Haverford College’s Zubrow Commons filled up as some of Philadelphia’s high school seniors filed in to the large room to prepare for the final ceremonies of their one week introduction to life as a college student.
The event is Philadelphia Futures’ annual College Admissions Marathon.
“It’s an intensive program for rising seniors that offers them the opportunity to begin the college application process,” said Philadelphia Futures Director of Organization Bonnie Dugan.
The event has high school students participate in writing intensive workshops and other programs in order to better prepare themselves for the college application process and their futures beyond education. In addition to this, they stay on a college campus to help students know what to expect when they move on to higher education.
Organized by Philadelphia Futures, a nonprofit organization that is rooted in providing resources for low-income and first-generation-to-college students, the College Admissions Marathon has become a large stepping stone for Philadelphia teens looking to gain higher education.
“Students have the opportunity to stay on Haverford’s beautiful campus and attend writing workshops,” Dugan said. “The goal is for the student to have a finished draft of their personal statement when they leave.”
For one week, high school seniors get to explore a college campus, live in dorms and take classes with their peers. Not only that, but as they take the workshops that will develop their writing skills, students also are creating compelling essays about their life growing up and their dreams for the future.
“The entire Marathon is remarkable,” Dugan said. “The residential portion was truly magical. This was the first time I was a writing staff support person and watching the students’ personal statements evolve and see first-hand them lifting one another up was amazing.”
Dugan explained that each day is dedicated to college admissions and includes workshops on the college interview as well as financial aid. Admissions representatives also sit on a panel and give the students some insight into what the college experience is like.
Philadelphia Futures helps students partake and succeed in the college admissions office, but once students graduate, the organization does not lose touch with them.
Helena Miller, the Director of their college access program, said it’s her job to help oversee everything that goes on with the students while they are still in high school.
But, this is not where the relationship between Philadelphia Futures and participating students ends.
“We don’t let go of them when they graduate high school,” Miller said. “We pass them along to our staff in another part of the office. We continue to serve our students until they complete college with manageable debt.”
Philadelphia Futures offers an array of after-school programs that children enrolled in Philadelphia high schools can apply to participate in either at the end of their eighth grade year or the end of their sophomore year in high school. The nonprofit organization is completely free of cost for participating students.
Futures is primarily focused on academic classes, but they also encourage artistic expression with programs like their Performing Arts Writing Club.
“Our students attend about two ballet performances a semester,” said Philadelphia Futures Academics Coordinator Jerilynn Aquino. “The club revolves around our students writing reviews. So, they not only get exposure to the performing arts but they also get experience in writing reviews and the potential for their reviews to be posted on the Pennsylvania Ballet’s website.”
Kymble Clark just graduated from Central High School. She was accepted into Philadelphia Futures just before her junior year in high school.
“My African American History teacher told us about [Philadelphia Futures] during my sophomore year,” Clark said. “I applied and junior year I found out I got into the program.”
Clark is an artist, primarily a printmaker, and is continuing her education at Lafayette College in the fall of 2018.
Clark said that Philadelphia Futures helped her to mature as a student and an artist while enrolled in her program.
A primary goal of the organization is to ensure that students graduate from the university or college of their choice with manageable debt.
“Because of Futures I did some research and figured out what school would be best for me,” Clark said. “Knowing that art schools aren’t really great with financial aid, I’m glad I decided to take a full ride from Lafayette where I can still continue to pursue art. I had to think of what was going to be best for me in the long run.”
Clark credits Philadelphia Futures for helping her grow personally and academically, and for preparing her to move on to a college education.
“Now that I’m graduating and reflecting on the past four years in high school and everything that relates to that, I definitely wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for Philadelphia Futures or the community that I was accepted into here,” Clark said.
-Text, images and video by Erin Blewett, Henry Savage and Bayley Carl.