By this time of year, most high school seniors across the country have received acceptance letters from colleges and universities. As many of us know, the college admissions process is daunting for any high school senior and their families. For first generation college applicants, it is a confusing and intimidating maze. Too many students and families just give up on the process altogether. The resources students have access to for guiding them through the admissions process vary greatly based on their school and family.
In Baltimore City, like many large urban school districts, the ratio of high school students to counselors is around 300 to 1, and their responsibilities often span from emotional health and wellness counseling to college and career advisement. Students attending a private independent school in the area may benefit from a counselor ratio of 50 students to one, and that counselor is likely solely focused on college advising. Advising for low-income and often first generation college applicants is a systemic challenge that presents an individual barrier for the student. Having a solid academic performance record is essential, but without significant guidance from a counselor, these students are at a disadvantage in the college process.
Several high poverty schools serving first generation college applicants have innovative student counseling programs that provide college, career and financial aid guidance, however. And one Baltimore middle school provides counseling support to their eighth grade graduates all the way through to college: Saint Ignatius Loyola Academy. The tuition-free, Jesuit, all boys school serving low-income families in Baltimore City ends in eighth grade, but two full-time counselors are dedicated to supporting students after they leave the academy; their daily work is with students who no longer attend the school.
Academy graduates typically go on to attend and graduate from many wonderful public and private college-preparatory high schools in Maryland and boarding schools in the northeast. Since its inception in 1993, 98 percent of the academy's students have successfully completed high school. But the college guidance resources they can access vary from school to school, so the academy's graduate counselors provide advising and mentoring to supplement what is offered at each high school. They deliver individualized support and work in concert with high school counselors, guiding families through the financial aid process and assisting them in evaluating acceptances and aid packages.
The graduate support counselors stay in contact with students as they prepare to leave for college, and they continue to check-in with them throughout their first year and beyond. They advise them on the many challenges faced by first generation students, like managing changes in financial aid awards from year-to-year, navigating campus culture to access resources, managing self-doubt about their abilities, making social connections within the campus culture, and balancing family and college responsibilities.
The Maryland statewide rate for males from low-income families enrolling in college within a year after high school graduation is 46 percent. In Baltimore City, it drops to 42 percent. Graduates from St. Ignatius Loyola Academy enroll at a rate of 77 percent. In Baltimore, the college enrollment for students 12 months after their high school graduation is 50 percent. In Montgomery County, a more affluent suburban Maryland area, that rate is 75 percent.
Two years after high school, 95 percent of those St. Ignatius graduates who enrolled in college are still enrolled, significantly increasing their chances of earning a degree. By offering continued counseling and support to graduates through high school and into college, Saint Ignatius Loyola Academy supports young men in Baltimore City to break down the barriers to educational access while securing greater equity for their futures.
John Ciccone is president of Saint Ignatius Loyola Academy; his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.