What Some Kids Really Need to Be College Ready:

A Caring, Informed Adult

In 2017 New York Times writer Anemona Hartocollis wrote an article about three teens who had dreams of going to college. She followed them for a year (with accompanying articles) at Topeka High School in her hometown of Topeka, Kansas. The students — Nate, Zac and TaTy — were from low-income families and had few resources for attending college.

At the time, Hartocollis wrote:

For young people with college-educated parents, the path to higher education may be stressful, but there is a road map. If their standardized test scores are too low, they can pay for a prep course; if their essay is lackluster, they can hire a writing coach. No one will be the wiser. If they can’t decide which college is the “best fit,” they can visit. When they are tempted to give up, their parents will push them on.

Besides money, these three students faced more insidious barriers. The barriers of not understanding the process of how to apply to colleges, not having someone to walk them through the process, and not being exposed to a college-going culture.

A good friend of mine, Jennifer Stark Fry, who was a teacher and IB coordinator in Wichita and is now a private college counselor, had been following Hartocollis’s writing about Nate, Zac and TaTy; she offered to help all of them free of charge. TaTy took her up on the offer.

TaTy, with encouragement from her mother, was thinking of going out of state to college. She aspired to be a physician. “But when she met Jennifer Stark Fry, a private college counselor from Wichita, she began to think more strategically,” wrote Hartocollis. “Knowing TaTy wanted to be a doctor, Ms. Fry took her and her mother on a tour of Newman University, a Catholic university in Wichita, Kan., with a strong pre-med program. (And she reminded TaTy to send thank-you notes.)”

TaTy had the grades to get in, but not the ACT score. She would need to re-take the test, but she couldn’t come up with $52.50 for the last-minute registration fee. Helen Crow, a local real estate broker, paid the fee, and another concerned adult, Sean Bird, arranged to help her take practice tests. TaTy got the score she needed and was accepted with a scholarship to Newman. However, even with the scholarship, she would be taking on $10,000 a year in loans.

That was the first article.

A follow-up article, “Revisiting the Topeka Students for One Last Check-In” shows the difficulties the three students encountered in going to college.

You can read what happened to Nate and Zac. TaTy muscled through. Readers wanted to donate to help her with tuition, so the same real estate broker who paid for her second ACT took charge of TaTy’s donations “with the money to be used strictly for college, and to be returned if she dropped out.”

TaTy is progressing. She is flexible enough to take criticism seriously and to adjust her goals and study habits when necessary.

Children like TaTy, Nate and Zac need more than promises for a quick fix, or high test scores (Zac was a gifted student). They need people in their lives like my friend Jennifer, and Ms. Crow and Sean Bird. Even TaTy’s very supportive mother had no idea how to navigate the college admissions process. I know that Jennifer, like scores of other teachers and counselors, helped many, many students not only get into college, but helped them be ready to succeed as well. That requires much more than a test score or a label of “scholar.” Students need caring adults who know them and can get them the information and support that they need to succeed.

If you are unsure about the process, pick up a copy of TulsaKids College & Career Planner at your high school in Tulsa. Or read it online here. We started publishing the College & Career Planner because we know that the process can be complicated and confusing.  It won’t tell you everything, but it’s a start.

Categories: Editor’s Blog