On April 1, 2013, fourteen 11th grade Scholars students and four FLOC staff set off on a five day journey to explore colleges and universities in New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The adventure began in Philadelphia, where students had the opportunity to visit Temple University, (a favorite among the students), to tour the campus, and to meet and talk to a current FLOC postsecondary Scholar. After visiting Temple, the group traveled through blizzard-like conditions to visit Syracuse University, where students took a snowy tour of the campus and got a good taste of what life at Syracuse University might look like if they chose to go to there. From there, students traveled to Buffalo (again through a snow storm…in April), where they spent the evening exploring the wonders of Niagara Falls and the downtown Buffalo scene. The following day, the group took a tour of Buffalo University and then traveled on to SUNY Fredonia, where students continued to gain deeper understandings of the offerings of various types of schools and refine their conceptions of the types of schools that might match what they want for their own postsecondary experiences. After visiting Buffalo University and SUNY Fredonia, the group traveled to Pittsburgh, where they visited the University of Pittsburgh (another favorite among the Scholars students) and Carnegie Melon. The group rounded out their tour of schools with visits to Penn State Beaver and West Virginia University.
Throughout their travels, Scholars students did formal and informal advising sessions with staff to reflect on what they were seeing and learning at each school. For many students, this was their first real and intentional tour of college campuses, and they found that by exploring multiple types of schools in a variety of contexts they were better able to conceptualize their “ideal” schools. Because of this exposure to many different colleges and universities, Scholars students solidified their understandings of what it takes to get into the colleges of their dreams, and they deepened their commitments to work toward this goal.
Equally as important as fueling students’ excitement about going to college and enhancing their commitment to strengthening their applications, the five day tour of colleges facilitated the cultivation of deeper relationships among the students. They bonded in ways that are only possible when people spend 24 hours a day for five days together. They strengthened their connections, found common ground in areas previously unknown, shared their thoughts/dreams/fears about college with each other and learned how to better support each other.
Each student and staff member walked away from this journey richer in knowledge about colleges, about application processes and about each other.
(Kelley Thompson is the Middle School Scholars Program Specialist at FLOC).