I’ve written before about my circuitous and often misinformed path through postsecondary education. I had some guidance from my folks, but it had been more than 20 years since their undergraduate days. I was in desperate need of a more experienced voice, someone who had been through the system and who could help me make informed decisions about what to do next. I had potential, but no plan. What I needed was a college and career adviser.
College Advisors: Focusing futures
PEF College Advisors, in partnership with the Hamilton County Department of Education, is a group of individuals who are trained and placed in every public high school in Hamilton County. The program works in tandem with the guidance program by serving as a resource for college and career preparation. Whether it is a one-on-one meeting with a parent or student or a seminar-style college application workshop, the College Advisors program strives to increase the number of graduates who continue their education after high school.
Having worked with advisers here in Hamilton County and in other parts of the country, I can tell you they do much more than help fill out financial aid forms and take kids on college visits. Those things are extremely important and also easy to track and count. The full impact of an adviser is immeasurable. PEF College Advisors are held in high regard not only for the group’s knowledge of the admissions process, but also for their unwavering support of their students.
There is more than a little psychology going on when you have an adviser physically present in a high school. A college adviser serves as a mental safety net, another adult who cares about you, a source of insight and inspiration, and an unconditional safe harbor for your questions and concerns. The insight and support of College Advisors give students the perfect combination of potential with a plan.
Where are they now?
We recently analyzed the data for Hamilton County graduates in the class of 2012 who went on to some form of education after high school. Overall, 65 percent of students who graduated in May 2012 with a regular high school diploma enrolled in a postsecondary institution in the fall of 2012—an increase from 1,685 in 2011 to 1,788 in 2012. Sixty percent of students went to four-year schools, and 40 percent enrolled in either a two-year school or career training program, and they attended a wide range of institutions: nearly 200 schools in more than 30 different states! They also earned $19 million in scholarships.
These numbers may vary slightly from other postsecondary data reports, and most of that difference has to do with the process of tracking and accounting for students after they leave high school. College-going data is assembled in several steps. First, the Hamilton County Department of Education sends a list of high school graduates to the National Student Clearinghouse, and NSC returns the list with information about whether a student went to college. Then, PEF College Advisors and guidance counselors add students that were missed, take away students who should not have been included and provide additional insight into whether students went into the military or took a full-time job, etc. Lastly, the cleaned-up lists come back to PEF and HCDE for a final report so that each high school ends up with the most comprehensive picture possible of what is happening to their graduates after the pomp and circumstance. As you can imagine, this process takes an enormous collaborative effort to pull off. HCDE, PEF, College Advisors and school guidance officers accomplish it year after year; and the effort is worth it.
Where to go from here
There is still work to do. No matter how in-depth our process is, there are still students for whom no postsecondary record exists. I’ve had advisers tell me that students would confess years later that they’d enrolled in a technical training program but didn’t report it because they feared disappointing their adviser. We have to remove that stigma and build on the potential with a plan idea for all students. Initiatives like Pathways to Prosperity and the region’s STEM work will (we hope) help de-stigmatize career training paths and bolster efforts to get good data on all college and career training options. As the options available to students increase, we need to get better at supporting all students in whatever college or career path they’ve chosen. All students have potential—we just need to help them plan.
Director of Research and Effectiveness Keith White tells the stories behind the data in his “Geekly Weekly” updates. Keith’s columns will be featured on Nooga.com every other week.
Applications for college admission and scholarships usually require one or more autobiographical essays or personal statements. Essay questions will vary from application to application, but all serve the purpose of having a deeper insight into a student’s life to measure their fitness as a candidate. Questions include: “Why do you want to attend our institution?”; “Why do you deserve to win this scholarship?”; “What or who is your most important life influence?”; and, “What are your academic and career goals?”
Students find writing essays a daunting task. Even really good writers find it difficult to write objectively about themselves. PEF College Advisors help students showcase their strengths in their essays and help students make a memorable, favorable impression. From proofing and editing student essays, to bringing in college experts to share with students the dos and don’ts of college/scholarship essay writing, PEF College Advisors make the journey to college a little bit easier. College Advisors understand the challenges their students face on a daily basis and give them the courage to share their stories with total strangers.
Below are excerpts from essays from Hamilton County students. We want to share these with you so that you too can have deeper insight into our students’ lives and understand why some essays are just hard to write for selection committees across the nation.
