Private schools on transitioning seniors to college
BY WENDY ALTSCHULER For Sun-Times Media
Loyola Academy in Wilmette | PHOTO BY STEVE DONISCH
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The school year is wrapping up; high school seniors are enjoying their last few weeks as the big fish in a small pond. They’ll be moving on to bigger and better waters — college. The time in between — summer — will be one of the most important and transformative summers of their lives.
Jason Kuffel, director of college and career counseling at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, said that the last few months of any school year are always filled with a range of emotions, as seniors are keyed up and nervous about what lies ahead.
“They are excited about having their independence and their own day-to-day decision making abilities,” Kuffel said.
Many choices need to be made surrounding particular college opportunities and financial support. Notre Dame College Prep has been assisting students with the next steps by helping them with the big questions-final college choices, comparing financial aid offers and applying for scholarships.
“We have helped the students with setting up registration days on campus along with letting colleges know they will not be attending their specific institution,” Kuffel said. “We have encouraged them to finish strong so that their GPAs continue to grow in hopes that they might receive a little more merit based money.”
The summer in between high school and college is a pivotal one for many seniors. Many graduating seniors are lining up jobs for over the summer to offset financial need the following year-either for spending money while at college or to help their families pay for tuition and other expenses. Other seniors are attempting to get a jumpstart on their career by obtaining a job in the field that they will be majoring in while at school.
“We always encourage them to have a good balance between work, family, and friends throughout the summer,” said Kuffel. “Time for relaxation is crucial so students are energized for those first few weeks of school adjustments.”
Kuffel advised that getting to know your future roommate is important to some seniors but not all. “It is important to know yourself and your needs as you walk through your last summer before college life,” he said.
Loyola Academy in Wilmette has several initiatives that prepare students for graduation and help them transition into the following year at college. One such event is Campus Ministry’s Letting Go retreat for seniors, which uses the aid of Loyola Academy alumni who have just completed their first year of college. The alumni offer advice and guidance to the seniors and answer all of their questions-something that is pivotal for graduating students.
“The seniors spend a day away during the week between finals and graduation,” said Kay Gregg, assistant director of Campus Ministry at Loyola Academy. “We get to help them process what they are grateful for and what they need to let go of. The retreat becomes a capstone for these seniors, giving them the opportunity to be together in a group one more time and to reflect on where they have been and where they are going.”
Peter McNulty, a senior math teacher at Loyola Academy, prepares his students for graduation and life beyond by teaching through stories — true to life lessons that his students are eager to hear.
“Seniors recognize that they’ll soon be entering a world that will require them to be more responsible,” said McNulty. “I also relate what we’re learning in Calculus to the courses they’ll be taking next year, and to the careers they’ll be pursuing. I try to impart some of the wisdom that I’ve gained in life. That tends to stick longer than the math.”
Senior theology teacher, Mark Chang, offers helpful counsel for students looking forward to college and their impending summer. He said that it’s important to resist the urge to get it all over and done with too quickly.
Chang said students should appreciate, “the empowering experience of accomplishment, a sense of resolve to a long journey, the hope of a new beginning, a surge of passionate energy, a moment of revelation, an awakening of one’s identity, the joy of achievement and a higher level of consciousness.”
“There is greater fullness to be experienced in life when we allow ourselves to be present to the moment and by not getting too ahead of ourselves,” said Chang.
Many high school seniors already have their sights set on their academic careers. They are planning to get a jump-start by attending summer school collegiate programs, which is an excellent way to ease into college life and learn about the campus and new surroundings at a slower pace.
Monay Robinson, a senior at Loyola Academy said, “I’m looking forward to spending as much time as possible with family and friends before I leave for summer school towards the end of June. I’m excited to start my college career during the summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This will enable me to get a feel of the campus and meet new friends.”
Other seniors are using their summers to take advantage of their free time before college starts. Spending time with family and friends — especially one’s that they won’t see as often once college begins — is at the top of the to-do list.
“I’m trying to not let the days with classmates and teachers slip by. As ready as I feel for college, I don’t want to take all of the people I’ve met throughout high school for granted,” said Mary Therese Forsyth, a senior at Loyola Academy. “I’ve been trying to appreciate all of the creature comforts of home.”
Forsyth plans to spend her summer with family and friends up in Michigan-time well spent for any recent graduate about to leave for college.
“I work as a day camp counselor in the morning and I love going to the beach and riding my bike in the afternoon,” said Forsyth. “I’m really looking forward to having some time free of schoolwork.”
Principal Peter Groom of Fenwick High School in Oak Park has an interesting insight on the experience seniors are facing as they prepare to graduate from high school. Visual and avowal events are scheduled at the high school to highlight the seniors that are about to expand their academic careers.
“We have College Declaration Day in which there is an assembly. The students wear a sweatshirt or t-shirt with the name of the college that they plan to attend,” Groom said. “The rest of the school is in uniform. At the assembly, we recognize the different colleges that our students will attend and the different scholarships that have been awarded.”
Seniors at Fenwick High School are the primary focus at the culminating Honors Convocation, which recognizes students’ academic and non-athletic extracurricular achievements that were earned during the school year.
Students that heed the advice and guidance from their teachers, coaches, faculty, friends and family will be better off as they transition from high school to college. Whether they spend their time actively studying or relaxing on the beach, one thing is certain: this summer will be one to remember.