College 101 — Step by step

— At North­east High School, 31 seni­ors are get­ting ex­tra help with col­lege ap­plic­a­tions, thanks to a new pro­gram that is be­ing offered in col­lab­or­a­tion with Phil­adelphia Fu­tures.

North­east High School seni­or Reethu Samuel reads through PHEAA in­form­a­tion at a ses­sion with Phil­adelphia Fu­tures, Wed­nes­day, Feb­ru­ary 6, 2013, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Quan Lam ar­rived in the United States from Vi­et­nam four years ago, and now as a North­east High School seni­or, she’s busy pick­ing a col­lege. 

Quan has been ac­cep­ted at Ar­ca­dia and La Salle, and is await­ing word from Ivy League schools. She plans to study psy­cho­logy, and hopes one day to en­roll in med­ic­al school.

Quan is among 31 North­east High seni­ors who are get­ting big boosts in their col­lege ap­plic­a­tion pro­cess from the GPS to Col­lege Ad­mis­sion pro­gram, a new col­lab­or­a­tion between the high school and Phil­adelphia Fu­tures.

The non-profit Phil­adelphia Fu­tures fo­cuses its ef­forts on high school stu­dents, par­tic­u­larly those com­ing from low-in­come house­holds who are poised to be­come the first in their fam­il­ies to at­tend col­lege.

The Cen­ter City-based or­gan­iz­a­tion, which merged with White-Wil­li­ams Schol­ars in 2011 and has an an­nu­al budget of $2.8 mil­lion, of­fers tools and re­sources to get these young people ad­mit­ted to col­lege and to suc­ceed once they get there.

ldquo;Phil­adelphia Fu­tures has guided me through the pro­cess,” Quan said. “They are help­ing me with es­says, fin­an­cial aid and pick­ing the best school for my ma­jor.”

Her col­lege ap­plic­a­tions are right on track. “I haven’t fallen be­hind. I’m way ahead. I’m go­ing to help my friends by re­mind­ing them to fill out their col­lege doc­u­ments,” she said.

Quan and her class­mates also owe a debt of grat­it­ude to Terry Dillon, a school so­cial work­er who ini­ti­ated the con­tact that led to the col­lab­or­a­tion.

Dillon worked with Phil­adelphia Fu­tures on its corner­stone Spon­sor-A-Schol­ar pro­gram, which in­cluded about two-dozen North­east High stu­dents, and per­suaded the or­gan­iz­a­tion to ex­pand its pres­ence at the school.

Last spring, Dillon joined coun­selor An­drew Dunakin and so­cial stud­ies teach­er/Na­tion­al Hon­or So­ci­ety spon­sor Chris Frank in se­lect­ing 31 highly mo­tiv­ated and aca­dem­ic­ally pre­pared stu­dents for GPS to Col­lege Ad­mis­sion.

On four hot, late-Au­gust days, the stu­dents came to school to be­gin learn­ing about fin­an­cial aid, col­lege es­says and find­ing a school that’s the right fit aca­dem­ic­ally, so­cially and fin­an­cially.

In the fall, they par­ti­cip­ated in ses­sions to keep them on track with col­lege ap­plic­a­tion tasks, in­clud­ing ef­fect­ive ad­mis­sions in­ter­view strategies.

Also, they and their par­ents had con­sulta­tions with a Phil­adelphia Fu­tures col­lege ad­mis­sions con­sult­ant to de­vel­op a per­son­al­ized col­lege ad­mis­sions strategy. 

Earli­er this month, Phil­adelphia Fu­tures hos­ted two work­shops to, among oth­er things, help the teen­agers com­plete their Free Ap­plic­a­tion for Fed­er­al Stu­dent Aid (FAF­SA) by go­ing step-by-step through the pro­cess.

“The key word is free,” said Lauren Nel­son, ad­vising stu­dents not to pay any­one to com­plete the form, es­pe­cially since help is avail­able from her or­gan­iz­a­tion and the school.

The stu­dents learned that sources of fin­an­cial aid in­clude the state and fed­er­al gov­ern­ments, col­leges and uni­versit­ies, private or­gan­iz­a­tions and lend­ing in­sti­tu­tions.

