December Issue
December 18th 2023
77°F in Pasadena, CA
Scattered clouds ↑84° ↓65°
December Issue
December 18th 2023
77°F in Pasadena, CA
Scattered clouds ↑84° ↓65°

The Person Behind the College App Workshops

What comes first, class or college?

Just four days before University of California college applications were due, students received an email inviting them to skip class periods over the next three days to work on their applications in the library. To most students, this was a godsend, but to some teachers, the workshops stung, relegating classes to be an afterthought. I sat down with Ms. Krystal Rodas to explore the intricacies of the workshops, as, after all, she was the one who organized them.

The complete interview is transcribed below, but for a quick overview, here are the most notable takeaways:

  • Students were supervised throughout the workshops. If they were found to be working on anything other than their applications for the impending deadline, they were sent back to class.
  • Letting students know about the workshops at the last minute is by design, to discourage procrastination. However, teachers were supposed to find out far earlier, and the fault for the lack of communication lies with admin. The school also provides other college application programs earlier in the year, either during English class periods or after school.
  • If the workshops weren’t provided, many students would have opted to stay home to work on college applications. The workshops allow students to get support they wouldn’t otherwise have at home, and have the ability to selectively attend their most pressing class periods.
  • The bottom line is that the school’s purpose is to serve students, meaning the school shares some of the responsibility for student’s college applications. These workshops are one of the most effective ways in supporting students in that regard.
  • Juniors can rest assured that the workshops will take place again next year, despite the protests of some teachers.

Before the transcript, here’s some background on Krystal Rodas. She’s a bulldog alum and a UC Davis graduate with bachelor's degrees in Human Development & Family Studies and English. She holds a master's in child development and is pursuing a master’s in counseling at USC. All of which makes her uniquely qualified to be our school’s College and Career Advisor, where for the past 2 years, she's overlooked everything that’s college and career related.

Finally, here’s our full conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity:

Hi Ms. Rodas, thank you for taking the time to be interviewed by the Chronicle. Let’s start with when the workshops began.

We started last year, since we saw that a lot of students were waiting until the last minute to get help with college apps. Instead of having the students come to us, we decided to reach out to the students and give our help to them.

Does having this opportunity right before applications are due encourage students to wait to the last minute?

We don't just offer help at the end. We do workshops beginning when college apps open in October, but we noticed that kids are a hesitant at the beginning, they're not sure if they want to apply. But when that deadline is looming, there’s more pressure, and then students go and look for help.

Would advertising the workshops earlier be harmful to students, because they’ll be discouraged from being proactive, knowing they’ll be given time later?

Yeah, we didn't want to do it too early and have everyone be like, “Oh, well, I get to not be in class for a whole day.” That’s why we offered in-class workshops during senior English periods, and at the end, jumped in and revealed the last minute drop-in workshops.

Are you going to do the same thing next year, where the workshops would show up at the end as a ‘surprise’ opportunity?

I did want to advertise a little earlier, but our publishing system on Instagram wasn’t working. We would maybe start advertising it during that last week before Thanksgiving break, but I wouldn't do it as early as October because I don't want everyone in the library starting their applications at the last minute.

From a student's perspective, will their applications be significantly improved enough to make missing class for the workshops worth it?

It’s really based on the student's schedule. I’ve had students say, “I have a math test tomorrow. Should I go to the workshop?” and I would tell them, “Maybe going to a study session would be more beneficial then.”

The most valuable thing is having a readily available space for students to get one-on-one support. I know a lot of students are working on their PIQs, and I always tell students not to submit without having someone revise them. So I think the workshops are very beneficial since you can have someone sit down next to you and get that help.

Working in a group setting is also motivating to students. Just seeing other people ringing the bell when they submit their applications motivates you to get it done.

And, sometimes students can't come after school, which is a big barrier. So even though they miss class time, it's not like we're doing it a whole week. Or a whole month. And we discussed this early on with teachers, so they should be a little prepared for it. And it's not the first time we've done it.

On that topic, some teachers seemed to be taken by surprise by the workshops. Do you know when in advance they were told that students would be given the option to miss class?

I don't know if it was told to teachers, that was not my job to do. That's more of an admin’s notice that has to be told. And I think it's just hard because not all seniors are taking just senior-only classes, you have the electives that are mixed in, so who do you really tell.

Should admin just send something out to every teacher next year?

I think so, because there was some backlash on it.