- Stacy Lightfoot, Vice President, College and Career Success
My family’s hardships caused me to become extremely independent and self-motivated at a young age. In fourth grade, I was in charge of making my younger sibling’s sack lunches, in sixth grade I registered myself into middle school, and by eighth grade I could get around on the public bus alone. Gaining independence as a young girl caused me to have the courage to fearlessly face all obstacles in my life today, even if that means facing them alone. My self-motivation really began to develop during second grade. My mother was always busy and seldom made it to my school functions; however, one day I decided to stop being disappointed in her. I made up my mind to always do the best for myself. I am the third oldest of six children, but I will be the first to attend college after high school—this I did for me. I needed more. I wanted more. I knew there had to be more; not more materialistically but more to life than I had seen. I promised myself that I would achieve more than I had been shown was the standard high for those in my family. Self-motivation and independence has brought me a long way.
Overall, I would not change my past because it has shaped who I am today. I have learned that life is not always fair, but it is solely up to me how I handle it. Yes, I have had to work harder than the average teen; and yes, I still do not have as much as my peers, but as a friend once told me, “Discomfort builds character.” I have reached the depths of the bottom of life and it is my decision to bring up jewels. My jewels are the type that can never be bought; such as independence, perseverance, dedication, determination, and self-motivation. One day I will proudly say that enduring all my hardships helped me impact the world.
- K. Jones
Ever since I was a little kid, I have had two dreams. My first dream is to become a psychiatrist. My second is to travel the world and distribute needs to third world countries. My family has a history of mental illness. Mental Illness was the cause of two deaths in my family. Due to this, I would love to spare people the pain and help them with their problems. Being a psychiatrist, I would be able to prescribe people the medicine that they need to cope. So, instead of people going without their medicine, which isn’t healthy, they can get help and support that they need.
My plan is to go to Covenant College to pursue a psychology major. Covenant also has a great science department as well as a Missions major that would give me the opportunity to travel overseas and learn about the disparities in third world countries. I plan to combine the academic offerings at Covenant to prepare me for medical school. However, my family does not have the financial means to put me through college. I am the oldest of six children and I desire to set a good example for my siblings by being the first to graduate from college. That’s why I would really be grateful if I received this scholarship. Through this scholarship you would be helping me so I could help others. Thanks for your time.
- S. Smith
Teachers today are in great need. I look at the world in which I live, and I am saddened by what is going on. My generation is shooting and killing one another because of the color kids are wearing or because of the street on which someone lives. To me, we are all human and it is hard for me to accept children taking other children’s lives. I ask myself, “What is this world coming to?” Between my eighth grade year and my ninth grade years, I was faced with many challenges. During that time I was at my lowest point, it was though there was no wind beneath my wings. I was doing any and everything just to feel better about myself. If someone told me to go jump off a cliff I probably would have. I knew I needed some help and I knew I could talk to my sister, Lisa about my thoughts and feelings. Lisa has been with me through my really turning times. I am lucky to have my sister, who is, next to my mother, the greatest thing in my life.
After going through so much, I now know my purpose in life, which is to become an elementary teacher and change children’s lives. Being an elementary school teacher, I can start working with students at an early age to prepare them to make better decisions. Once kids become teenagers, it is harder to impact their lives. I want to impact the lives of little children as they learn and grow and be shaped into better citizens.
- K. Ervin
National Volunteer Week is about inspiring, recognizing, and encouraging people to engage in their communities. It’s about demonstrating to the nation that by working together, we have the fortitude to meet our challenges and accomplish our goals.
PEF works to connect community members to our public schools through volunteer opportunities. During the 2012-2013 school year, PEF recruited and trained 171 volunteers. These volunteers gave 1,433 hours of service to 28 Hamilton County schools. During National Volunteer Week, we want to share our appreciation for these outstanding community members who help to transform public education through volunteerism!
Seven volunteer groups helped improve East Side Elementary, Woodmore Elementary, East Lake Elementary, Ooltewah Middle, Dalewood Middle, Red Bank Elementary, and Soddy Daisy Middle schools. Their projects included painting, landscaping, and cleaning.
Preparing students for college and career is an important focus of our volunteer program. Both short- and long-term volunteers helped students with the college application process, FAFSA, mock interviews, senior presentations, college fairs, and so much more. Their one-on-one attention with students provides that additional support that students need to be successful during the sometimes complicated path to college and career.
Five community members took time out of their work day to share their careers with SOAR students during spring break this year. The SOAR students were able to job shadow and interview professionals in their career field.
An investment of time in our public school students is an incredible gift – thank you to our dedicated and remarkable volunteers for making an impact on public education! For more information about volunteering with PEF, email me or call 648.4444.
- Kate Skonberg, PEF Volunteer Coordinator
As a PEF College Advisor and a mother of three children, I truly believe that education can level the playing field for all students. This is especially true of one of my seniors, Jenny Hua, who received a “surprise” visit from Queens University of Charlotte, NC with an award of over $120,000 in scholarships! The Assistant Director of Admissions stated Jenny was among 360 students interviewed for the Presidential Scholarship and was one among twelve that was chosen. I believe this speaks volumes about the commitment of our students, faculty and staff, administration and partnership with PEF to ensure all students have an opportunity to pursue their post-secondary goals.
