Cultivating a College-Going Culture: An Adviser’s Reflection

AdviseMI is an initiative of the Michigan College Access Network that works with AmeriCorps to place recent college graduates in Michigan high schools with low college-going rates. The advisers are trained to help students navigate the complex college exploration process, retake college admissions tests, apply to colleges that are a good match/fit, complete the FAFSA, secure financial aid, and matriculate to college.

Asha Shaw is a second-year adviser who serves at Redford Union High School.

Cultivating a college-going culture is a daunting task, even more so as a first-year college adviser in a “new school” – a school that did not have a college adviser previously. Fully aware that a college-going culture wouldn’t bloom overnight, I sought out ways I could plant “college seeds” throughout Redford Union High School. I focused on three things: create a college-going appearance, build trust with my students, and give them access to college information.

I began by changing the appearance in the school, well at least, in my office. I hung college pennants, logos and posters. I created a "get to know me" wall that detailed my own college experience at Michigan State University. I displayed important information about FAFSA, applications, scholarships, etc. The favorite part of my office was the mirror with college phrases around it, so students could look in the mirror and say aloud “I am college material,” or “I am going to college in the fall.” I wanted my students to see themselves as college material just as much I told them they were.

Next, I introduced myself in a series of classroom visits detailing who I was and my purpose at Redford Union. I started by honestly speaking about my college experience as someone who has a bachelor’s degree in finance, but somehow found her way to education. I knew that it was important for me to gain the trust of my students so that I would be in a better position to serve them as their college adviser. It took until November for students to begin scheduling appointments with me, but once they started, they never stopped.

Within the blink of an eye, it was Michigan College Month (MCM) and it was time to jump into college overdrive. I hosted Paying for College Night, I held open labs for students to work on college applications, and I had one-on-one meetings with students. I went into the classrooms weekly to discuss writing college essays, completing college applications, submitting the FAFSA, etc. I brought in over 25 colleges for representative visits, where students could learn more about the types of colleges and universities that existed. Students who participated in college-related events were entered in a raffle as an incentive. We even had a district-wide college door decorating contest. My presence in the building provided Redford Union with more capacity to focus on college-going activities.

One of my highlights as a college adviser over the past two years is the “Wall of Acceptances.” This is a wall outside of my office where I hang every college acceptance to recognize and uplift my seniors and inspire the underclassmen. It is exciting listening to juniors’ talk about which schools they might apply to next year or hear freshmen voice their dream schools or sophomores express their interest in a specific type of school or even staff reflect on their own time at college. Most importantly, this wall is a way to spark a hunger for knowledge and information regarding college. It’s a conversation starter for the entire school.

Creating a college-going culture is about providing students access to information about college. If students are knowledgeable about their college options, then they are better prepared to make informed decisions about their postsecondary plans. Every day my goal is to plant a “college seed” at Redford Union and watch it blossom into a strong and productive college-going environment for students.

Author: Asha Shaw
Posted May 7, 2019

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