OPRF counselors Meghan Cahill and Kris Johnson have created a program called College Connections to help seniors at the school who can't make on-campus visits to the colleges/universities they are interested in (photo provided by Meghan Cahill).

As OPRF seniors live out their final chapter of high school from home, counselors at the school have created a program for upperclassmen still deciding where they want to attend college next fall.

“College Connections” is designed to set up OPRF alumni with seniors who can’t make on-campus visits due to the global outbreak of COVID-19. Right now, there are over 1,100 former Huskies who have volunteered their time for those still searching for their college landing spot.

“If school was operating on its regular schedule, this would be the time when students would be flooding [the counselor’s] offices,” said OPRF counselor Kris Johnson, who helped create the program with her colleague Meghan Cahill. “Usually, I offer seniors the chance to connect with an alum who goes to the school they want to attend. It helps hearing from someone who grew up in the same community since they can provide seniors context to whether [a particular school] is a right fit for them.”

The process for seniors to get connected with alumni is simple. Students email a list of colleges they are interested in to collegeconnections@oprfhs.org.  The program follows up by sending the students the contact info of alumni who attend or have attended the colleges the student wants more information on. The range of volunteers goes as far back to the class of 1967 to college students who recently attended OPRF.

“The goal is to have a volunteer from every school that these students have applied to,” said Cahill. “We are definitely making progress on that end but it is still early on and we have more detective work to do.”

While the program is still developing, it has already made a huge difference for some seniors.

Sydney Odesanya had her eye on Howard University since she was a sophomore at OPRF. She was admitted by the university (located in Washington D.C.) but felt ambivalent about committing to a school without being able to see it for herself. However, after linking up with volunteers from the “College Connections,” Odesanya feels more comfortable attending Howard.

“[On a scale of 1-10,] my confidence level was at a 6 before this program,” said Odesanya. “Now I am at a 9. It’s nice talking with people who went through the same experience you did at OPRF. I bought my [Howard] hoodie so I think I am going to commit soon.”

Outside of helping those who couldn’t plan on-campus visits due to COVID-19, College Connections is a valuable resource for students who couldn’t afford travel costs before the pandemic. For Ibrahim Mokhtar, a sophomore at University of Southern California and 2018 OPRF grad, the program exposing the privilege behind accessibility to distant academic institutions hit home for him.

“To be honest with you, this is something that I wish was around when I was looking for schools as a senior,” said Mokhtar. “I never got to tour colleges. There are juniors [in high school] who plan visits to all of their reach schools and non-reach schools to get a sense of the campus. I never got that opportunity. I instantly related to what these students are going through now since they are all in the same position.”

The ability to travel (or not travel) is both a short- and long-term concern for some students looking to commit to schools outside of the Midwest. As the rest of the world tries to navigate the pandemic day by day, there is uncertainty surrounding what the fall semester will look like for college students next year.

Questions around the safety of attending schools that are farther from home and switching environments in time of crisis are now considerations students and their families will have to figure out in the next couple months. While there are academic institutions that are pushing their May deadlines back to June and July, Cahill confirmed that there are some schools that aren’t deviating from their deadlines.

On the other end, there is the issue of students who committed to schools through the early decision process. College Connections is there for those students, too.

“We have already had a couple students email us saying, ‘I have already committed to this school but is it OK for me to access this service,” said Johnson. “Of course, they can. I am sure we have some kids who accepted early decision who have families that are rethinking this as they deal with the financial impact of this situation.”

For senior Evelyn Drews, who is considering attending USC, Notre Dame University, and Emory College, the decision process is still ongoing and proximity hasn’t had too much impact on her college outlook. She is more concerned about not being able to see the schools in-person (she had one visit scheduled for April 4 that was canceled).

Since virtual tours haven’t been beneficial for her during this process, YouTube videos and vlogs created by USC students have helped Drews get a feel for the campus. However, she suggested those struggling to make a decision should use College Connections.

“Honestly, I haven’t really thought a lot about [being far away from home during the pandemic],” said Drews. “Right now, I am worried about not being able to see the campus and getting a feel for the culture. You can’t really get that without being at a school you haven’t been to. I found the program to be helpful since I had to cancel my visit.”

Beyond the Class of 2020, Johnson and Cahill want College Connections to continue after this year since it is a useful tool outside of these unprecedented circumstances.

“We definitely want to maintain the program heading into next year,” said Cahill. “We are discussing how we can make this useful for the Class of 2021 but right now we are focusing on our seniors. They are our first priority but we do want to continue this.”

If you are interested in the program, you can email collegeconnection@oprfhs.org or visit this link. 

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