This week in our continued Life of a Fellow series, we hear Erin's reflections on the wide variety of paths our students take.
Each PLUS Center maintains a vast spreadsheet to track students’ goals. We record their hobbies and jobs, brainstorming process and GPA progress, their career goals and college plans. It is remarkable to see the variety of schools and plans that find themselves on our list. In my individual advising group of just under thirty students, I advise a future funeral director and dance studio owner, property managers, writers and sociologists, and more than a few future presidents - all of whom I am ready to vote for. For eighty seniors, we have well over a hundred colleges and goals. I can't help but smile when thinking about the buoyant plans these students make. They will be the first to tell a willing ear about the stresses of their rigorous, dynamic high school experience. Yet, this hasn't molded them all into the same academic-focused form, or broken down dreams of a rigorous, dynamic college experience.
It is so important that our students understand that earning their degrees, completing their prerequisite courses, being placed in an apprenticeship, or completing a term with any number of work readiness or service year organizations are all equal accomplishments. I love being part of helping them achieve these goals. I love working with students to bring these goals to fruition without having them take on massive debt. Focusing not only on academic and personal, but also financial fit is one of the revolutionary things I get to do as a 2 PLUS Fellow. Valuing education equally, in all its varied forms, is one of the most exciting parts of planning students’ futures with them. That's why the breadth of the college goals represented on our spreadsheet delights me. We get to see in action not only the college-going culture we talk about creating, but also the development of a culture that prizes success based on individual goals and does not see competition as necessary to evaluating success.
The colleges our students choose make me smile as well. As 12 PLUS, we work hard to elevate and advertise the Community College of Philadelphia and other regional community colleges, PASSHE (PA State System of Higher Education) Schools, and Penn State Branch campuses. These schools more often than not make it on to students’ goals lists. We strive for these schools because we want to combat the idea that the best choice is always to go to the most competitive college to which you are admitted. This was the mentality at my high school, and it is how I wound up attending one of the most expensive universities in the country. I loved my education but I had to work three jobs to stay there. For students who need to hear that cautionary tale, I happily share it. But for most, it is enough to have a cheering section of caring people who are excited about any healthy plan they formulate - no matter which path it involves.