Introducing the First College Access Academy at Drexel University
September 12, 2019
Members of our Undergraduate Admissions team who champion college access and I had just spent six days — July 21 to July 26— with 38 rising juniors and seniors from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware in our first annual College Access Academy. With their parents, guardians, siblings and other members of their support team in the audience, I asked the Academy participants to circle up for a time of reflection about our time together:
"I learned that admissions counselors are people, too, and just want to help us through the process."
"It was an amazing experience, and I now feel so much more empowered about the college application process."
"I learned a great amount of information when it comes to financing my education and earning scholarships."
"It was truly eye-opening for me because prior to this program, I had very little knowledge of the application process."
Similar reflections were repeated as all the students shared something about what they'd learned during the Academy either about the college selection, admissions, and financial aid processes or what they learned about themselves.
Applying to colleges can be considered a rite of passage on the road to adulting in the United States and is both an exciting and overwhelming time for high school students and their families. The sense of being overwhelmed and not certain where to begin the process is often magnified for minority and first-generation college students. The aspiration to emphasize the counselor in our admissions professional role and help alleviate some of the angst in the college search, selection, and admission process for first-generation and/or underrepresented high school students of color was the catalyst for the one-week residential program, College Access Academy.
As a woman of color and a first-generation college student who attended underserved public schools in New York, I've come full circle in sharing all that I've learned about the college search, selection, and financial aid processes with the next generation of college students.
Relevant, interactive workshops, facilitated by admissions and financial aid professionals, career readiness specialists, and Drexel faculty, were offered and included such topics as selecting a right-fit college, choosing a major, essay writing, interviewing skills, and financing a college education. The capstone of the 6-day experience was the Academy participants leaving with a list of eight to ten right-fit schools to visit and apply to in their senior year. To make this happen, high school counselors from both the private and public sectors joined our efforts and met one-on-one with each participant.
As a community of professionals committed to college access and inclusion, our goal was to work together and provide informative workshops, offer sound advice, drop pearls of wisdom, and to make a difference in the lives of the Academy participants. We met our goal as evidenced by the Academy evaluations. Before the participants left campus, we asked them to rate their overall satisfaction of the College Access Academy. We received 35 responses from 38 of the attendees and earned an overall rating of 4.86 on a 5.0 scale. We also asked two follow-up questions to make certain that we accomplished what we set out to do. The participants were asked: Before the College Access Academy, how confident were you in going through the college selection process (1 being not confident at all and 10 being most confident)? The average response to that question was 4.4.
We followed up that question with, after the College Access Academy, how confident are you in going through the college selection process (1 being not confident at all and 10 being most confident) and the average score was 8.63.
Although the evaluations of the program are overwhelmingly positive, the emails from the students we received after the Academy are priceless:
"Thank you so much for pioneering the College Access Academy! It was an amazing experience and I now feel so much more empowered about the college application process. The experience of staying in the dorms for a week allowed me to realize that I will be okay leaving home for college and opened me up to the possibility of going a little farther away for school and taking advantage of all the opportunities that I have. The program was so much fun, I wish I could go back! Thank you so so much for loving, serving, and caring for us crazy kids."
"I wanted to thank you for helping me with my college essay. You helped me a lot to understand how I can write my story so that it reflects who I am. Writing is not something that comes easily to me, and because I was writing about something personal, my mind was solely focused on it."
"There aren't enough words in the world that could reflect even a glimpse of my gratitude, but I'm going to try. This program has meant so much to me. I've met so many new people here, both admission officers and friends and everyone has just been so amazing. Through this program, you took 38 students with all different backgrounds and struggles and turned them into each other's biggest supporters. I've wanted to attend a college access program before, but their high costs unfortunately never allowed me to. I go to a small school and I never felt like I was really being guided through this process. I was so lost and scared. This program has taken that all away. In just six days you and the other admission officers took all my fear and threw it out the window. In its place you instilled hope and security and I'm eternally grateful."
And this is why I do what I do. As a woman of color and a first-generation college student who attended underserved public schools in New York, I've come full circle in sharing all that I've learned about the college search, selection, and financial aid processes with the next generation of college students. This is only the beginning. My co-chair and I, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions Christie Ruggeri, have already met to debrief and begin planning for next year's College Access Academy at Drexel University. I'm honored to work in a profession that assists in changing the life trajectory of well-deserving but often marginalized students. I'm also hopeful for the future because I work with a team of educators, admissions professionals, high school counselors and faculty who get it and are committed to college access and inclusion.
Bernetta McCall-Millonde is Director for Diversity Initiatives and Community Relations at Drexel. Bernetta is passionate about equity in education, enjoys reading mysteries, eating Japanese cuisine, and has been working in college admissions since 1988.