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Traversing The State To Support New College Students

This piece is the second in a series by students and counselors from Bottom Line, a nonprofit that aims to bridge the college-readiness gap by supporting high school students into college.

As a college counselor with Bottom Line, I visit my college students on campus monthly to meet with them one-on-one. Sometimes we problem-solve (think “I don’t have my books!” or “My bill is incorrect!”); sometimes we prepare for the future (think “What classes should I take?” or “Can you help me edit my resume?”); and sometimes I’m just a familiar face from home with a handful of Jolly Ranchers, ready to listen.

This year, I have the privilege of working with students from New York City College of Technology and Buffalo State College.

On this first campus visit, a lot of time was spent helping them deal with culture shock, as they encountered an unanticipated lack of diversity in their new homes. Not surprisingly, this is tough on students, especially those who have never left New York City or even their borough. One student of mine, Marlin Santana, described her experience as the only Dominican student in her group of friends and ways that she has been able to tackle this challenge.

She is not alone. I had another student who was surprised to hear that no one on her floor had ever heard of the Labor Day Parade in Crown Heights. We talked about using this opportunity to learn from others and teach others about herself and her culture. Across the board, I’ve found that students who have been excited to share parts of their home lives with their college friends have been able to ease into their transition to college.

Another hot topic students and I worked through is the hidden costs of college. Students who thought they were in the clear are now faced with costs they hadn’t anticipated. For example, a monthly MetroCard in NYC costs $104. Nearly $1000 for a school year is a huge expense on top of the billed costs of tuition and fees. Transportation expense isn’t just an issue for commuter students; resident students and families at Buffalo State have to deal with high cost of travel to and from Buffalo. Often families don’t consider this particular expense when evaluating the affordability of college.

An unexpected (and pricey!) cost for students is also textbooks. Textbooks are expensive and some students are surprised to learn that, unlike high school, they are responsible buy them. One student of mine had bought her most expensive book – her math text book – which wiped out the rest of her book budget for the semester. I strategized with her about how to save summer earnings to help pay for the cost of books, transportation, and other supplies. In the meantime, we checked with the school library and found most of her books on reserve to borrow. I spent time with another student showing him an online website where he can rent his books. Not only did DaVante save a lot of money, but, more importantly, is well prepared for his classes so he can get off to a strong start to the semester.

Bottom Line’s 117 first-year college students will face a variety of challenges on the road to their college graduation. As a college counselor, I’ll be with them every step of the way: as an advisor, a mentor, and even sometimes a cheerleader. My goal is to help give them the skills and confidence they need to persist through these obstacles, starting immediately with their transition to college.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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