By Kelly Sheridan
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter
OKEMOS — Every year, thousands of students apply to colleges with the assistance of numerous people. Okemos High School has instituted an assistance program that allows students to have all the tools necessary for applying to their colleges, as well as finding the colleges that fit for them.
Hedlun Walton, the director of guidance services at Okemos High School, said the process begins in the spring of a student’s junior year. The school hosts an evening presentation, where they invite an admissions representative from Michigan State University or the University of Michigan to come and give general advice on completing applications and writing essays.
“Our assistance begins with helping students position themselves to have a competitive application and to do the appropriate amount of college exploration to make sure they are selecting schools that would be a good fit for them,” Walton said.
This year, Okemos High School held college application help sessions where students could set aside time to work on their applications, or come in to get questions answered. Walton believes a system like this is essential for a school of that size.
“For a school like ours, where so many students will be going through this process, you have to be systematic in order to make sure you get to everyone,” Walton said. “The process changes over the course of a few years, so it’s a new experience for students to navigate each year.”
Ravi Betzig, a senior at Okemos High School, said the guidance department played a major role in making him feel comfortable with applying to colleges.
“I don’t think I’d feel as comfortable about applying to colleges without my guidance department,” Betzig said. “I learned quite a bit about the mechanisms of the process from my counselor and the presentations they’ve given us.”
Current University of Michigan student and OHS graduate Purva Shanker said having the support of her guidance counselor was really helpful during her application process.
“The guidance department really helped me clear up little doubts which was really helpful in the long run,” Shanker said. “They had an answer for whatever questions I asked.”
Another aspect of the guidance department’s outreach efforts is the college visits that come to the high school. According to Walton, there are times when four to five colleges could be visiting during the span of a week.
“It’s pretty standard for colleges to visit high schools each fall and even throughout the school year,” Walton said. “This can give students exposure to a wider variety of schools and gets the underclassmen thinking about college in general, as well as to learn about specific colleges and how to compare them.”
For Shanker, these visits were exactly what she needed to get an idea of what colleges she wanted to apply to and what her application needed to look like.
“I attended the [visits] for MSU and U of M,” Shanker said. “I thought it was really helpful that the sessions were open to any grade because I got a sense of what things I needed to do to make my application better.”
When colleges visit a high school, it allows the college itself to gain something as well, said Michigan State’s East Coast admissions representative, Larry Alterman.
“We don’t do student interviews,” Alterman said. “But [the visits] give us a better understanding of what the high school is all about.”
Okemos High School has a graduation rate of 94 percent, which is 12 percent higher than the national average, and 15 percent higher than the state average. In the latest report available, 98 percent of graduated students went on to attend universities of higher education.
For the Okemos High School Guidance Department, the goal is not to find kids their “dream school,” but to find them the school that fits best for them. To Walton, that is the most rewarding part.
“I think the best thing is when a student has made a decision. I avoid the notion of a ‘dream college’ because that’s just what those are: dreams,” Walton said. “We try to focus more on ‘best fit’ which considers the unique needs of each student and how they may be met by a particular college. But when you have a student who had done their research and we know the college is a good fit, and they get in and decide to attend, you feel like you’ve achieved something.”