When Word Gets Out That You Are a Youth Leader

Keith Robertson
College Access: Research & Action (CARA)

When you take the position of a Youth Leader, word spreads to people you would least expect. Youth Leaders disseminate information about the college process through workshops and one-on-one conversations with peers at their school. When my assistance was requested for a student who didn’t even attend my school, I was shocked. Yulissa found out that I was a Youth Leader through a mutual friend. Like many high school seniors, she was interested in going to college, but she was worried about the cost of college and didn’t know how to research her college options. With too many options to choose from (local or distant, private or public), and without knowing how to find out more information, Yulissa was feeling stuck.

Yulissa and I connected on Facebook and started talking about college. The chat box popped up at the bottom of the screen and Yulissa asked me if I could help her apply for college. “What do you already know about college?” I asked in the text box. Sensing that there was a lot of information to cover, and that this conversation was going to be hard to keep up with while typing, I suggested we use Skype, a free online video chat app. Yulissa gave me her Skype user name and we began a long video call to help Yulissa with her college applications.

Yulissa knew the basics. She knew there was a college near her in the Bronx called Lehman College. I explained to her that Lehman College was one school in a network of public colleges called the City University of New York (CUNY), and that there are many other CUNY colleges. I wanted to direct Yulissa to different online tools she could use to help in her search. We switched to the voice call feature on Skype so that I could walk her through different college websites. I directed her to the College Board’s website, where she could see the different majors offered by each school. I asked her what major she was interested in, and told her to enter it into the College Board’s website search tool. Yulissa limited the colleges in her search to those offering a Criminal Justice major and was relieved because her GPA and SAT scores matched the profiles of most of the colleges she was interested in. Seeing Yulissa’s expressions of relief and excitement through the Skype window during our video chat made me feel as if I was making a change in someone’s life.

At that point, we began discussing the differences in cost of attending CUNY, a New York State public college (State University of New York – SUNY), and private colleges. I told her that attending CUNY is cheaper since most students live at home, and the main costs would include tuition and books. Students that attend a public state college (SUNY) have to add living expenses. I also explained how private colleges may cost more, but many can afford to offer more financial aid to students because they have more funding than public colleges. Yulissa had the reaction I had come to expect — she was surprised that private colleges could actually be within her reach. I experienced the exact same feeling when I first learned this about private colleges.

The next step was to identify the different supports each college offered its students, such as work-study, financial aid, career services, funding for student organizations, and opportunities to study abroad. Looking at what a college can offer is very important for all students. Through the college search process, students dive into their own interests, explore options that lead to very specific future, and imagine themselves engaged in specific activities that reflect who they are. Yulissa made a list of colleges she was interest in after researching some of these factors.

Next, we started on the actual applications. I walked Yulissa through how to create a login for her application to CUNY on their website and how to add in her schools of choice. After about 30 minutes, we completed the CUNY application and started on the SUNY and Common applications. SUNY took the longest time to complete because it asks for detailed information about all the high school courses she was enrolled in. Because Yulissa could share her screen with me over Skype, I was able to see exactly what question she was answering and give her directions for completing each step. After an additional hour and a half, Yulissa had completed all possible steps for the three applications, except for submitting documents. I helped Yulissa identify the documents that she would need in order to submit all three applications (transcripts, SAT scores, etc.).

Over the next couple of weeks, Yulissa gathered all of the documents that she needed and was about to complete all of the applications. A couple of months later, Yulissa found out that she had been accepted to her college of choice, Kingsborough Community College. This was great news considering that it offered what she wanted. Her next goal was to receive high grades and pursue a scholarship.

High school students have opportunities all around them and are entitled to know what is available. However, if we do not have access to someone with knowledge about applying to college, then we may never even get there. It takes someone with this knowledge about the college landscape to guide each student individually and to share information that is needed to move forward. I think that our work as Youth Leaders enables more students to have access to college because we provide guidance and counseling that otherwise is not available. We often have more experience and knowledge about resources for research and applications, than available adults do in many schools. As Youth Leaders we are also trained to ask the right questions to help students uncover their own interests and skills, and ultimately, to make a good college-match. It is this training and experience that allows us to pass on this valuable information to our peers and change their course forever.

Keith Robertson is a student at the Academy of Innovative Technology.