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Taylor MercadoAuthor: Taylor Mercado, Second-Year Adviser serving Zebulon B. Vance High School

As those who work with students well know, opening doors to college access is no simple feat. Students’ desire to pursue higher education cannot bloom without nurturing from many people and partners; it simply cannot happen with people working in a silo. Instead, college access requires commitment from a village of stakeholders, with much collaboration, cooperation, and a continual push to create opportunities for students. High schools, middle schools, admissions offices, and community organizations alike must all work together to increase opportunity for our students. This fact has become extremely evident in my work with the Corps and I have been fortunate to be part of such a movement. Throughout my time with the Corps, I have learned the importance of bringing people together to move in the direction of access.

Another lesson I have learned is the importance of networking to increase opportunity. With the sheer volume of students in most of our schools, it becomes extremely difficult to work with underclassmen, and most advisers would agree that the earlier we can reach out to our students, the more prepared we can help them to be, and the more likely they are to go to college. While I worried about finding a way to serve this need while still addressing the urgency of working with juniors and seniors, it became clear that I would need help. Since college access work depends on partnerships and collaboration, I wondered if a local Admissions Counselor would be willing to talk with our younger students about college preparation; such a representative could speak on the importance of having a strong GPA and consistent involvement in extracurricular activities, and the information would carry weight coming straight from the source.

I found such a willing source in Mr. Darren Morgan, Assistant Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Davidson College. After a very successful meeting with upperclassmen in November of 2013, Mr. Morgan extended the offer to establish a partnership with Vance; this partnership would specifically focus on a pioneer project working with underclassmen to build early college awareness.

Many students believe that college preparation begins in their junior and senior years of high school. While it is understandable how students come to think this, with ACT and SAT testing taking place and applications being submitted in these two years, it is becoming more and more apparent that college focus needs to begin much earlier, especially in light of the steadily increasing college admissions requirements. This year’s establishment of a partnership with Davidson College brought a significant increase in college awareness and knowledge to our underclassmen. In the last week of February, Mr. Morgan came to Vance High School to speak with ninth and tenth graders about the college admissions process, and led them through interactive, engaging, hands-on classroom presentations.

These presentations allowed our students to act as an admissions committee, making decisions on applicants in a case study format. Students became Admissions Counselors and read 2-3 actual Davidson College applications (with any identifying information removed). After reading the applications, students were charged to decide which students they would admit, waitlist, and deny based on a limited number of spaces in the fictional incoming class.  While doing this exercise, students learned about the importance of voice in a college admissions essay, how much GPA and the selection of rigorous courses throughout all four years of high school matter, the significance of extracurricular activities, and a lot about the inner-workings of an admissions office. Students were active and engaged and also asked questions about scholarships, financial aid, and college life.

I cannot emphasize enough the impact of this presentation on the ninth and tenth graders at Vance. After Mr. Morgan’s visit, there was a noticeable buzz in the hallways, and many students are now inquisitive about how to become more competitive for college admissions. Many teachers, as well as students, have asked for Mr. Morgan to return and even to expand his outreach to include essay workshops. We look forward to continuing this relationship with Davidson to better prepare our young Cougars to be college-ready.  I noted earlier that it takes a village to make college access initiatives effective: with the Carolina College Advising Corps focusing heavily on college applications, SAT and ACT registrations, and financial aid, and Davidson lending a hand with early awareness and preparation, our next generation of college-bound Cougars will be stronger than ever. We look forward to seeing the impact these programs and initiatives will have on our students’ futures!

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