Getting students motivated for college

Cherise Ogle, a college and career counselor at Westlake High School in Atlanta, Ga., talks about how she gets students excited for college — and how they pay it forward

Getting students motivated for college

One of the main reasons that high school counselor Cherise Ogle chose a career in counseling came down to an observation: “it was amazing to me just how clueless a lot of young adults these days were in regards to the college process,” she explains.

Ogle, who started off at Hofstra University then moved on to be an admissions representative at Oglethorpe University, changed her career track once she started attending different college fairs and saw how little students really knew. “[I] started to see that it was extremely important to educate students on the college process,” she says. “I finally decided it’s time to see the other side of the desk to have a much larger impact on a greater group of students.”

After she left Oglethorpe University, Ogle decided to pursue her new passion and became and independent counselor. While she found her new career path rewarding, she felt that she could still do more for the students in her community. “In the state of Georgia, college advisors don’t exist outside the private schools,” she explains. 

But Ogle was about to change that. With the help of the principal at Westlake High School, Ogle was able to officially come on board in the school district and become the college and career advisor to almost 400 students. “I was fortunate enough to have a principal who believed in me…and believed in creating this college-going culture,” Ogle stresses. “[He just said], you know what? Forget whatever the county says, we’ll bring you in and do what you have to do. [And now] I’ve been here for my third year.” 

Getting students informed

Ogle knows how important it is to get her students excited about planning for college, so she makes her events both fun and informative. One of the events that she plans for her students each year is an open house in her school’s college and career center. Ogle will start by sending out invitations to different teachers in the school and have them bring their classrooms to her event where they will run different college-planning sessions for the students to explore. 

“We might play the GPA game, we may do a mock admissions trial or something along those lines,” she explains. The GPA game, which Ogle puts together with help from the NACAC and SACAC websites, acts as a means of showing students what it takes to be an ideal candidate to a college. “The purpose of the game is to say that GPA is important, but a well-rounded student is the key,” clarifies Ogle.

Ogle says that with these events, students start thinking about college planning on their own. “[After coming to the open house], they actually start to think about the college process,” says Ogle. They start to ask questions like “what exactly is it going to take to get to college?” and “what can we do to get started?” Ogle says that their ultimate goal is to make sure that everyone who leaves at the end of her open house has a great understanding of his or her goals as well as how to get there. 

In addition to her open houses, Ogle also sets up an Apply to College Night for her students. Beyond having students sit in front of a computer and apply to college after college, Ogle also sets up different stations where students can do mock interviews and practice what they would say on their college essays. 

“We set up the entire thing [as rotating stations],” explains Ogle, “we have students doing paper applications at one station, then they’ll go to another station where we’ve brought lawyers and contractors from all over the city…who work with students on writing their essays.” 

Getting help from the community

Ogle says her Apply to College Night is such a success because of the generous people in her community who donate their time — and sometimes their resources — to help out her students.  “I have people here from different sororities and fraternities who work with students on interviewing,” she explains. “I have brought in people from the banking industry or financial aid offices to talk to students about financial responsibilities when they get into college. And it’s great because companies that we’ve worked with in the past have been so gracious [about]
everything that we have done.”

Some examples of the generosity that Ogle and her students have received from members of her community include scholarships and essential school supplies. “They have offered our students about $2,500 in scholarship money out of their own pockets,” explains Ogle. “They have [also] donated materials like USB sticks for students to write their essays and save it that same night.” They also lend their skills — “I can send them an essay to read and four days later they’ll send it back.” Ogle is amazed at the relationships these professionals form with her students, not just on her college night, but also throughout the rest of the year.

Seeing students succeed

While Ogle has certainly created some noise in her area to encourage other public schools to seek out college counselors, her greatest impact has to be with the students in her own school. Her students appreciate her help so much that they often ask what they can do for her after she’s done so much for them. “All I ever ask,” Ogle says, in response to that question, “is to come back the next year.” 

And Ogle has found that almost all of her students follow up on that promise. “That’s the biggest reward I get,” she stresses, “when I know that they have moved into a college dorm, they’ve registered for classes and they’re happy.” Many of her students also go above and beyond to give back to the school that helped them get to where they are now. “They’ve gone into their classes, they [go to] something on campus, wearing their college t-shirts [and] talking about college,” Ogle says. “It’s fantastic to watch.”

Facing challenges

As with every environment, Ogle’s job as a college counselor is not without it’s challenges. For her, Ogle finds her biggest challenge often comes in the form of trying to reach all of her students to the best of her ability. “Meeting the needs of every student and making sure that we’re able to help them in some manner [is a challenge],” she admits.

However, Ogle takes the stance that rather than being something to make her job more difficult, the challenges she faces helps her to think on her feet and come up with new ways of thinking. “Everybody comes in with his or her own nuances and what I love about it is every day is a new story, every day is a new challenge and every day is something new to think about,” she says. 

As a final thought, Ogle wanted to express how much she appreciates and loves the job that she has. “I don’t know if everyone has the same experience that I do, but I love my job,” she says. “I have those days where I just think ‘I don’t want to go to work today’ but then I remember I have to meet with this student and I need to go talk to them.” Ogle also appreciates being around kids who bring so much energy and life into her day, and she finds that she has a good laugh at least once a day. “I go into work and I can laugh a lot,” she says, “I feel like a mom, a big sister, everything all rolled into one. And that’s what I like; they trust me enough just to talk to me.”

Laura Sestito is the Editorial and Production Coordinator for Next Step Education Group.

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