By: Kate Bovarnick
Last year 97% of Common Ground Seniors graduated with a college acceptance in hand, determined to go onto college. Jen Quaye — Common Ground’s new college counselor — is helping next year’s class meet or beat that record.
But she is also pushing beyond college acceptance rates — to make sure students consider options outside their own back yards, and to help them make sure they have the skills to persist in college once they arrive.
“I think that Common Ground has proven success with getting their students into school, which is the first step to having an effective college program,” explained Quaye. “But I want to take it to the next level, I want students to not be intimidated to apply to schools in San Diego or Chicago, and jump at the chance to study abroad both in high school and college. They don’t have to go there, but we want them to consider all their options.”
Quaye was hired earlier this year as the head of the College and Career Planning program at Common Ground, although she is not unfamiliar with our students. She had previously worked at Workforce Alliance where she served on the Youth Council and worked closely with many students involved in Common Ground’s Green Jobs Corps. “I knew coming into this job that they were motivated students.”
Quaye explained that it isn’t bad to stay close to home. She herself attended a local New Haven public high school and then went on to get her Bachelor’s Degree from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, just a few miles from where she grew-up. Now, qualifying New Haven students can access major scholarship support through New Haven Promise — making state schools even more attractive. “Kids don’t really get a chance to understand what they don’t know about the world until they leave their immediate surroundings,” said Quaye. “Studying abroad or going away for college creates this thirst for knowledge and traveling. Even if they’re never able to travel again in their lifetime, it will help the student understand their own world from a different perspective; perspectives that will likely shape their behaviors.”
Along with pushing students to expand the geography of where they are applying to schools, Quaye also wants to ensure that students are thinking about their higher education futures from the moment they enter high school. “I want students to start taking college level courses as soon as they’re able. We have the benefit of being neighbors to Southern, five miles from Yale, Albertus Magnus, and Gateway, and a 20 minute drive from University of New Haven. Many of those schools offer free courses for qualifying high school students.” To take advantage of opportunities like these, Quaye has outlined detailed Junior and Senior initiatives.
Beginning in Junior year, students complete a job shadow program — working on their professional skills (how to apply for jobs, writing professional emails, etc), and also exposing them to careers they may be interested in further down the road. In January, Juniors will begin the college search, which will include campus visits, admission representatives from colleges coming to Common Ground, and developing a college mentor relationship. Juniors will also be required to take the SAT or ACT in the spring. “Many students were taking the SAT for the first time in the fall of their senior year, which is a huge disadvantage for being as prepared as they can be for the test,” explained Quaye. “I want them to take the test in the spring, study over the summer, and come back in fall knowing exactly what they need to do.”
By senior year students should have had ample exposure to different colleges, and feel like they are prepared to start the application process. “I’m encouraging all students to apply early decision to schools, and have a clear idea of what sort of financial aid they need.” Quaye continued to stress the importance of being prepared. “Even if they don’t submit an application early, if there are any errors in the application they have time to make those amendments without riding the March deadline. Early applications + Correct information = Larger financial aid packages and sooner.” Quaye explained that too often students think that large well-known colleges aren’t an option for financial reasons, but if they do a little investigating they will discover that there is a bounty of financial aid and scholarship packages.
As Quaye reflects on what she sees for future of the college program at Common Ground, it’s hard not to remember her own experiences. “I went into college and there were a lot of things that came as a shock to me. I look at these students, and I know that they will have many of those same feelings, but I want to make sure they are as prepared as they can be.” And it seems like Quaye is just the person to make sure that happens.