Preparing for college and the application process can be a stressful time, and a lot of students struggle with knowing how to prepare and what to expect. However, the school’s college counselor set out to help aid MHS students this year during College Week, Oct. 15-19, by bringing in a panel of representatives from colleges and universities around the Midwest on Tuesday, Oct. 16, during second period and then again during third period.
Senior Joey Salit, one of the roughly 500 students in attendance between the two periods, said it was “really great that they brought something like that to the school because a lot of people don’t have access to internet or what they need to commit [to applying].”
Students were able to hear from representatives from the College of Lake County (Ashley Ward), the University of Illinois-Springfield (Aaron Boettcher), Loras College (Maureen Vulich), the University of Missouri (Stefanie Duff) and Northwestern University (Antonia Garcia).
The panelists offered insight into the college application process, tips for identifying if a college is the right fit and strategies for building relationships with the admissions offices and representatives at colleges.
“Connecting with your admissions counselor helps in many ways. First, that counselor will be able to answer your questions, not only about her or his own school, but about the admission process in general,” Vulich said.
The panel offered advice not just for seniors but for freshmen, sophomores and juniors, too. Freshmen were advised on how to start high school on the right foot while seniors received ideas on how to go about their final steps toward applying to college.
Andrea Rusk, MHS’s college counselor, who organized and hosted the panel as well as the other events of College Week, said displaying the resources offered by the high school and the colleges is a key step in helping students succeed in the college application process.
“For some of our students, they don’t find another outlet to receive information [about college, but] by showcasing [the College and Career Resource Center], even though we’re here all the time, it brings a lot of attention to the fact that we have a lot of resources available at MHS,” Rusk said. “We don’t want anyone to feel like they’re alone in this process, and so we want to show support for every single level and layer, from freshman through senior [year], which is why we kind of focus on a different piece of the puzzle every day [of College Week].”
Although most college reps live busy lives,, the reps who sat on the panel said they were there because they find it extremely important to get their message out there about their schools and the resources they have to help high school students get into college. “At least for the College of Lake County, getting to know myself as your recruiter is really important because most students do not know what they need to do to get into college and/or may feel college isn’t for them,” Ward said.
The college representatives also explained how building a relationship with them can also help with the scholarship process.
“Good admissions counselors want to get to know you to make sure you are choosing a school that will fit your needs and your goals,” Vulich said. “We are also able to direct you to scholarship opportunities that our school offers.”
And it’s not just larger colleges or universities that offer scholarships; community colleges do as well.
“At CLC, we partner with all of you to complete a very simple scholarship application that then attaches itself to scholarships you can apply for,” Ward said. “I can visually show a student that felt they would not qualify for a scholarship hundreds of scholarships that they could potentially earn. That helps students save so much money that they didn’t know they could have even earned.”
Additionally, the representatives also touched on how to write the college application essay, and they weren’t afraid to tell the students the hard truth.
Boettcher said he often sees essays in which students give a sob story, telling the reps why they should feel bad for the students. Instead, he advised, “Make sure that you’re showcasing why you’re the victor and not the victim in life.”
To achieve this goal, he also suggested students “Disney up [their] life” and referenced the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith (although this movie is not a Disney production) as he explained how to do that.
“I really appreciated how straight up they were with us about the college essays,” Senior Abi Gomez said. “They don’t want to hear about how our parents got divorced or our dog died; they want to hear about how that experience has made us a better person.”
Besides addressing the content of the essay, Garcia also offered advice about how students often overuse the thesaurus to make the essay sound more intelligent. Additionally, they have their family and friends help them with writing it but to the point where it doesn’t sound like the student’s voice anymore.
“I think the number one tip I have for you [is] it has to be your voice,” Garcia said. “If you have too many people editing it and putting in their voice, your voice gets muddled.”
In addition to the panel during College Week, the CCRC also organized other events, such as a free application fair and a FAFSA workshop, but the panel reinforced the idea that working with college representatives can increase students’ chances of being accepted into college.
Boettcher said, “The better a connection you build with us, the better we can help you or help you with our campus.”