SARASOTA, Fla. (May 16, 2017) – It might seem a stretch to ask fifth graders to start thinking about college, but it turns out many youngsters start forming opinions about higher education and their careers long before high school.
With that in mind, USF Sarasota-Manatee opened its doors last Friday to 170 fifth graders from the Emma E. Booker Elementary School and Bay Haven School of Basics Plus for the campus’ third annual “What I can be with a College Degree” event.
“You’re really beginning on your path now,” Dr. Jane Rose, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, told the students who assembled at Selby Auditorium at 8:30 a.m. for a briefing about USFSM.
Later, they toured the USFSM campus, visited classrooms and participated in exercises meant to show what college life is like and how students are admitted. This was the third time Booker students had visited the campus but the first for Bay Haven.
Organized four years ago by Dr. Marie Byrd of the School of Education, then the College of Education, the event initially featured children from the G.D. Rogers Garden Elementary School in Bradenton and later from Booker.
Dr. Byrd has since worked with principals from Booker and Bay Haven to make the annual event a success.
Bay Haven agreed to participate just this year.
“Before we signed on for this, we thought, ‘How can we support the future of our kids?’” Bay Haven Principal Chad Erickson explained. “Not every kid has a vision of college and we didn’t want to do just another field trip. I think this is good because it lets kids see what college is really like.”
The children toured classrooms and heard about the different programs offered at USFSM. One exercise opened their eyes to the criteria used by colleges to admit students.
With help from Andrew Telatovich, director of admissions, they learned that some colleges look deeper than grade point averages when making admission decisions. To illustrate that point, he brought a dozen students to the front of a classroom in the College of Business and assigned each a grade: A, A+, A-, B+ and so on.
Then he noted that while the group with the highest GPA might seem assured a place at college, that wasn’t necessarily the case. Students with high grades but low SAT/ACT scores might see their rankings diminish.
Similarly, students involved in extra-curricular activities, sports and positive community programs might see their rankings climb. Stellar recommendation letters and noteworthy personal essays can help as well.
As he described the various scenarios, the students shifted position so that by the exercise’s conclusion the ones near the back of the line, or in the middle, had moved to spots near the front.
He cautioned, however, that while high grades and SAT/ACT scores are not the only indicators that colleges consider, they still are viewed highly in determining which students ultimately get admitted.
“The earlier you start preparing for college, the better off you’ll be,” he told the students.
Lorienne Nickelson, a fifth-grade teacher at Bay Haven, echoed that point. She noted that while college might seem far off to these students, within a few years they’ll enter high school and start making decisions about classes and extra-curricular activities that could impact their futures.
“It goes by very fast,” she said.
One student, Summer Backhurst, 10, said she already has a career in mind. She wants to become a marine biologist. She acknowledged that getting into a good college-level biology program requires top grades in math and science in addition to strong SAT/ACT scores. Fortunately, she said, she’s got half of that equation figured out.
“I’m good at science and I’m really good at math,” she said, beaming.
Backhurst added that she was enjoying her campus visit: “I love this. I love to imagine myself in college.”