Journey to College Series #4: Final College Decisions

Financial aid packages have been reviewed, colleges have been visited and in most cases, final reflection has taken place. Some students know the moment they visit a particular campus it's the right school for them. But for a majority, the final decision is much more complex.
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By Robin Levi, Advisor
Students Rising Above

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

Each year, the days leading up to May 1 are extremely stressful for Students Rising Above (SRA) advisors and their high school seniors. Financial aid packages have been reviewed, colleges have been visited and in most cases, final reflection has taken place. Some students know the moment they visit a particular campus it's the right school for them. But for a majority, the final decision is much more complex.

Weighing the Factors

In addition to processing the impressions from a college visit, students need to take other factors into consideration. They include the overall financial aid package offer, and in some instances, what the student's parents want them to do. For some, the final decision is not made until right before May 1. For those waitlisted or awaiting a response on financial aid, the decision may not be finalized until later in spring.

In November, 2015, we introduced four members of SRA's Class of 2016 who allowed us to follow them as they worked to overcome the odds of becoming first-generation college students. In January, we provided an update as they narrowed down their list of proposed schools and began submitting college applications. In April, we profiled the students as they made their college visit plans. For this final installment, we highlight where our featured students have chosen to attend college this coming fall, 2016.

Photo credit: Karen Darger
Gracie Charles, Wilcox High School

Santa Clara, CA

Gracie's financial aid was delayed due to the voluminous paper work involved with declaring herself as an independent student. Therefore, her final decision took longer to reach. When Gracie visited University of Redlands, she fell in love immediately. For her, University of Redlands had the right combination of school spirit and academics. But since none of her financial aid packages were at first very strong, initially her best choice was San Francisco State University (SFSU).

With the help of her SRA advisor, Gracie appealed her University of Redlands financial aid package, explaining her independent status in more detail as well as her financial need and responsibilities. The university was able to offer her more grant money, but the gap was still too big. Gracie took the advice of her SRA advisor and decided to accept admission at University of Redlands, as well as SFSU. She continued to apply for scholarships and work through the summer to fill the unmet need.

Gracie recently secured an annual scholarship from a non-profit in East Palo Alto that will cover her remaining financial gap, and may also reduce some of her loans. Her plan is to continue exploring scholarship opportunities to further decrease her loans and account for future tuition increases. Gracie is happily heading to University of Redlands this fall.
Photo credit: Karen Darger
Julie Ho, Pinole Valley High School

Pinole, CA

Julie has decided to attend the University of California, Berkeley (Cal), over the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). There were a variety of reasons for her decision. First and foremost, she earned a spot in Cal's Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), where she will attend the Summer Bridge program, which helps students transition to college. In addition, she received significantly more financial support to attend Cal and was impressed with the overall sense of community. Last but not least, with her father still struggling with his health, Julie wanted to attend college close to home.
Photo credit: Karen Darger

Ashley Johnson, Oakland Technical High School
Oakland, CA

After visiting the University of California, Riverside and American University, Ashley couldn't see herself at either school. Ashley ended up choosing her third option, San Diego State University (SDSU), which she had visited during a family trip. At that point, Ashley had thought that SDSU was too large for her because she was looking for a school around 10,000 students. In addition, her SDSU financial aid package was not as good as the other schools.

After visiting her top three schools, Ashley realized that SDSU was where she had felt the most comfortable, and where she believed she would best fit into the community. Moreover, she had been very diligent with applying to scholarships, and had been awarded enough so that she would not need to take out onerous loans. After discussing her short list of schools, and checking the numbers (twice), Ashley and her SRA advisor agreed that SDSU was the best option for her.
Photo credit: Karen Darger

Edwin Reyes, Sonoma Valley High School
Sonoma, CA

Edwin selected Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota over Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, about 40 minutes away. The word that Edwin used to describe his impression of Macalester was "vibrant." During his college visit, he met people from all across the country. His host was very musically talented and was part of a choir club that had many diverse members, including the quarterback of Macalester's football team. He visited a poetry class, and participated in their class discussion.

Edwin also had a chance to meet and work out with Macalester's track and field team. After talking to the coach, his interest for track grew again, and a week after he was back from his college visit, he called the coach to confirm that he would love to be a part of the team.

New Beginnings

Gracie, Julie, Ashley and Edwin are ready to start the next exciting chapter in their lives as first generation college students. They will continue to update us on their collegiate experiences as they settle in to college, start applying for internships, and begin the process of successfully earning a college degree. They will help welcome the incoming group of 75 high school seniors into the SRA family, and wish these students luck as they embark on their own college application journeys.

Our four featured rising freshmen have made their decisions, and in a few weeks will be heading off to their selected colleges. Please share your advice as they embark on this new phase in their lives!

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