Talk about Turkey and university admission

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As the holidays approach, many high school students will be working frantically to complete their college applications. She and others will try to dodge a barrage of questions from friends and family about where they signed up and what they want to do with their lives (don’t be so relative!). While their parents prepare Thanksgiving dinner, many students may be writing essays and filling out applications. So, what do vacation hosting and college admissions have in common? They can both cause anxiety in unique ways. Now they also both have a free dial-in helpline to take away the uncertainty.

For the past 40 years, the good folks at Butterball Turkey have helped chefs navigate holiday culinary crises. No matter who you are, experts are ready to advise you on brining, basting and baking. When it comes to university admissions, the stakes are much higher and accessing the right information is undoubtedly more complicated. “Should I Send Test Scores?” “How do I report my grades?” “Should I make a resume?” These are some of the many questions students struggle with. Despite the wishes of some applicants, there is no recipe for admissions success in a world of information overload. However, there is a free, live Zoom “TSTIME Hotline” that tries to level the playing field for students and their supporters everywhere.

Post-secondary counseling is in crisis and unfortunately unjust. While the American School Counselor Association recommends a student to counselor ratio of 250 to 1, the reality is bleak. The national average is closer to 415 to 1, with the average counselor working with more than 700 students in some states. These dedicated professionals are lean and responsible for a long list of services – from academic planning and support to mental health counseling and truancy. These requirements often result in limited time to offer individualized college planning. This is especially true as the application deadlines approach and questions are high.

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This season, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), College Guidance Network (CGN), and Schoolhouse.world (all of which I am involved in some capacity) are teaming up with volunteers from college and high school admissions counseling firms to support counselors and the students they serve by answering last-minute interview questions. NACAC is “an organization of more than 26,000 professionals from around the world who are committed to helping students make choices about pursuing post-secondary education.” CGN’s mission is to “enable school counselors to better support their college and career-minded students — along with their families — to confidently navigate the college admissions process to make sound, financially responsible decisions.” Their goal is to “give all students and parents access to top experts and unbiased information to achieve the best possible outcomes and greatest long-term success.” Schoolhouse.world is a non-profit organization founded by Sal Khan (founder of Khan Academy), “providing free, virtual peer-to-peer tutoring in math, science and more for students around the world.”

Khan says, “TSTIME Hotline is a way to advance our mission of connecting the world through learning while serving an important need to democratize information about applying to college.” Angel Pérez, CEO of NACAC, adds: “every student deserves access to college advice, and this partnership allows us to reach many students at a critical stage of the admissions process. While we have a long way to go in democratizing access to quality counseling, programs like these are closing critical gaps.”

A shared commitment to supporting students on their way to university inspired this unique collaboration between the three organizations. They allow students on two different days before the application TSTIME to drill down and get answers in real time as they complete the application. The first four-hour TSTIME Hotline was held on Sunday, October 30 with admissions leaders from the University of Chicago, Georgia Institute of Technology, Washington University in St. Louis, Cornell University, and The University of Pennsylvania. High school counselors from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Colorado and California also staffed the hotline. Hundreds of students and their supporters from across the US and 17 different countries took the opportunity to ask questions about tests, essays, financial aid, activities and more.

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Rick Clark, assistant vice provost and executive director of undergraduate admission at Georgia Tech volunteered his time and had this to say: “The university admissions process can be daunting and unclear at times. And especially close to deadlines, students are understandably nervous. I am grateful that this program has created a space for students to ask their questions, seek clarity, and hear from each other, as well as directly from admissions experts. We need more connections like this in the future to provide comfort and encouragement through experience, insight and quality information.” Xena Wang, an admissions counselor at the University of Pennsylvania, adds, “I am grateful to have provided comfort and clarity to the students as they completed their university enrollment. It was also an important learning experience to understand what questions high school students were dealing with, so that we can better support them in the future.” Candice Mackey, a college counselor at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, also supported the hotline, explaining: “The TSTIME Hotline serves as a last-minute resource for ALL students to access and have the opportunity to ask College Counselors and Admissions Professionals questions or seek guidance and reassurance before submitting their college application.”

The next hotline will take place on Tuesday, November 29 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM ET on the eve of the University of California application TSTIME and leading up to the regular decision deadlines in December and January. Admissions leaders from the University of California (Berkeley, San Diego, and Santa Cruz), Florida State University, and Trinity College donate their time to help students apply to college or university. They will be joined by high school counselors from California.

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Richard Weissbourd is the faculty director of Making Caring Common, a Harvard Graduate School of Education project, and the leader of the Turning the Tide in College Admission initiative. He says, “Now more than ever, we need to find ways to improve access and equity in college admissions.” He adds, “This initiative represents a positive collaboration and an excellent resource for students to submit applications with confidence.”

Whether you’re preparing for a party or your future, you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for answers, rely on these resources and let gratitude guide you this holiday season.

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