The Chapter to Be Written

I pride myself on using a holistic approach when advising students. During the first individual meeting I have with a student, we go over their results of a multiple intelligences quiz. This allows me to get to know the students more and make them realize things about themselves. Having a conversation about their interests helps me push them on the road towards independence. For the kinds of students I serve, being independent is critical to their success in college and life.

Having students take ownership of the college application process is a key step towards independence. We have to encourage students to define what a good college is for themselves. We can’t let them fall for the Brand Name Madness or soak in the sea of doubt in their ability to succeed in college. They have to find out:

Is the school academically challenging?

What does the academic support look like?

Is the school affordable?

Do I feel conformable there?

What career experiences can the school provide?

I never expected to be surprised by a student’s barrier to college. I’ve talked to parents who didn’t understand why going away was a great option for their child, the cost of college and were against sharing their income information. I’ve encountered students who haven’t thought about their own desires and depend on the approval of others. Some had a great level of insecurity in seeing themselves go away and succeed in college because of family, friends and not having seen someone who’ve done it. I’ve worked with undocumented students who didn’t see a clear path ahead. Students sat in my office concerned about the cost of application fees, sending test scores, and the enrollment deposit.

Having conversations with students about why independence was important to my development, showing them how research can be used in their college search, expose them to schools they never heard of and push them to touch base with schools tend to work out the issues mentioned above. These things might seem basic, but each one is a step up the ladder to independence. With every little victory, students start to gain more confidence. My approach is a great balance of independence, being hands-on and in-depth. The key is recognizing what of these three a student needs more of.

Never did I think that it would be somewhat difficult to usher my sister through the college application process. Her life had been far more complicated than mine, but she was determined to succeed. I was the first in our family to graduate high school and college. She was inspired by that. Most of the same folks who were against my decision to go away were behind her choice now.

It was tough for her to share her story in sophomore year. She didn’t want her past to define her just as I was determined to do the same at her age. When she started to dig into the process, I offered very little thought of her college list. She was always independent. I trusted her to take full charge. When I would check in with her, she would talk about how passionate she was about her list.

When February rolled around, she wasn’t getting much feedback from colleges. I didn’t want to step in because I knew some of these folks and I wanted her to move forward without my influence. She ended up calling the schools on her own. I’m glad she did this because she almost wasn’t considered for the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) at some of her favorite schools. Those phone calls secured her interviews that were happening within two weeks. One school gave her the last interview slot.

I stood in amazement at the effort she put forth. But soon, she hit a major roadblock when trying to qualify for HEOP. The schools were asking for documents she couldn’t provide because of a major error our father made a year before and never informed anyone about until it was too late. But my sister had an entry. When she filled out the FAFSA, she filed as an independent because she was in foster care at one point. Before she completed it, I consulted one of my colleagues because this was the only time I was surprised by a student’s barrier to college. I’ve never worked with an independent student before.

For some reason, the colleges considering her for HEOP overlooked the independence detail. As time ticked, I knew seats for the program were filling up. My sister was stuck. It seemed likely that she wasn’t going away to college this fall.

After much thought, I decided to reach out to someone I knew at her first choice to ask for advice on moving forward. With that advice, I proceed to write a letter addressing my sister’s situation and proved documents for it. She was accepted to HEOP at her first choice. I went with her to the school and paid for her deposit two days after. I’m glad my sister will get the independence she deserves.

While I’m usually an open person, it felt a bit awkward to step in for my sister and talk about her situation because I wanted to respect her privacy (I did ask her permission to write this) and wanted her to make things happen on her own. What pushed me over was the reality of the situation and the fact that I would insert myself to get students to that next level anyway. I helped a few students negotiate financial aid packages. I also was a bridge for some of my students for admissions to HEOP/EOP. Why wouldn’t I help bridge the gap for my own sister? I shouldn’t have reservations about it.

It’s my duty, not only as her brother, but as a college access professional to bridge the gap. The saying of “if not me, then who?” rang even more when working for my sister. Her complicated situation made me think about those students who are caught in this grey area before the next level. I thought about the ones who aren’t as lucky to have an engaged advisor.

What would their next chapter be? Will it be blank? Will it be written at a slow pace? Will it be written then rewritten? It’s up to folks like us to help students by ghostwriting their next chapter because if not us, then who?

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