Ivy Plus College Night shows students they can get accepted into a top college

Madison High School senior Jamie Russell has his heart set on attending the University of Texas or Texas A&M University, but he came to Ivy Plus College Night Monday anyway to weigh his options and learn about the nation’s top colleges.

“My counselor told me this would be a good chance to learn about top colleges and see what opportunities they have for students in higher education,” said Russell, who is currently ranked No. 7 in his senior class. “I’m getting good advice on financial aid and the (college) application process.”

Hundreds of high school students from across the district attended Ivy Plus College Night at Reagan HS to get tips on how to increase their chances of getting accepted into a top tier college such as Yale, Harvard, Rice, and Duke. All of the colleges represented at the event are ranked among the top 100 by U.S. News & World Report.

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“We want you to understand that every student has the opportunity to get into one of these colleges, especially if you work really hard,” said Danny Rojas, an academic program manager with the district’s Emerge program, which prepares students to receive scholarships and admission to the nation’s top colleges.

HISD Trustee Anna Eastman shared that some of the universities participating in Ivy Plus College Night will interact with students throughout October as part of HISD’s College Readiness Month, which includes college night events with Yale on Oct. 8 and the University of Pennsylvania on Oct. 16.

“I really want to encourage you all to go for the things that you never really thought were possible for you,” Eastman told students.

During the event, students learned about the academics program and student culture at large colleges and small liberal arts colleges like Oberlin, Sarah Lawrence, and Middlebury colleges.

“With the liberal arts experience, there is an emphasis on learning how to think critically and write clearly — that’s what’s going to best equip you to do whatever you want in life,” said Middlebury admissions officer Brittany Carlson.  “We think the best learning takes place when you’re learning with different people about different ideas.”

Once admitted to college, college representatives advised students to ask key questions about financial aid, including what is the average amount of loan debt a student incurs after graduating, and whether the college will meet 100 percent of a student’s demonstrated financial need. Students were also told to ask about the college’s student retention and graduation rates.

Admissions officers recommended finding out if the colleges to which a student applies offer application fee waivers for first-generation college students, fly-out programs to visit the school, and specific policies for undocumented students.

“Some people make the mistake of assuming if they’re a minority, they shouldn’t apply to these top tier colleges, that they won’t be able to afford it, and that they’re not smart enough,” said Lamar High School senior Ambar Munoz Lavanderos, who learned more about the importance of writing a strong personal essay with a college application. “There’s always a story behind each person. It’s not just the (test) scores that matter.”