The college admissions process has been in a news recently, and for all the wrong reasons.
Some well-known celebrities have been accused of bribing or otherwise influencing college officials in order to secure admittance for their children – storylines that seemed plucked right from the script of a B movie.
Michelle Catucci admits that, as reports circulated about the scandal, she was astonished. As head of the Cheshire High School Guidance Department, Catucci deals regularly with college admission offices and the thought of anyone doing something so unethical left her speechless.
“In the back of my mind, I was just thinking that I couldn’t imagine any educator accepting money like that,” she said. “But first and foremost, I think it shows the pressure of the name.”
Catucci has seen it all in her years as a counselor, helping students navigate the difficult process of applying to institutions of higher learning, and she knows that, even with more and more choices available to students, sometimes it’s hard for them to get past “the brand.”
“Just because a school has a good reputation, it doesn’t mean that it will necessarily be a good fit,” said Catucci. “The most important thing is that students find an environment where they feel like they will thrive, especially for those who are undecided and figuring out what they want to do. Having a school that helps you in the process is what’s most important.”
While the scandal did not directly impact Cheshire, the incident did allow for a “good conversation” to begin with parents on how they could help their children highlight the things at which they excel, Catucci admits.
“How do we make those students stand out, without the need to fabricate anything?” Catucci explained.
“Some students know very strongly that they want to be in a health sciences career, or a tech field,” said Catucci, “and those are the easiest students (to assist) because you just research who has those majors. Students who don’t know what they want to study, we try to get a feel for what they are looking for.”
When advising students on their options, counselors at CHS dig into not only what subjects might be of interest, but what kind of environment may appeal to them. Catucci for one will inquire as to whether the student wants to stay close to home or move away, or whether they prefer a smaller, more intimate campus, or a larger one with thousands of students.
“That really allows us to give them the spectrum of options,” she said. “For students who are really undecided, we can have that conversation about whether they want to spend a lot of money at an expensive school if they really don’t know what they want to do.”
School reputation still matters, Catucci stated, but more and more, families are looking at a host of options when deciding on higher education. A lot of that has to do with different marketing strategies employed by lesser-known colleges, who are using the Internet to connect with students in a way not possible a few decades prior.
“Students may be hearing about colleges they wouldn’t have otherwise because those schools are doing a good job of getting the word out,” she said.
There are also more resources available to students.
Through CHS, families can use the Naviance program to research information about different colleges, and the school holds two College Fairs in the fall, the last one having been held last week on Oct. 17. At those events, college representatives can answer questions and assist students in understanding the application process.
CHS, through its website, also provides listings of nearby college fairs being held throughout the year, as well as dates for when individual university reps will return to Cheshire to meet with students and answer questions.
And of course, school counselors are available to aid families with whatever they need.
“We utilize the resources we have available to us, so we are always reading (about colleges), and I know many of us try to get to as many campuses as possible, so we can provide students with an informed opinion,” said Catucci.
Some of that advice may focus on alternative ways to approach education, Catucci explained. While most CHS students graduate and enroll in a four-year degree plan, more and more attention is being paid to two-year degree plans or vocational programs.
As Catucci explains, some students may be best served by pursuing a vocation right out of high school and gaining the experience necessary to begin a career. Others might find success going the community college route, especially since the process by which credits are transferred from community to other state schools has been made more seamless in recent years.
“They have worked really hard to make sure (the credits transfer) and I think that is great,” said Catucci.
“Every kid can go to college, and none of us would stand in the way of that goal,” continued Catucci. “But attaining a bachelors degree, for some it might make more sense to go a different route to get there. It might not be that straight path to a four-year degree, and that is fine.”