The Art and Science of College Admissions

With headlines about affluent families investing vast amounts in securing the “right spot” at college, it’s clear how competitive college admissions game can be.  Through support from lead funder Enterprise Holdings Inc., as well as the Bayer Fund, the Light a Single Candle Foundation, and individual donors, the SLPS Foundation has invested in College Specialists who provide customized support to students navigating the college admissions process. The College Specialists work at five SLPS high schools and the Early College Academy; and have helped to raise their schools’ college enrollment rates, as well as scholarship dollars earned by students.

“Our low-income kids are at a serious disadvantage in the college admissions process, and that disadvantage grows each year,” reflects Monica Nikolai who is the College Specialist at Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience.  “We are at a point where colleges are now giving more money to high income students than low income students.  If the College Specialists aren’t available to help the kids make personal connections with their recruiters, help them refine their applications so that they have the necessary keywords that will make their application stand out, help them to show just how outstanding they are, they would have even less of a chance in the admissions world.”  At CSMB this past year, Nikolai is most proud of working with two students who didn’t have parental guardians. She helped them establish independent status and gain full scholarships to universities. Overall, CSMB’s class of 2019 garnered over $6 million in merit scholarships (80% of the graduating class earned scholarships) and 100% enrolled in two- or four-year colleges.

At Northwest Law Academy last year, JuMah Fennoy worked one-on-one with students and families to ensure that 100% of her graduating seniors had successfully completed the Federal Application of Financial Aid Support (FAFSA) and applied to college and/or a technical training program. She coached seniors to secure valuable scholarships: two were granted Fontbonne University “Promise” scholarships (full tuition) and one senior was the first in Northwest’s history to earn the College Club Scholarship ($7,000).  At Northwest, 92% of the graduating class were admitted and planned to enroll in two or four-year college, and 30% of these students were awarded merit scholarships.

Thanks to funding from the Bayer Fund, SLPS Foundation added a College Specialist at Gateway STEM High School. At SLPS’ largest high school, College Specialist, Katie Meyer, has already helped to boost college acceptances.  In 2019, the number of college acceptances increased to 448, and 46 students earned merit aid totaling nearly $2.5 million. According to Meyer, however, the most important component of the work is developing ties with the students.  As she explains, “I am most proud of the relationships that I have built with many of my seniors. I keep in close contact with most of them (via email, social media, or visits) and have continued to support them through their transition to college. They never hesitate to ask any questions and I continue to be available to them even after graduation. I believe that this relationship will be one of the biggest reasons that these students stay in school. I see my role as not only getting them into college, but supporting them until they finish.”  

Exploring All Pathways

This fall, SLPS’ College and Career Readiness department has also been expanding the types of programs they offer to students.  “We want students to pursue options that fit their interests and aspirations,” comments Dr. Elizabeth Bender, Associate Superintendent of College and Career Readiness, “and it’s our job to expose them the range of possibilities.”  SLPS has a growing program with Ranken Technical College in which high school juniors can enroll in Ranken and graduate with both a career certification and high school diploma. In September, counselors worked with the Regional Youth Employment Coalition to learn about Blueprint4Careers which directs students to quality training programs in fields such as health care and advanced manufacturing.  
For more on the increasingly tight college admissions process, read Paul Tough’s article.

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