HOHENFELS, Germany -- For aspiring students, the prospect of college seems to be a never-ending list of questions ranging from entrance requirements to financing to extracurricular activities. In an effort to answer some of those questions, Hohenfels Middle-High School, Child, Youth and School Services, and Army Community Service teamed up to present a College Planning Workshop here, recently.
"We've done College Night, which offers the college and alumni a chance to give students information about a particular school, but we wanted to do something that was actually going to help them prepare for college, to give them some specifics to help get them started thinking about the process," said Sharron McKinney, USAG Hohenfels school liaison officer.
More than 130 participants, including a busload trucked in from Vilseck, crowded classes on a wide variety of topics such as "The Importance of the Academic Portfolio" and "Understanding the FAFSA" (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
"We had to offer the afternoon sessions twice to accommodate the crowd," McKinney said.
Presented by Parent2Parent, "The College Application Process" discussed choosing the right college, understanding various college criteria, how to solicit letters of recommendation, and building a competitive resume for college.
"The college application process is really something students need to start thinking about in ninth grade," said McKinney. "Do you know the school's criteria, what the GPA (grade point average) is, do they require SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) or ACT (American College Testing)? There's a lot of research that parents and students have to do on their own and we want to give them the tools and resources to do that."
Cost is a concern to every parent, and the workshop featured three classes on finances. Teri Carr, ACS volunteer, discussed the truths and myths surrounding the FAFSA, while Randy McNally, Army Education Center education services specialist, offered information on the Post-9/11GI Bill, focusing on transferring benefits from the Soldier to family members.
In the "Budgeting for College" class, HMHS teacher William Arnold used personal experiences to prepare parents for some of the hidden costs associated with their child's schooling.
"I was sort of prepared for the cost of college, but then I found out there were other costs that no one told me about. Why did my child have to pay a pool fee when the school had its own pool and he was a PE major forced to take swimming class? And that was only the beginning," Arnold said.
HMHS teacher Barbara Nicklin offered a class on scholarship tips and writing a winning essay, explaining that writing an exciting college or scholarship essay can translate into being accepted at the school of your choice, as well as extra money.
"Many students feel overwhelmed by writing anything, let alone something as ominous as a college essay. The truth is that the essay is more about presenting who you are as a potential student than showing off a flashy, and many times irrelevant, vocabulary. My best advice is always to stay calm and just be you."
Freshman Gabby Cutler said she found the secrets and tips in the essay class to be extremely valuable.
"I had no idea about a lot of it, and now I'm actually excited to write it," she said.
The workshop also featured a class where students explored various colleges via virtual campus tours available online. The class offered suggestions on scheduling actual visits and what to look for during the trip.
"Being over here in Europe, some students may not have the luxury to go and physically look at colleges as much as if they were living in States. But now practically every college has a virtual campus tour online. Of course, they're going to show people what they want you to see, so we're offering ideas on questions that they might want to ask, and how they can talk to current alumni via chat rooms, e-mails, etc., so that when they can visit, they can make the most of it," said McKinney.
McKinney said if the workshop proved a success, the community could count on future offerings. Judging from the response of several HMHS students, it seems certain this was the first of many workshops to come.
"The college seminar was really an eye opener to what I need to do for college. I have to step my game up and get going," said Kiana Glenn, senior.
Freshman Rachael Rausch agreed.
"It was so sad how much I didn't know. I'm just thankful for that course because it really informed me what I need to do in order to make my future bright and successful," said Rausch.
Likewise, senior Tony Williams came away with a positive experience.
"I am going to be the first child in my family to go to college, so I believe it is important to learn everything there is to know about college," said Williams. "I want to learn how to write an essay that says, 'Hey, pick me!' I want to learn about available scholarships and other financial aids, so that I can graduate college without drowning in a pool of debt. I feel as if this workshop answered all of my questions and will help me prepare for a smooth college lifestyle."