College Countdown: Students Advised To Start Early Preparations For College Process

College - Fair

Photo By: Rachael Jun A senior advisory poses during last year’s college fair at Citi Field, located in Queens.


Junior Dionna Jenkins excels in her classes and on standardized tests.  After school, she participates in the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council, where she helps advise City Hall about youth-related issues. On weekends, she volunteers to help run activities and perform office work at her local YMCA.

Jenkins seems to be doing everything right in order to get into a selective college, but soaring costs have made her more concerned with being able to afford her college tuition than just being accepted.

“I do feel prepared for college,” she said, “However this is only in an academic aspect.”

Jenkins believes that coming from an under-resourced household can create barriers for her college options and opportunities.

“I’m from a very low-income family, so being able to afford to go to the schools I’m interested in is going to be difficult,” she said. “Even if I do manage to pay the tuition, I’ll still have to consider the price of textbooks, meal plans, and being able to travel to and from home if I decide to leave the city.”

Like Jenkins, many juniors and seniors are grappling with having to pay for college, considering that college costs have risen faster than the rate of inflation.

Tuition has risen 3.7% at private colleges and 2.9% at public colleges on average over the past year, according to the College Board. In comparison, inflation has increased 1.4% throughout the year.

In light of these challenges, many faculty members at Frank McCourt are helping students side-by-side as the college application process starts and finishes.

Frank McCourt’s first graduating class boasted a 97% college acceptance rate last year, much higher than the 72% citywide average.


Weighing College Debt

Ms. Houlihan, Frank McCourt’s College Counselor, helps students narrow down the search and select colleges that meet their financial and academic needs.

She suggests that applying to public colleges and universities, like CUNY amd SUNY schools, can give students “an affordable option to a great education.”  She added that “many SUNY and CUNY programs match the rigor of education found at private schools,” but come at a much lower price tag.

“Students don’t understand what it means to be $80,000 in debt,” said Ms. Houlihan.

Such excessive debt can be avoided, according to Ms. Houlihan, by strategically applying for financial aid, need-based, and merit-based scholarships.

Beginning January 1 of their senior year, students are eligible to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which provides students with a bulk of  the financial aid they will receive based on their family’s income and assets.

In addition, private companies offer scholarships to students of various ethnic backgrounds who excel academically or have a particular talent.

So far, Frank McCourt’s graduating seniors  have received $602,000 in merit scholarships.


The Right Fit

Zooming in on a college that you can afford is just a small part of finding schools that fit your academic interests.

Senior Anna Samuels applied early decision to Connecticut College, a small liberal arts school in New London, CT, because it is “a lot like Frank McCourt.”

She said she was drawn to Connecticut College because of its small size—undergraduate enrollment is less than 2,000 students—and the diversity of courses offered.

The application process is demanding and time-consuming, and Samuels was thrilled that she had completed it over the summer. But then she hit a roadblock.

“A week before the application was due, I thought to myself, ‘I need to redo my entire essay’,” Samuels recalled.

Despite this hurdle, she submitted her application by the November 15 deadline and was accepted less than a month later.

“It’s a really stressful time,” she said, “but it’s so rewarding, wherever you end up going to school.”


Early Preparations

According to Ms. Houlihan, students should be preparing for college applications from their freshman year.

“By the end of ninth grade, students should understand what their GPA is and how it is connected to their future,” she said.

Jenkins agrees that freshman year is a crucial time to get a head start on the college process.

“I know most freshmen like to adjust and spend most of their first year making friends, but that shouldn’t be a top priority. You have four years to do that,” said Jenkins.

“I know many people who are now regretting not doing so [working hard in 9th grade] when they had the chance,” she added.

Ms. Stahl, a senior advisor and Humanities teacher, has helped her students to better understand how their entire high school careers affect their admissions to college.

She said that some of her students had an “A-ha! moment” when they were reviewing their transcripts and realized that they would need to start improving their grades in order to get into college at all, not just a good one.

Many felt “stuck” and “frustrated,” but they also became more focused.  They developed, as Ms. Stahl put it, “a lot more of an understanding of the consequences of their actions.”

With so many financial and academic hurdles in the college application process, FMHS faculty are dedicated to helping students find the right fit.

Members of this year’s graduating class have already been accepted into many different public and private universities, including Ithaca College, SUNY Binghamton, CUNY Hunter, and American University.

Ms. Houlihan said that the diversity of colleges means that “there’s an option for everyone.”

  • START PREPARING EARLY: Start working on your college applications, the essays in particular, as soon as you can. Just like in school, procrastinated essays don’t merit much, and you’ll have plenty of time to think of a perfect way to sell yourself to the college of your dreams.
  • KEEP YOUR GRADES UP: Make sure you challenge yourself by taking hard classes and push yourself to do all your work and maintain a high GPA. Take College Now classes if you qualify!
  • BE WELL-ROUNDED: Make sure to balance your rigorous course load with extracurricular activities or sports that reveal your passions and who you are outside the classroom.
  • WORK WITH WHAT YOU HAVE: You may not be where you feel you should be, but don’t give up and don’t get disappointed. There’s always time to improve your transcript and resume and to show colleges that you’re a motivated, hard-working student.