As a new school year really gets rolling, thousands of students across the country are experiencing the transition of leaving the comforts of high school to open a new life chapter in the world of college. It’s often an exciting period for students, many of whom may be experiencing the newfound freedoms of moving from home for the first time. This is also one of the biggest opportunities of their life. As, high school junior Kevin Alvarado told us, “By going to college, I’m hoping to become more independent and learn from my experiences.”
However, despite financial aid programs and positive academic standing that could land them anywhere in the country, many New York City public school students don’t take a major leap from home and instead pursue only college and universities within the five boroughs.
To tackle this issue, PENCIL is very proud to be working with JetBlue to provide a select group of high school juniors from JetBlue PENCIL Partnership schools with first-hand experiences of different, more distant, college campuses.
In the spring of 2016, the JetBlue College Visits took flight and a group of selected students visited North Carolina State University, North Carolina Central University, Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Le Moyne College, Onondoga Community College, Cortland University and Syracuse University. The students participated in talks and seminars that allowed them to visualize important factors such as professor to student ratio, student body diversity, and academic facilities.
Some students, like Kevin, weren’t sure what to expect as they didn’t have much to compare to. “I thought at first they were going to be similar to the ones in New York,” he told us. “I didn’t know what else to expect as I have not really gone inside an actual campus.”
The difference in surroundings was definitely noticed and valued by student participants. The students chosen for this program are high achieving and very academically prepared for a college career. They are also, like many of their classmates, limited in options when it comes to which schools they can visit. Not used to living outside of a dense urban population and not having had much travel experience, it is very hard for most students to envision their future outside of the city, much less in the typical “college town”.
One student told us, “We go to colleges around here, like Lehman and Kings Borough, and it’s still the same. But when we go to Syracuse it had a different feel. It felt like a real college.” Other fans of Syracuse University included Nina Zheng who told us, “I loved this university. The environment was amazing. The balance between clubs and services was amazing.”
The visits also provided students with an increased knowledge of types of colleges, like Galuge Fernando, who told us after visiting North Carolina Central University, that he never knew about Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) or that they even existed.
“It made me want to go out of state even more,”
said Naazheen Viraru.
“It made me want to be active in the college I go to.”
The next part of our students’ journey to college is bound to come with its challenges. As Natasia McDonald said, “The college application process seems daunting, but it’s necessary.” Between essays, standardized tests, and discussing college finances, it can be a lot for anyone to take on. Our great hope is that the possibilities created through these college visits will stay with our students as they go forward.
Luckily, we don’t just have to hope. Beyond the college visits, JetBlue is also working with students from these schools year-round through their PENCIL School Partnerships to prepare them for those next steps. Through partnership sessions, the many business volunteers engaged in the partnership are preparing students for everything from their application to the ever-daunting college interviews.
This year, we celebrate our fifteenth year of partnership with JetBlue and are grateful to have their continued support so that students can broaden their horizons and increase their options as they start planning for college. Oman Aventi’s reaction to the College Visits couldn’t make us happier. “Overall,” he told us, “…the trip was spectacular.”