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DSST's College Success Program Helps Students Find Their Path

Caroline’s parents were feeling stressed, and so was she. This wasn’t usual, since she was a high-performing junior at DSST: Green Valley Ranch High School, and she never had an issue getting her homework done. This week, though, her advisor Nicole Rawson had told her about Questbridge, a program for college-bound high school students that matched them to elite colleges and universities.

While the program was exciting, she didn’t know if she should apply. She would be the first in her family to attend college. Her parents wanted her to go to CU-Boulder or somewhere local, while her teachers believed that she could attend an elite school. Caroline’s advisor Ms. Rawson set up a college planning meeting to help her figure out the next step.  

Getting from Here to There

Many families, like Caroline’s, find the college application process daunting. And why shouldn’t they? College requires a major investment of time and money. It’s full of change, and it could determine many aspects of your life in the future.

Each school in the DSST network has a designated College Success Team to help. Jess Pallfy, Senior Manager of College Initiatives, leads this program at our home office.

“Our vision for college success is that every student has the opportunity to choose the best fit 4-year college for them and ultimately make a choice about their path after high school,” she says, “It’s our job to ensure that every student has that option.”

Jess’s team tracks data and student progress to ensure that college is a reality for all DSST students and families. They also provide daily support to students in a variety of ways:  

  1. College seminars. Here, students learn basic knowledge about colleges along with all the skills they need to apply, from application essays to financial aid to letters of recommendation.
  2. Individual and family advising. The College Success team is expert at helping students identify the characteristics of a college that best serve them. They know all of the college options out there because they are finding them every week!   
  3. Whole school college-going culture. How are the everyday activities in DSST’s classrooms leading to college exposure (both in and outside of Colorado) and career exposure? (We’ve previously written about DSST’s E-Ship program as well as our innovative science curriculum that each prepares students for college.) Advising support is another major component of this culture, connecting students to resources and answering their questions about college throughout middle and high school.

But Is College for ME?: Debunking Misconceptions

Jess’s team frequently hears questions and concerns from DSST students and families.

The biggest misconception? Cost. “College is expensive,” she says, “but cost can vary based on where you’re applying and what your profile looks like.” For instance, a student with athletic or musical skills might be highly desirable in a smaller college and could receive a larger scholarship there than at a state school.

Another major misconception is what makes a college good. While Division 1 sports and all-you-can-eat dining halls are definitely impressive, students have to know what to look for during college visits. “We want you to understand the real value of a given college and whether it’s a good fit for you,” she emphasizes. By pinpointing student’s individual needs and goals, Jess’s team teaches them to ask the right questions.  

A final misconception is that students have no options. Again, Jess emphasizes that students take many paths to college; her team provides individualized support to help each student find their own. A school must be the right fit socially, academically, and financially.

Finding the College Right for Me

What happened at Caroline’s college planning meeting? She and her mother met with Ms. Rawson and two other DSST teachers, who explained what the Questbridge program was and why Caroline was a good fit. Her parents agreed to let her apply, and she was named a College Prep Scholar.

This title meant that she and her mom were invited to a conference at Stanford University hosted by 35 elite schools. Her mom had the chance to see what out-of-state colleges were like and to understand that it wasn’t as scary as she’d imagined it to be. Ultimately, in her senior year, Caroline matched to Stanford University, where she is currently a junior.

Caroline was part of DSST: Green Valley Ranch High School’s first graduating class, and her advisors and teachers—who knew the quality of her work—were thrilled to see her attend a highly ranked school. And the best part? Caroline knew she had her community’s support as she begin the next chapter of her life.  

Are you passionate about preparing students and families for college? Serve as a College Success Coordinator or integrate college-going culture into your classroom. Find all of our open positions on our careers page.