Grove City High School seniors face challenges in applying for life's next chapter

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Grove City High School senior Ysabel Gomez (left) talks about her college choices with teacher Kaitlin Ditty during the senior-advisory class Jan. 22 at the school.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided plenty of challenges to students as they pivot between remote and hybrid models of learning and cope with the cancellation or suspension of sports and other extracurricular activities.

Students who are nearing the end of high school also are having to decide what they are going to do next and make their way through the process of applying for college, the military or a job.

The challenge often is daunting, even during normal times, Grove City High School guidance counselor Valerie Williams said.

"Adding a pandemic situation makes it even more challenging," she said. "We are trying to remove any barriers the pandemic has caused."

Grove City High School senior Dylan Boso works on a survey that is meant to help students see which types of careers might best suit them during a senior-advisory class Jan. 22 at the school.

Since 2018, the South-Western City School District has partnered with I Know I Can, a college-access program created in 1988. I Know I Can representatives are assigned to each of South-Western's high schools. The organization also works with Columbus City Schools and Whitehall-Yearling High School.

"We have programs where we can start as early as middle school to help students to begin to prepare for what they will be doing after high school," said T.J. Klopfstein, an I Know I Can college-advising manager who works with students at Grove City High School. "Our mission is to try to impart the importance of college to students and make sure it's an option that's available for them."

Grove City High School offers a weekly advisory period that is available for every student, Williams said.

"The focus of the advisory workshop is to help students determine what is the path they want to take after high school, whether that's college, enlisting in the military or getting a job to pursue a career right out of high school," she said. "The theme we use is that there are the 'three E's' that are options for students after high school – enroll in college, enlist in the military or to be employed with a purpose."

Each weekly half-hour session covers a different topic, and students have access to resources and online tools and can connect with GCHS staff during the advisory periods for assistance, Williams said.

Klopfstein said he works with students to help them with their postsecondary planning.

The college-application process is becoming more complicated, he said, and he tries to provide students with guidelines for seeking financial aid or scholarships, writing essays for their college applications or seeking more information about a college and its programs.

The pandemic has made it more challenging for students to get information from and to colleges, he said.

"A lot of schools have either canceled on-site visits or limited the number of students who are able to visit their campus," Klopfstein said. "There are virtual tours that are available, but it's not really the same thing as going there in person."

With so many people working out of their home, it hasn't been as easy for him to reach people at different colleges to get information for students, he said.

Students often haven't had the convenience during the pandemic of simply stopping by a college to pick up information or drop off application forms or materials, Klopfstein said. They, like he, have to communicate with schools online.

I Know I Can is offering frequent virtual FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) workshops to give students opportunities to complete their financial-aid applications, he said.

Grove City High School senior Riley Waugh works on a survey that is meant to help students see which types of careers might best suit them during a senior-advisory class Jan. 22 at the school.

More information about the upcoming workshops and registration is available at iknowican.org.

Many ACT or SAT testing dates have been canceled over the past year due to the pandemic, Williams said.

In response, colleges often provide students with a test-optional application pathway, which does not require them to submit ACT or SAT scores to be considered for admission, she said.

"Those schools may put an emphasis on a students' cumulative GPA, the difficulty of the courses they've taken in high school, the essays they have submitted. They look at the extracurricular activities a student has participated in, perhaps virtually, and their leadership roles," Klopfstein said.

Students who have been able to take the SAT or ACT may submit their test results as part of their application, he said.

Colleges put the students who have taken and submitted the college-admission test results and those who haven't into two separate pools for evaluation, Klopfstein said.

"It's not an apples-vs.-oranges comparison," he said.

Grove City High School senior Ysabel Gomez said she was able to take her college-admission tests during her sophomore year, but the pandemic has meant many of her classmates have not been able to take SAT or ACT a second or even a first time.

"A lot of people want the chance to retake their test to try to improve their score, and that hasn't been possible," she said.

The biggest challenge regarding college admissions she and other students have faced is simply "remembering and being able to get things done while we're spending so much time at home," Gomez said.

"A lot of times, you're having to take care of younger siblings. I have several younger siblings I'm helping to watch," she said. "It can be hard to be motivated and disciplined to get everything done when you need to."

Gomez, who wants to study medicine in college, said she was able to visit a few of the schools on her list before the pandemic hit, but she has had to rely on participating in virtual tours of other campuses.

"It's not the same thing as actually being on campus," she said. "It doesn't give you a real sense of what a school is like if you're not able to visit the campus."

She said she's grateful for the assistance I Know I Can has provided, Gomez said.

"Applying for college is probably challenging during normal times, but it's even more confusing during a pandemic," she said. "I Know I Can has been really amazing helping us and giving us guidelines through the whole process."

afroman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekAfroman