Just Because You Don't Know Your Direction Doesn't Mean You Don't Have One

Current and former students share their experiences on how their college application process could have been without a college adviser.

Photo of Greyson Norcross
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    My students have been fortunate enough to be one of several schools in Pennsylvania with a college adviser through the College Advising Corps. However, most students do not have access to such a resource. The high school where I serve is a small rural high school with many first generation and low-income students. I work with them throughout their junior and senior years to help prepare them for life at college. When possible, I have even tried to continue to aid my former students now in the second semester of their first year of college.

    Instead of doing an interview focused solely about my students’ college application experiences, I wanted to get a different perspective. I talked with several juniors, seniors, and former students and asked them to reflect on their college application process. However, I asked them to think about how this process would have been different without a college adviser. Interestingly enough, the most common theme was a feeling of being “lost.” What follows is a collection of quotes from these interviews as my students attempt to describe what the college application process would have been like without a college adviser. Some had a lot to say, others very little. The message is still just as important, regardless of how much they had to say.

“Thinking about what I wanted to do got me excited. Applying to college has been stressful, but with your support and events like Application Day, it made it a lot easier. I’d be lost if I didn’t have someone to go to about college. It would be a lot more stressful, for sure.”

“There would be no one else to go to with these questions. For applications and scholarships, I wouldn’t know where to go. I’m sure I could Google it, but it’s so much better in person.”

“It’d be a lot harder. All the questions I had, it wouldn’t have been very easy to find these answers.”

“Sometimes I forget that you aren’t here for just me and that you work with all of us. You do so much for everyone, I can’t even imagine doing this without your help.”

“I’d be lost.”

“Applications weren’t bad, but financial aid has been a nightmare. I hate it. There were a lot of questions that you answered that my parents wouldn’t have been able to.”

“I wouldn’t know what to do with my life.”

“It would be convoluted and scary. Nobody there to help, no guidelines, no idea what I need to know or how to pick the right college for me.”

“It would be like trying to open a door without a knob.”

“I would feel overwhelmed – with no direction.”

“I would feel overwhelmed and alone. I wouldn’t know where to start.”

“High school is like a helicopter. And going to college is like being thrown out of the helicopter. [An adviser] is like the parachute breaking the fall.”

“I would feel confused without any guidance.”

“I would feel lost.”

“I wouldn’t have had any idea what to do or what sites to use like College Board… And I feel like you pushed us all to do everything on time and let us know when everything was going on, which definitely made it less stressful because the plan was all laid out basically. If you wouldn’t have answered the million questions I had, I don’t think I would’ve successfully applied anywhere.”

“Well it would have been really stressful. If I didn’t know about how to do something college related, I wouldn’t hesitate to come down to your office. And you really helped me a lot with the FAFSA and everything a lot last year. Even this year, you’ve continue to help.”

“It would have been difficult. I wouldn’t have known where to start with the entire process. I think that because college is different from high school. It’s taking the next step in your life, and that’s a scary thing for a lot of people. All people need guidance eventually in his or her path to the future. No one is going to get anywhere in life if they don’t ask for help. I am one of those people where I can’t even find the application button on sites or I just don’t know how to get myself started with the process of applying for schools.”

"I think it definitely would have been more stressful. It's really nice to have someone whose job is just to help you through such a stressful time. Personally, I would have made so many mistakes and missed so many opportunities if I didn't have a college adviser."

"Having a college adviser means that you have someone that is sthere almost solely for the purpose of helping you apply to college and helping you calm your nerves about going to college... While the process of going to college could have been done without a college adviser, it was nice to know that someone was there to help me along."


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Photo of Michael Schurr

Hi Greyson,

This is wonderful. I love the idea of gathering a collection of quotes. It really gives a lot of different perspectives.  One thing that immediately jumps out to me via the quotes is around accountability. That the you, the counselor, held students to deadlines for applications.  Also, I noticed that students expressed that without your support they would feel lost in the process. I wonder how difficult the process would be without this kind of guidance. What about the large number of students in our country who don't have access to advisors like you? How do we ensure that the stress and confusion doesn't hinder students from pursuing their dreams?

I think their are some key insights within these quotes which we can design around for the ideate phase. Thinking about managing stress, holding students accountable to deadlines, simplifying the process and exposure to future careers, seem like areas where we could design better systems. 

I wonder if Clint Heitz might be someone you would be interested in working with during the ideate phase. Check out his post here: https://collaborate.teachersguild.org/challenge/reach-higher-better-make-room-teachers-guild-college-journey-collaboration/discover/let-them-come-home

Also Cassandra Rolin post? Might be worth checking out:  https://collaborate.teachersguild.org/challenge/reach-higher-better-make-room-teachers-guild-college-journey-collaboration/discover/because-of-them-i-can

Photo of Ela Ben-Ur

Thank you for this post, Greyson - which was one of the inspirations for mine!  I love the question you posed - it reminded me of a design research method called a "deprivation study" :)   I'd love to build on Michael's question above about "What about the large number of students in our country who don't have access to advisors like you? How do we ensure that the stress and confusion doesn't hinder students from pursuing their dreams?" I'm SUPER curious... I didn't see any of these students saying "I couldn't have done it without my advisor, who *gave me* a way to figure out what I want and how to go after it - that I'll keep using in the future."  Is that happening, but perhaps students aren't recognizing or valuing this enough to communicate it? Or is it not happening? If so, why? Is it inappropriate or unimportant for the kinds of questions and challenges students have at this stage?  Or because it's not the traditional approach? When I coach students, my own kids, adults - my greatest hope is that they can quickly have a sense of clarity about how to start to dig into their questions/challenges themselves, with my support of course, and continue to do so between and after my time with them.  I'm curious how that feels with respect to college advising.

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