A Closer Look at the New Orleans College Case Study

Sheena Reed, Metairie Park Country Day School, Metairie, LA

I made the transition from college admissions to college counseling because I wanted to increase college knowledge, especially among Black students who were first in their families to attend college. I saw too few applications from Black and Brown students when reading college applications. Data tells us we are reaching only a fraction of talented and college-ready students; therefore, by shifting to college counseling, I wanted to make my contribution to the field.

As a counselor at a high school serving a majority first-generation and Pell-eligible population, I wanted my students to access case study programming like the ones I attended as a college representative. However, most case study programs were held at private schools for their students and parents, not marketed to public schools and CBOs. As a former college admissions representative, I understood the politics of funding travel and chose to partner with an independent school to increase the success of coordinating our first program. The New Orleans College Case Study was created in 2015 to offer a city-wide program as well as smaller programs at the schools of the coordinators, Abramson Sci Academy and Isidore Newman School.

The city-wide program intentionally targeted students who identify as people of color, first-generation college students, and/or from low-income families. In fact, we made it very clear that the program was for them. The New Orleans College Case Study has three goals: increase counselor knowledge of national institutions to better support students through the college admissions process; increase college and university awareness of the strong potential prospective students from the New Orleans metropolitan area; and ensure students who identify as people of color, first-generation college students or those coming from low-income families are aware of opportunities to access low to no cost college options.

In 2019 our program added Junior Summit, a daytime program to reduce existing barriers to talented students attending the evening program (transportation, employment conflict, family responsibilities) while also offering professional development for participating counselors. Juniors are selected by their college counselors and include students who would be competitive for institutional scholarships as well as programs such as POSSE and QuestBridge as well as the Gates and Ron Brown Scholarships. Counselors are also provided information about participating institutions to better select students who would qualify for competitive colleges, honors colleges, and significant institutional scholarships. The inaugural Junior Summit was a resounding success and received praise from all participants as being a worthwhile and meaningful model for college access and counselor professional development. We successfully served 130 students and 24 Counselors, with support from 16 participating institutions and 12 local volunteers. It was exciting to read counselor and college professional feedback calling the program magical and inspiring!

Hosting these events is not without challenges! The most glaring challenge right now is financing. Junior Summit is a better model to support the needs of students and counselors. By crafting a daytime program, we can guarantee greater attendance from the students who need the information most. However, trying to find space and money to accommodate and feed 200 is a bit expensive. A smaller and sillier challenge: I switched from working at a public charter school to becoming a counselor at an independent school in 2017. I questioned whether high school and college partners would take my commitment to college access seriously because of my transition. However, I entered my role as one of the Directors of College Counseling at Metairie Park Country Day with the understanding that I would be granted the time to continue to organize meaningful city-wide programming. My school’s support of my work has been incredibly helpful. I am most grateful to Shannon Barrilleaux, my partner-in-crime, who took over coordinating last year’s program when I fell ill and was not able to work for the rest of the school year.

I am really proud that the New Orleans College Case Study has been embraced by our local community as well as our college partners. I am particularly proud that college partners have taken the model to other states such as Missouri, New Mexico, Florida, and Washington, D.C. We are grateful to our college partners that make it a priority to contribute every year. We are especially thankful to SACAC for supporting our efforts to offer meaningful college knowledge programming to students and professional development tools to counselors. The New Orleans College Case Study has successfully continued for five years, with our sixth program taking place on March 23, 2020!

Photos from 2019 Junior Summit: https://vcbphotography.pixieset.com/sheena-tulaneevent/