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High school seniors gear up for Utah College Application Week

Lisa Garner, a counselor at Hillcrest High School, helps Berny Aguilar with his college applications during Utah College Application Week Midvale school on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019.
Lisa Gardner, a counselor at Hillcrest High School, helps Berny Aguilar with his college applications during Utah College Application Week Midvale school on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

MIDVALE — As Hillcrest High School seniors look forward to graduating high school in the spring and closing a chapter in their lives, they seem just as excited to open a new chapter in college.

After an assembly kicking off Utah College Application Week earlier in the week, Hillcrest High School students took a break from their English classes and arrived at a computer lab to fill out college applications with the help of advisers and college recruiters on Tuesday.

While filling out college applications for schools like Salt Lake Community College and Utah Valley University, high school senior Dafne Cortes plans to be the first in her family to attend college.

Since her freshman year, the 18-year-old student said her mother has guided her to pursue a postsecondary education. As a first-generation student, she’s also depended on the help of teachers and college advisers at her school to help her apply for college.

Currently, Cortes is “juggling” different priorities in her life, like focusing on her homework, family life and preparing for college. But despite her busy schedule, she’s advising other students to “keep your head up and keep on going with your life.”

She hopes her decision to attend college inspires her younger sister to attend as well.

High school senior Cole Saxey, 17, is in a similar boat.

One he’s graduated from high school and after he completes a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Saxey aspires to study theater.

Saxey, who is performing in an upcoming high school play, said the late-night rehearsals leading up to the show’s opening and quarterly exams this week have left him “pretty stressed.”

“I’m being bombed by a lot of stuff right now,” he said as he worked on filling out an application to attend the University of Utah.

Saxey said he was grateful to work on his college application during a class period.

“I have a pretty busy schedule, so I probably wouldn’t have had time to do it otherwise,” he said.

Jeff Haney, spokesman for Canyons School District, said it’s important for students to think that “this isn’t the end, this is just the beginning.”

In partnership with the Utah System of Higher Education, this is the seventh year the school district has hosted College Application Week. The school’s goal is to have each of its 520 high school seniors complete and submit an application to a postsecondary education institution, with a focus on low-income or first-generation students.

In addition to providing access to college recruiters and college access advisers, Denise Haycock, of the Canyons School District Education Foundation, said each year $10,000 is allotted to the district to fund college application fees for students.

On average, Hillcrest High School counselor Lisa Gardner said college application fees range from $35 to $55 each. She said the aid helps break down financial barriers that students face when applying for college.

“Otherwise the students would not be able to apply,” she said.

David R. Woolstenhulme, interim commissioner for the Utah System of Higher Education, said students who don’t apply to college might not be aware of the types of opportunities available to them or can’t afford to go to school.

He said college access advisers, who act as a pipeline to postsecondary education opportunities, help students fill out financial aid and scholarship forms and college applications. Additionally, college access advisers can connect students to first-year experience programs and help students register for college entrance exams.

“It really does make a difference for these kids,” he said.

According to the Utah System of Higher Education’s website, one meeting with a college access adviser increases a student’s likelihood to enroll in college by 13%. Students who meet with a college access adviser three or more times are almost twice as likely to attend college.

Currently, 34 Utah high schools have one college access adviser. Woolstenhulme said colleges access advisers meet with up to 20 students a day. Ultimately, their goal is to meet with 70% of their school’s seniors.

In the next two years, Woolstenhulme hopes the higher education system’s governing board, the Utah Board of Regents, can obtain $6 million in legislative funding to hire a permanent college access adviser in every high school in Utah. If granted, the College Access Advising Program would expand to over 150 schools.

“Whatever it is, we want a college access adviser in every school across the state to be able to help those students navigate,” he said. “Some students may be able to get that at home. What we find is a lot of our students really don’t get that at home and so to be able to get that at the high school is really critical to the success of our students.”