is for you and your parents. That being said, parents and guardians will be essential to your successful preparation for college. Learn from their life experiences.
Parents, we know that it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes open-mindedness, patience, and encouragement to prepare your teenager for college. This may include a few gray hairs. So, I offer a few Do’s and Don’ts I learned during my daughter’s journey. These were shared by my daughter’s high school counselor:
DO keep an open mind. Allow your future college students to think through their options for themselves.
DO share your opinion only. Seek to be bias-free.
DO see a wide variety of colleges, and after each visit, sit together and share and discuss your reactions.
DO go prepared to college visits with lots of questions to pose to faculty, staff, campus workers, and currently enrolled students.
DON’T forget that just because you loved your alma mater, your child may not.
DON’T be annoying on college visits or too pushy about a certain school or program.
DON’T lean too far to either side of the spectrum.
DON’T be the helicopter parent in an effort to get a child into the “perfect school.”
DO join us at the 4th Annual Step Into College Pre-College Conference, at 9 a.m. on March 11 at the University of the Sciences, McNeil Science and Tech Center. Join hundreds of students and parents as they gear up to begin their college search journey.
Parents can also prepare for their children’s transition to college by using these resources:
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown has passed meaningful legislation and supported valuable community programming that positively impacts her core issues: children and youth, women, education, small business development, arts and culture, and the environment and sustainability.
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