This summer, the Newark City of Learning Collaborative (NCLC) hosted “Secrets to College Admissions: What You Wish They Told You about College!” a five-session series of college knowledge workshops held in local library branches in each ward of the city. The series was co-sponsored by the Newark Public Library, the City of Newark, Newark Public Schools, and all of NCLC’s higher education partners: Essex County College, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Pillar College, Bloomfield College, Rutgers University-Newark, Berkeley College, Felician University, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, and Montclair State University.
Inspired by Rutgers University-Newark’s “Road Map to College,” each session covered tips, tricks, and resources to help Newarkers understand how to apply to and finance college. The series kicked off in the South Ward at the Weequahic Branch on July 18, 2017. Through August 8, 2017, the session moved to different neighborhood branches in each ward and was presented by a team of admissions and financial aid representatives from one of the sponsoring colleges.
The final culminating celebration took place on August 16, 2017, at the Main Newark Public Library located in the heart of Newark’s downtown. Attendees from the previous sessions were invited back to the culminating celebration which included a deep dive into financial aid by Rutgers University-Newark called “Debunking Myths about Financial Aid,” part of a wellness series created to demystify the perceived idea that college is not affordable. The session was immediately followed by a mini-college fair with all sponsoring colleges on hand to share their specific resources.
NCLC is an ambitious effort to help Newark become a more economically vibrant city by increasing the number of residents that have education or training beyond high school. Working with a cross-section of partners throughout the city, NCLC aims to increase Newark’s post-secondary attainment rate from the current 18.1 percent to 25 percent by 2025.
“We’re working to expand the college-going culture throughout the city,” says NCLC Executive Director Reginald Lewis. “We want to make sure that every resident in Newark receives the information and knowledge needed to make informed decisions about choosing a college.”
Secrets to College Admissions was created to support the expansion of Newark’s college-going culture. The series was intentionally crafted to be as accessible and inclusive as possible, by bringing resources to residents where they live. One session, held in the East Ward at the Van Buren Branch, was presented in both English and Spanish.
“Our libraries are a critical community resource, accessible to anyone throughout the city at our Main Library and seven branches. We understand the critical importance of partnering with other institutions to help make college more accessible to all Newarkers and we are proud to play a part in this important initiative,” says Newark Public Library Director Jeffrey Trzeciak.
Approximately 120 Newark youth, parents, and prospective college students participated in the summer series, gaining valuable insight on how to apply to any college, as well as the tools and resources needed to help them finance a college education. Attendees were able to ask questions related to their specific needs and many walked away with resources they didn’t even know existed.
“The Secrets to College Admissions series is a great opportunity for Newark residents to get an ‘inside look’ at admissions and financial aid,” stated Dr. David Williams, Director of Admissions at Rutgers University-Newark. “The program’s design affords us an opportunity to have a real conversation about admissions and financial aid that ‘demystifies’ what can be a challenging process. In the end, it seems that our attendees really benefit from the session, and that they have a little more relief and less stress about how to move forward in the college search process.”
Natalia Morisseau, Director of the Office of Financial Aid at Rutgers University-Newark said, “What we have consistently learned is that the financial aid process is not an easy one. The overall goal of ‘Debunking Myths’ is to foster an interactive and open dialogue with families and students about the importance of completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in a timely manner, which continues to be one of the most powerful and instrumental steps in aligning students with the best financial opportunities for college success.”
NCLC looks to continue to build on the success of the Secrets to College Admissions series, providing as much college knowledge as possible to Newark residents in a way that is easily accessible. Conversations are currently underway to ensure that Secrets to College Admissions touches all of Newark’s high school aged population, as well as their parents, and any Newark resident interested in starting or continuing their college education.
Kei-Sygh Thomas, a Newark native and current student at Drew University who shared a few words of encouragement with attendees at the series’ culminating event, encapsulated the importance of Secrets to College Admissions perfectly when she said, “Sometimes students feel like college is out of their reach because they don’t know how to navigate the process, especially financial aid. The process is overwhelming and low-income students in particular psych themselves out because they do not have the knowledge or do not have the means to pay for school. A college success series like the one hosted by NCLC is significant in promoting college access and knowledge to help students and assure them that higher education is a feasible and attainable goal.”