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In Looking for the Right College, EMERGE Students Learn to Start With the Right Questions

When it comes to choosing the right college, it’s natural for students to feel like what they need are answers. But, as the EMERGE Fellows learned during their recent Boston-area college tour, the questions are just as important. In fact, learning to ask the right questions can be one of the most important skills any college-bound student will ever develop.

“At first, students’ questions can sometimes be very fact-focused, or asking for very general information about a school,” said EMERGE Program Manager Sherese Woolard, who led the Boston trip. “And I think those are good questions, but really the goal for us is to push the students toward asking, ‘Is this school the right fit for me?’ That is the ultimate question they need to ask, or answer.”

By giving students a chance to visit several different schools over the week-long trip, the college tour promotes ongoing reflection and gives students a chance to quickly refine their approach in comparing different schools. Dekaney High School rising senior Yesenia Ruelas Reynaga described one experience – from a visit the group’s young women made to Wellesley College – that particularly helped her.

“They gave us a program to do at Wellesley,” Reynaga said, “where they give you certain words, and you put them in order of what you value most to what you didn’t value as much. And I feel like I got to learn a lot about myself.”

The half-day visit to Wellesley also included a presentation on the goals of a liberal arts education, information on how the school works to provide ongoing support to both current students and graduates, and a discussion of the pros and cons of attending a women’s college. For Reynaga, who hadn’t previously considered an all-women’s school, the information was empowering.

“A lot of the time someone will ask, ‘What do you look for in a college?’ And that’s just such a broad question that I never knew how to answer,” she said. “But in the exercise at Wellesley they gave us words, and they gave us a vocabulary, to kind of help spotlight those things. I thought that was a really great exercise.”

By understanding more about what’s important to them in a school, Woolard explained, students can learn to ask better questions, questions that will take them beyond the facts listed in a college’s brochure or on its website. They start asking questions that lead to a better understanding of what really makes a particular school tick, and what its culture is. And it all starts, not with questions directed outward, but with the kind of self-inquiry that helps students know who they are, what they value, and what they really want in a school.

“First,” Woolard said, “it’s helping the kids to question, within themselves, ‘What do I care most about?’”

The effect on students can be profound, as described by Mya Frazier, another rising senior at Dekaney High School who recently joined EMERGE.

“When I came,” Frazier said, “I was just expecting to go to all these different colleges and hopefully find my college fit, but it was so much more than that. I ended up kind of finding myself a little bit, because I don’t always know what I want to do, where I want to go, and even my own identity. This trip helped me find that.”

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