“They’re do­ing everything to help us get fin­an­cial aid to pay for col­lege. They check in on us by email,” said Joshua Carey, who plans to study mech­an­ic­al en­gin­eer­ing and has been ac­cep­ted at Widen­er and Temple, and is await­ing word from Drexel.

The stu­dents also learned the types of aid avail­able: schol­ar­ships, grants, loans and work-study.

“There were a couple of schol­ar­ships I would have nev­er heard of if not for this pro­gram,” said Branden Cruz, who will ma­jor in bib­lic­al stud­ies/lib­er­al arts and has been ac­cep­ted at East­ern, Kutztown and Cairn.

Once the stu­dents re­ceive their fi­nal col­lege ac­cept­ance let­ters this spring, Phil­adelphia Fu­tures will guide them in mak­ing en­roll­ment de­cisions, sub­mit­ting de­pos­its and trans­ition­ing to col­lege.

The stu­dents are giv­en re­spons­ib­il­it­ies. They are asked to ex­plore every op­por­tun­ity for fin­an­cial aid, com­plete all forms thor­oughly and ac­cur­ately, re­spond to re­quests for ad­di­tion­al in­form­a­tion promptly and meet all dead­lines.

“It’s a beau­ti­ful mod­el,” said Ann-Ther­ese Ort­iz, dir­ect­or of pre­col­lege pro­grams at Phil­adelphia Fu­tures. “We bring a fun­da­ment­al com­mit­ment to col­lege ac­cess and suc­cess in Phil­adelphia. When they leave North­east in June, they’ll be able to walk through the doors of a col­lege in Au­gust and Septem­ber.”

At North­east, en­roll­ment is about 3,200, yet there are only sev­en coun­selors.

Dillon de­scribed Phil­adelphia Fu­tures as the “gold stand­ard” in help­ing high school stu­dents get ready for col­lege.

“We’ve learned a tre­mend­ous amount. We could nev­er come up with this with our paucity of re­sources,” he said. “Phil­adelphia Fu­tures is the Mer­cedes-Benz of col­lege prep pro­grams.”

Dillon hopes the stu­dents tak­ing part in GPS to Col­lege Ad­mis­sion in­spire their class­mates to bet­ter fo­cus on their col­lege searches.

“We hope they hear from the thirty-one all the great things that are hap­pen­ing, and that they will want that as well,” he said.

Phil­adelphia Fu­tures hopes its ef­forts res­ult in an in­crease in the 36 per­cent of Phil­adelphia pub­lic school stu­dents who en­roll in col­lege and the 10 per­cent of stu­dents who earn a post-sec­ond­ary de­gree.

Ajin Ab­ra­ham ap­pre­ci­ates the as­sist­ance.

Ajin came to the United States from In­dia two years ago. He’ll study bio­med­ic­al en­gin­eer­ing, with plans to at­tend med­ic­al school. His choices in­clude Penn State, Holy Fam­ily, La Salle, St. Joseph’s, Al­bright, Ar­ca­dia and York.

“I needed spe­cif­ic guid­ance through the pro­cess to pick the right col­lege for me,” he said.

A class­mate, In­esha Smith, wants to study forensic sci­ence and crim­in­al justice. Her op­tions in­clude West Chester, Al­bright, Ar­ca­dia, Ship­pens­burg and Chest­nut Hill.

In­esha is so com­fort­able with her own pro­gress that she will be lean­ing on her friends to ap­ply to col­leges if they haven’t already done so.

The per­son­al­ized at­ten­tion Phil­adelphia Fu­tures has showered on the 31 North­east High stu­dents has them ready to make the biggest de­cision of their lives so far.

“We’re so far ahead,” In­esha said. “They took us step by step through everything you have to do. The pro­cess doesn’t have to be over­whelm­ing.” ••

For more in­form­a­tion, vis­it www.phil­adelphi­afu­, fol­low @Philly­Fu­tures on Twit­ter or check out the Phil­adelphia Fu­tures page on Face­book.

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

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