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W&L Students Help Local High-Schoolers Apply to College

High school students in the Rockbridge area who don’t understand how to navigate the sometimes confusing process of applying to college are now receiving extra encouragement and assistance from the new “College Access” program that a group of Washington and Lee University students has developed.

Working through guidance counselors at Rockbridge County High School, the W&L volunteers are helping seniors, and some juniors, with their college applications. “For instance, they bring us their college essays and we help edit them, or they may have questions about certain colleges,” said Angelica Tillander. She is a junior with a double major in history and politics and a double minor in poverty studies and African American studies at W&L, and one of the program’s founding members.

The W&L students have also conducted a series of workshops on completing the college application, how to write a good essay, building a resumé, and hands-on interviewing skills.

“We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from the high school students so far,” said Tillander. “I’ve struck up friendships with many of the students, and they e-mail me their essays or questions. It’s helping us to expand our program by making it better known as they begin to trust us more.”

College Access is also informing the high school students about Questbridge, a non-profit organization that connects talented low-income students with educational and scholarship opportunities at some of the nation’s best colleges and universities. College Access has formed a partnership with the Quest Scholars Network, and many of the project’s volunteers are Quest Scholars.

College Access was developed through “Impact Area Groups,” another new W&L initiative. It brings together W&L students who are engaged in serving the local community to work on specific and measurable goals that have been identified in partnership with community agencies and W&L faculty. Other Impact Area programs are “Local Food and Hunger” and “Health and Prevention.”

While College Access has 15 volunteers, only five or six are working directly in the high school, with others organizing the educational side of the program on campus. For example, they are planning a panel discussion on the problems of access to further education with faculty members from different disciplines.

Tillander is one of four students who created the program after attending a college boot camp at Rockbridge County High School in the summer, organized by the school’s guidance counselors. The other founding members are Melissa Derby, a junior psychology major in the teacher education program; Hilary Nelson, a junior psychology major with a mathematic minor, and Katja Kleine, a junior major in economics with a minor in poverty studies, who is currently studying abroad. All four students are Bonner scholars. The Bonner Program develops leadership skills for students with an interest in service and civic engagement

“Part of our vision with College Access is to establish a full-scale mentoring program in local schools,” said Derby. “We want to provide one-on-one mentoring with W&L students helping throughout all the steps of the college admissions process such as deciding which schools to apply to and getting recommendations.”

“We could then start working with younger grades and getting them involved in the process earlier,” added Nelson. “A lot of things need to be started during a student’s freshman year, such as deciding which classes to take and what they need to be doing as far as getting ready for tests.”

College Access has assisted over 20 Rockbridge High School students to date, but the group plans to expand to Buena Vista’s Parry McCluer High School in the future.