As a College Advisor, I have the privilege to work with wonderful students and assist them in completing college applications, searching for scholarships, assessing their interests, and more importantly, celebrating with them when they receive great news! There are some days when I admit there is a feeling of am I doing enough for my students at Hixson, and then am reminded of a quote by Marian Wright Edelman that says, “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.” I have decided to keep making those small daily differences because my students deserve nothing less.
– Helen Richard, Hixson High School College Advisor
It’s February, and there is no better time than the month of the FAFSA and all things financial aid to have a discussion covering “The top ten financial mistakes made by parents about college”. Navigating the process of paying for a college education can be daunting to say the least, but being prepared and informed makes all the difference. As a College Advisor at Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, I meet regularly with many parents who wish they had been more prepared for financing their child’s post-secondary education. For most of us, paying for college is one of the largest investments we will make in our lifetime, and we need help from professionals who know the common pitfalls and understand the facts.
PEF’s next College Knowledge Lunch Break will focus on financial mistakes that parents commonly make related to college, and it will take place at 12:00 pm on Wednesday, February 20th. Liz Marr with UBS will be our speaker and her professional insight is sure to enlighten all who attend. We hope you take advantage of this opportunity to hear from a financial professional, and to become more familiar with the resources available to your family through PEF College Advisors and School Counselors here in Hamilton County. Commit today to join us by registering online for this informational session.
- Julia Glover, M.Ed., LPC, PEF College Advisor
College Goal Tennessee is a program designed to offer free assistance to students and parents applying for financial aid to go to college.
Upcoming programs in our area include:
For many high school students, lack of information about how to pay for college has discouraged them from applying. It’s critical that students and families have access to the information and resources needed to help them explore educational opportunities. Please help us spread the word about College Goal Tennessee!
- Stacy Lightfoot, Vice President, College and Career Success
I try not to make resolutions for the new year because I don’t need the stress of not seeing them through. Instead, I reflect on goals and decisions and try to better myself. I thought about my daughter as she prepared for college. It started with “I wish…”, “If only…”, “If I knew then what I know now…”
PEF is hosting a series of College Knowledge lunch sessions that will help parents prepare for the future by providing useful information and tools. The first session, “Financial Aid 101,” began to energize me as I thought of my own experiences. I know there are lots of changes to financial aid and EVERYONE can learn how to navigate FAFSA and the various scholarships/grants/loans/etc. available to help with the costs of attending college. The February lunch on “Top Ten Financial Planning Mistakes by Parents About College” is another I look forward to attending.
Just think: for an hour, you will sit with others who want to learn, listen to experts in the field provide tips for navigating the college process, and create a plan for communicating with PEF College Advisors, School Counselors and others.
New Year, new ideas for moving into the future with tips and information for helping our students succeed in learning and in life. Join us and register online for these informative sessions.
I plan on learning tips and information that I can share with others who are beginning the postsecondary journey. I hope to see you there.
- Janice Neal, Program Associate, College and Career Success
Our College and Career Readiness team will be hosting FREE lunchtime learning sessions at PEF beginning in January for parents and those working with students. Experts will share information about the college process such as paying for college, finding the best fit, supporting your college student, and much more. At each session, we will have an optional lunch buffet for only $5.
Click below to register and learn more about these informative sessions.
For more information, contact me at 423.648.4443 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to see you soon!
- Stacy Lightfoot, Vice President, College & Career Success
Nothing encapsulates the work of PEF better than the success of students. Yesterday, PEF, HCDE, and BI-LO launched the College Bound! campaign. Out of all the communication work PEF does, this is one of my favorite campaigns. College Bound! highlights a student from each Hamilton County high school who is attending college this fall. These kids appear on billboards around Chattanooga and as life-size displays in all Hamilton County BI-LO’s and high schools. The campaign also provides on-line resources to help all students navigate the college going process.
These students are representative of the thousands of public school students in Hamilton County who graduate and go on to college each year. With support from PEF college advisors, they have worked hard to graduate and find their “best fit” college. For them, high school graduation was a major milestone, but not the end of their educational journey. Zachary Calhoun, a graduate of Central High School who was recruited to play football at Wesleyan University in Conneticut, said, “When I visited Wesleyan, they looked at me as more than a football player. First and foremost, they looked at me as a student. And that was important to me.”
Take some time when you are in your local BI-LO or driving around town to take note of these students and the joy on their faces. Check out Jesse Rettie‘s billboard here Let’s celebrate their success. And let’s think about how we as a community can support kids from kindergarten through college and career. Their success is Chattanooga’s success.
- Christa Payne, PEF Vice President, External Affairs