Hot on the post secondary trail

Senior students Adam Engel (left) and Cody Pals look over a couple of college applications in the counseling office at Rush City High School. Photos by Jon Tatting
Senior students Adam Engel (left) and Cody Pals look over a couple of college applications in the counseling office at Rush City High School. Photos by Jon Tatting

Last summer, senior student Adam Engel had “no idea” what he planned to do after high school. He felt overwhelmed, worried about the college application process even as the school year began to tick away this fall at Rush City High School.

But he had help through the school’s counseling team led by Heidi Larson with one-on-one assistance from Lynne Bossart, of Rush City, who is working as an intern this year. So last week he dived right in and applied to more than 10 colleges.

Yet it was by no coincidence that Engel and fellow seniors throughout the state got a jump on their post secondary plans when they did. November 12-16 was Minnesota College Application Week, a statewide effort that’s catching on nationally in providing every graduating high school senior with the opportunity to learn about and apply to any two-year or four-year college, university or training program.

“It engaged me to go places I’ve never gone before,”  Engel said of his MCAW experience. “I didn’t think I had so many options.”

The senior student applied at institutions from Concordia to Bemidji and plans on doing the same at the University of Minnesota. But he’s counting on Minnesota’s Southwest State University where he wants to study to be a history teacher. “I went there for (American Legion) Boys State,” he said of an earlier chance to get a feel for the campus.

Talks with his brother, teachers and classmates also helped him identify a step-by-step approach in simplifying the college application process.

Engel, like many of his peers, applied at colleges that waived the application fee, which can add up fast since fees can range from $25 to $50 depending on the institution, Bossart noted.

“It’s huge for kids,” added Larson of colleges waiving the fee.

While the state expected each senior to submit one college application, Rush City High boosted the challenge to three per senior. In terms of college/university response to these student inquiries, the high school received at least 165 transcript requests. This averaged out to three applications per student among the 55-member senior class, Larson revealed.

“One student submitted 17 applications last week,” she said.

North Branch perspectives

Participating seniors spent the week in school career centers and computer labs, where a quick click of the mouse took many to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities website. On the home page, students could search for desired programs and majors or by institution in the MnSCU system.

High school seniors Brianna O’Donnell and Charles LeTourneau take a break from talking about college applications and careers while sitting at a computer station in the Career Center at North Branch Area High School.
High school seniors Brianna O’Donnell and Charles LeTourneau take a break from talking about college applications and careers while sitting at a computer station in the Career Center at North Branch Area High School.

Then, once they found a school of interest, they could apply online to one or multiple Minnesota State Colleges and Universities through the system’s electronic admissions process. Students also were able to download a printable application, which allowed them to apply to any of the 32 state institutions with a single PDF form.

At North Branch Area High School, most of the 254 seniors participated individually and as a class in Minnesota College Application Week. Some filled out more than one application, while others used the time to explore careers and research colleges and various scholarships in resource books and on the Internet, school counselor Mari Ringness said.

Senior Charles LeTourneau said although he has been in search mode for colleges, he had yet to complete a college application prior to MCAW. When the time came, he met with Ringness and started his search for schools offering a heavy equipment operator program. He found a possibility in Central Lakes College in Staples, Minn., which also waived the application fee, so he applied.

“It’s good thing he applied now because that program is filling up quickly,” Ringness said.

On his application, LeTourneau perhaps jotted down his involvement in school sports along with the church missions trips he participated in across the country. What did he take away from the college application process?

“It gave me perspective on life and what I need to do,” he said.

Senior classmate Brianna O’Donnell is leaning toward becoming a physical therapist, while wanting to continue her dance career, so her post-secondary search centered around colleges offering programs in nursing, pre-med and/or physical therapy. She discovered options and applied at The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Anoka Ramsey Community College in Cambridge and Minnesota State University at Mankato.

“It was a positive experience,” O’Donnell said of MCAW. “I took two days out of the week to do it. I’m glad I applied this early.”

Ringness compared applying and ultimately choosing a college or university to buying a new car. “It’s an investment,” she said. “You want a good fit for you. That’s why it’s important to plan. Part of the goal (of MCAW) is to create a culture of education beyond high school, a culture in support of post secondary life so underclassmen can get excited, too.”

College expectations

Back at Rush City High, senior Cody Pals has been preparing for life after high school graduation with a few on-campus visits already done. He visited the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus and got a taste for the University of Minnesota Duluth during a trip with the high school Honor Band last year.

Pals is also considering the Minneapolis School of Business thanks to another visit and his interest in the software engineering field or “something to do with computers,” he explained.

So with a major and a trio of colleges in mind, he was set to dig further last week. Pals discovered that while some schools require students to declare a major right away, others including the University of Minnesota don’t mandate such a decision until one’s sophomore year.

“We had one student who didn’t apply to a college because of this,” Bossart said. “But we helped him find other opportunities.”

Otherwise, Pals found similar questions on college applications, and it’s not just about grades and ACT scores. “Colleges are looking for extra curricular activities inside and out of school, family history (associated with a college), state residency and ethnicity,” he observed of some of the criteria he came across.

Aside from playing the French horn and trumpet in band, Pals has had cast roles in school plays and musicals, and his Eagle Scout project — building benches at North West Company Fur Post in Pine City — may make his application jump off the page, as well.

For Engel, he claimed his involvement in the drama department “saved” him. “It made me want to do well at my grades and become a leader in theater, the Friends of Rachel (FOR) Club and Students Against Destructive Decisions.”

In light of academics, he learned colleges look at improvement of grades over time, a cumulative outlook rather than how a student fares over a single school year.

Letters of recommendation and essays can be part of the process, too, in case students want to clarify or further explain a circumstance that may not reflect well without such a supplement in a college application. Other schools may even require these measures.

“It’s a very holistic approach,” Larson said of the college application process.

Senior advice

Indeed, Engel and Pals benefited from Minnesota College Application Week, which drove home some key pointers on the post-secondary trail. If they could offer any advice to the next round of seniors, and younger for that matter, much of it boils down to preparation.

“Don’t wait until you’re a senior,” Engel emphasized. “Your future is coming, and it’s coming fast. Be prepared and know what you’re looking for in a college, because plans will change.”

Added O’Donnell in North Branch, “Look at colleges your junior year. It won’t seem so hectic.”


• In the days ahead at Rush City High, a math teacher is offering a free ACT prep class to students who are taking the Dec. 8 ACT. Remaining dates for this math and science course are Nov. 30, Dec. 4 and Dec. 7 beginning at 7:30 a.m. in room 251 at the high school.

• In a related story in the Nov. 7 Post Review, it should be clarified that of last year‘s graduating seniors from Rush City High School, 71 percent were college bound with 42 percent pursuing a four-year and 29 percent a two-year school. With 5 percent going military, the remaining 24 percent headed directly into the workforce.

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