Did you know that, on average, students spend less than 20 minutes per year with their school counselor? Nationally, the student-to-counselor ratio is over 450 to 1, which means that many students aren’t getting the guidance and support they need to prepare for and apply to college. This is especially true among America’s highest need students, who often receive the least assistance navigating the complex college admissions and financial aid processes. College Advising Corps works in high schools throughout the nation to increase the number of low-income, first-generation college and underrepresented high school students who enter and complete higher education. To do this, we place well-trained, recent college graduates from 24 partner institutions of higher education as full-time college advisers in our nation’s high schools. In the 2015-2016 school year, 532 advisers have been placed in 531 high schools and are serving more than 160,000 students. Our advisers are close in age and background to the students they serve – this year, more than 70 percent of advisers are low-income, first-generation college and/or underrepresented themselves – which means they can connect with students in ways that others often cannot.
As a result of their service to students and collaboration with families and school staff, advisers learn new skills that enable them to pursue a variety of career paths upon the conclusion of their two-year service with College Advising Corps. Many alumni are so inspired by their experience that they ultimately decide to pursue a career in college advising, college admissions, or higher education administration. Two former advisers, Aiyah Josiah-Faeduwor (who served with the Brown University College Advising Corps from 2013-2015) and Christine Shanaberger (who served with the Pennsylvania College Advising Corps from 2008-2010) share more about their experiences below.
Aiyah: As college advisers, our role is to look at everything our students bring to the table, empower them to believe in their capabilities, and advocate for them in every way and space we can. We provide choice to the choice-less and voice to the voiceless. Our students, typically described as “at-risk,” often don’t realize they are truly “at-promise.” The support of college advisers who acknowledge, respect, and recognize who our students are beyond their test scores and transcripts can transform how students view their potential and future. Effective advising requires listening to our students’ stories, building reservoirs of trust with our students and school communities, as well as seeking and providing resources far beyond their radars.
I see myself in many of my students. Anthony was one of those students. When I reflect upon Anthony’s story, it reminds me of my own in many ways. As the only male in his family and the youngest child, there was immense pressure on him to succeed yet not much direction to show him how. His older sisters had gone to college, but as a young male of color, his experience in school had been starkly different. I met Anthony while he was a “C” student – serious, yet not seemingly motivated, he spent much of his time beatboxing in the hallways. One day, I rhythmically communicated to him, “If he didn’t get to class and calculate his math, the self-fulfilling prophecy will most certainly come to pass.” Impressed with my lyrical cadence, Anthony and I connected immediately. I had his respect, and I gave him mine. Anthony was in my office the next day. He opened up to me, and I listened, believed, and invested in him. He became one of my most ambitious and hard working students. Throughout his senior year of high school and freshmen year of community college, I have remained Anthony’s adviser and mentor. I am proud of all he has accomplished today.
Christine: Neither of my parents had earned a bachelor’s degree, so I had to figure out how to navigate the college search and application process by myself. I spent a lot of time in high school poring through online guides, observing my college-going friends, and pestering my teachers to review application essays. So although it took joining College Advising Corps for me to learn that college access was a field of work, scholarship, and advocacy, I had been living college access for years. My time with College Advising Corps allowed me think differently about education as a system and solidified my passion for making a college education available to anyone who seeks it. As a first-generation student, I knew my own experience, but my time as an adviser made me think more holistically about the K-12 structure and how this feeds (or doesn’t feed) students into postsecondary options that set them up for varying degrees of success.
Being an adviser also exposed me to so many careers in education – from K-12 teachers and administrators, to admissions and financial aid officers, to institutional assessment and fundraising professionals, to education policymakers. Helping students think about their futures also taught me about other professions, how education for various fields differed, and even how people talk about their work. This gave me a clearer picture of what opportunities existed for me after College Advising Corps. It also forced me to start thinking about my own professional values and goals, and how I would translate my experience as a student and an adviser into tangible skills that I could carry into my own career.