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REACH students compare notes while visiting San Jose State.

by Julissa Garcia-Corona

Over the last 3 months, students with the Orfalea Foundation REACH Program have had the opportunity to visit eight college campuses in California. These campuses were strategically selected to expose students to diverse locations, campus sizes, and communities.

The first of the two trips took place over the summer as a 5 day, 4 night tour to the Bay area, and included visits to Cal State Monterey Bay, Santa Clara University, San Jose State, Cal State East Bay, and UC Berkeley. For many of our REACH students, this was the first time they experienced the “college lifestyle,” including lodging in freshman dorms and eating at campus dining halls.

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Checking out the campus paper at UC Berkeley.

Students began these trips overwhelmed by preconceived ideas of what they should look for in a college. Previous research and virtual tours seemed to fall short as students explored each campus and determined whether is was a personal fit for them.  For many of our students, this seemed to trigger a Goldilocks syndrome:  Is this campus to small? Too big? This campus does not have enough trees, or too many trees?  Too much going on; Not enough going on?

“These tours have helped me narrow down and prioritize what is important to me about school.” – Kayla

Too often, students do not look far beyond campus ratings, number of Nobel laureates, and the football team’s records. These are all worthy of consideration when selecting institutions of higher education, however there are other leading questions that support the students’ personal priorities, odds of graduation, and overall success at an institution.  Will this environment lead me to challenge myself academically, socially, and personally? Can I see myself calling this home for the next 4 years? Will I have opportunities to develop leadership skills? Will this campus support my learning style? Are the students on campus friendly? How is the food in the dining hall?  These were the types of questions that the students began to ask as they imagined themselves on the college campus.

For some students, this was also their first trip to the San Francisco Bay area.

For some students, this was also their first trip to the San Francisco Bay area.

Our time on college campuses gave us the opportunity to break down the myths and beliefs that students hold about abilities and desires to pursue higher education, and which type of campus would be a good fit for them as they pursued their higher education goals. Each student was challenged to prioritize their highest goals in reviewing colleges they would like to apply to in the fall.

“Last year when I visited Berkeley I thought it was a dream school, but this year, thinking about things I really want (like smaller classes), I’m no longer interested in applying.” – Jessica

Over the course of the five days, we toured campuses and covered College Admissions 101, including upcoming dates, deadlines, Personal Statement Prompts, Online applications, and, of course, how to select NOT the best college in the nation, but rather the best fit for the individual student.

Joining an official campus tour.

REACH students meet representatives of the First Generation Program at Loyola Marymount.

In the dorms, we enjoyed informal conversations with current students.  Their openness was key to our group gaining a deeper understanding of the college experience.

“These tours have confirmed what I want. I want a big school with lots of people!” – Antonio

The second of these two trips was a weekend overnight in September to Los Angeles area campuses including Loyola Marymount, UC Los Angeles, and Cal State Fullerton. These tours were a time for students to reconcile their summer experience with their fall action plan. Their action plan consisted of reviewing upcoming dates and deadlines, personal statement writing, and strategic organization of schools into three categories: reach schools, match schools, and safety schools.

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Over the next 2 months REACH students, like many other high school seniors throughout the nation, will continue their journey by taking active steps to complete and submit their college applications. (Editor’s note: You can follow two students’ college application experience on this blog.)

Julissa Garcia-Corona is a REACH Program Manager

About Transition to Adulthood

REACH is an experiential education program for motivated high school students from California’s Santa Barbara County that prepares them to take control of their future. REACH (which stands for Resilience, Education, Adventure, Community and Health) works to prepare students for lives of purposeful action, continuous learning, and the courageous pursuit of opportunity. READ MORE

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