Journey to College Series #3: Narrowing Down College Visit Choices

By Robin Levi, Advisor
Students Rising Above

The following is the third installment of the Students Rising Above's College Application Journey series, which profiles four high school seniors as they overcome the odds and strive to become first-generation college students.

Late March and April is one of the most enjoyable times of the year for Students Rising Above (SRA) advisors. This is when students finally hear back from their targeted colleges regarding acceptance, and most receive their financial aid packages. SRA advisors keep checking their emails and texts, congratulating their students when the news is good, and consoling them when it is not. Advisors then review financial aid packages with their students, and together decide which schools the students will visit. Some private colleges will pay for students to visit, and some colleges will split the cost with SRA. In addition, SRA sets aside money to ensure that students can visit at least one or two of their preferred colleges.

Managing Excitement & Stress
The actual college visits are both exciting and stressful for SRA students (and their advisors). For many students, this is the first time they have taken an airplane or traveled outside of California. Advisors talk their students through how to efficiently get through security (no liquids over 3 oz., no filled water bottles, etc.), the mechanics of transferring planes, and help confirm or arrange transportation to and from the airport. Once again, the advisor's phones are attached to their bodies as they anxiously await texts saying "I've arrived!" and just as anxiously send out texts saying, "How is it? Do you like it?" All of this is geared towards students making their final college decision by May 1.

In November, 2015, we introduced four of SRA's Class of 2016 members who have graciously allowed us to follow them as they overcome the odds and strive to become first-generation college students. This past January we provided an update as they narrowed down their list of proposed schools and began submitting college applications. For this installment, we circle back to our featured students and see what colleges they decided to visit:

Photo credit: Karen Darger

Gracie Charles, Wilcox High School
Santa Clara, CA

Gracie was not sure where she wanted to attend college, so she cast a wide net. In addition, because she was applying as an independent student (without parental support), her financial aid packages have been slow to arrive (see previous article detailing unique financial aid challenges of first-generation students). Gracie has decided to attend college relatively close to home and will therefore visit four schools-- three public and one private: Sonoma State, which is in the wine country region of the San Francisco Bay Area; San Francisco State; Chico State, which is northeastern part of California; and University of Redlands, which is in the southern part of the state, near Ontario. On her visits, Gracie hopes to get a sense of the different geographic areas, as well as the school personalities and academics. When Gracie finally receives her financial aid packages, those will most likely be a deciding factor.

Photo credit: Karen Darger

Julie Ho, Pinole Valley High School
Pinole, CA

Julie was looking for a college that offered an excellent pre-med program, had great teachers, and last but definitely not least, provided a fun atmosphere. Although she originally wanted a smaller school, Julie decided that a smaller school would not have the atmosphere that she was hoping for. She also felt she had the initiative to build relationships with teachers even at a larger school. Consequently, Julie is now deciding between University of California, Berkeley and University of California, Los Angeles. Because they are both prestigious large public universities, Julie will be using her visits to decide how she feels about each campus, and whether she wants to stay close to home or attend school in a different part of the state.

Photo credit: Karen Darger

Ashley Johnson, Oakland Technical High School
Oakland, CA

Ashley started out the college admissions process sure that she wanted to attend college in an urban area, out of state. Now she isn't quite so sure. She has narrowed down her choices to two colleges: American University in Washington, D.C. and University of California, Riverside. American University is a private, mid-sized university in our nation's capital and UC Riverside is a public, large research university in the Inland Empire of California. They are two very different, but excellent options. When Ashley visits both, her goal is to get a sense of the community feel on campus, the friendliness of the students, ease of access to professors, and ultimately determine where she feels more comfortable.

Photo credit: Karen Darger

Edwin Reyes, Sonoma Valley High School
Sonoma, CA

Edwin will definitely be attending college in the "Gopher State" of Minnesota! Edwin wanted to go to school in the Midwest and study journalism. His love for the Midwest was reciprocated by getting accepted by several targeted schools, and he has narrowed his choices down to Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, about 40 miles outside of Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Macalester College, which is in St. Paul. Since both schools are liberal arts colleges, Edwin's final decision is really going to be based on which school he likes best.

Each of these students are finalizing their college visit plans as the admissions deadline rapidly approaches. Where do you think our featured students should or will go? Please let us know!