Leadership Letter: When It Comes to College, Assume They Don't Know
By Aubree Boivin | November 2023
When I first started as a college and career counselor, I was energized to be at a school with a developed college-going culture. Walking down the halls, college pennants were on display and the college-going culture was widely visible. Teachers posted what colleges they attended on their doors or decorated with their alma mater’s memorabilia. I thought, “Wow! I can’t wait to work with students who know so much about college already!” I was geared up and ready to go. I felt confident in the knowledge of everyone around me.
In this incredibly diverse school, I had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of students, families and staff members, and soon realized that despite each student’s unique circumstances, the truth was that when it came to college, very little was known about most of the college exploration, admissions and selection process. For a few students, this struggle was most notable. A couple examples come to mind (names have been changed to protect individual identities).
Johnny, a child of Vietnamese immigrants and first-generation college student, had no idea about the opportunities available to him. He had worked incredibly hard and was on track to be valedictorian among a
graduating class of high achievers. Johnny wanted to go out of state and had incredible opportunities open to him, but was unaware of how to access those opportunities. At the time he was planning to attend the local university and hadn’t pursued any other options. With the support from a school counselor, Johnny applied and was accepted as a QuestBridge Scholar last year and is awaiting the results of his application for the QuestBridge College Match.
Jennifer was a mom of three students, two of whom were already in college, so it was easy to assume she didn’t need support guiding her youngest, Jason, to college. She was an engineer with a master’s degree and her two oldest had gone out of state and were successful college students. Jason, however, was a very different person than his sisters. He needed more support and motivation getting there, and Jennifer did not feel confident in guiding him. With support, Jason is now at our local university with his tuition, fees, room and board covered by scholarships.
Regardless of circumstances, families need our support in this process. We cannot assume that anyone knows what they need to know to pursue the options available to them. This field is ever changing. Every year it seems as if something major has shifted. It’s hard enough for us to keep up as professionals who work in the field, but for families and students it’s impossible. When working with students and families in our college-bound initiatives, we have to assume that they don’t know anything and start from the foundation, because so many of them truly do not know.