Do you think only certain students should be selected to skip class for the workshops? As in, students that were identified by counselors as needing help?

I believe everyone should have access to it. As counselors, we may not always get to every single student before the college deadlines, so if we limit the workshops to specific students, that's not giving all students equitable access to resources. We don't know their backgrounds. Maybe students aren't forthcoming with wanting to apply beforehand. And in the workshops weren't just for containing your application. It was having that conversation with some students, saying that “You're A-G eligible, maybe you should apply. What are your next steps?” If they don't have a plan, we help them at least get started.

If we had more counselors and more frequent check-ins, would the need to have workshops be eliminated? Or could having more counselors lessen the amount of students having to attend the workshops?

We do have a constraint with our counselors. They have a big caseload, and they're busy with meetings and things that can get them away from one-on-ones with students. But I think the reason why college workshops work is just because of that unity. We're all there, and we all make sure that our schedules are blocked off for this. Having the workshops as three days in a row is easier than blocking off once a week every for two or three months. It's a little harder for that than just like putting it all together. It works for us and works for students, though not so much for teachers.

So do you see a need to get more counselors?

No, because what I do is outsource some support to other counselors, but also people from other schools coming in. Some of the colleges offer the support and some of the college programs also come in [think CAP, EAOP, Upward Bound].

Did students adequately use their time while they were there?

There were a couple of students that we did have to send back to class. This time isn't for studying for an exam or writing a paper. This is time for college apps. Students that weren’t doing that we did have to send back, but for the most part, everyone was working on them. Sometimes we'd have orient them back to the applications, but it wasn't too much of a need for monitoring.

Do you think students would attend like if you had such like workshops on weekends?

From my understanding, before I came into this position, they did do weekend workshops, and they weren't as successful. They also did after school workshops, which weren't too successful. We've seen the biggest success with support during school hours.

Should students feel guilty for using the workshops, as they should have finished their applications earlier?

I definitely don't recommend waiting to the last minute. This year we did have most students wait to the last minute, and while we did have a lot of support, we can't give every single student the amount of time they may need.

I don't think they should feel guilty. They should be made aware of deadlines, and, we do try focusing on how the application can crash on you if you wait until the last couple of days. But I don't think guilt should really be involved in it. I don't think teachers should guilt-trip students with that either, because high school is only a fleeting moment in your lives. You're going to go off to college and then go into your career.

Does the responsibility of completing college applications fall ultimately on students, or should the school share some of this responsibility?

I think the school should be a very future-oriented community since students aren't just taking classes, as seniors, but also are deciding steps for their future. That should be taken into consideration when it comes to academics, because, while you may have to write a research paper for a class, you also have to be doing your PIQs, and when can you get the support if you're bombarded with APs and homework? So I do believe teachers should be a little lenient on that.

Students are responsible for their applications, but the school is responsible for motivating, encouraging, and supporting everyone with whatever decision they may have. So whether that's a going to a trade school, college, or the workforce, we're just here to ensure you get that support and maybe that push if you need it.

Should counselors check in with each and every student to make sure everyone is on track for their future plan, or should students come to you first?

As educators, we’re in charge of reaching out to students. I'm a firm believer in going out and giving the students the support rather than waiting for the student to come to me, because that causes so many barriers. I do try to talk to as many students about future plans, but it's hard with just maybe one person.

So should there be more people to support you in your role?

I definitely think every school needs more than one college and career advisor. I do try using like resources like Upward Bound which has their own caseload. So if I know a student is part of Upward Bound, I try not giving that student as much support, because I know they're already being supported by someone else. Instead, I'll give my support to the students who may not have that extra boost.

If kids would skip school anyway the last few days before the application deadline, is having on-campus workshops a better alternative to students missing school?

Last year, there were some students who did stay home to work on college apps. I think students will be distracted regardless, during those last couple of days if they haven't submitted because it's a looming deadline. Even if you're in class, you probably won't be really focusing on the material there.

Lastly, do you know if the workshops will be offered again next year?

Yes, for sure, they will be happening. We may have some modifications, probably announce it a little more. I'll probably tell admin to let everyone know during staff meetings, or send out a campus wide email that students may be missing.

I also want to let students know that, yes, you can miss class to come to these, but missing the whole day or all three days may not be the smartest option. And that there are certain classes that are harder to catch up on than others.

That’s all I have for questions. Thanks again for your time Ms. Rodas!