The best way to help students learn about college life and how to prepare for life after high school are from college students themselves. Therefore, GEAR UP schools invite recently graduated alumni to share their postsecondary experiences with middle and high school students.

An annual event at Stanfield Secondary School, the Alumni Panel takes place during the school day the week before the students leave for winter break to coordinate with college students/alumni who are back in town for the holidays. "We invite several of our grads to join us, and always aim for a group of at least 12 to have as many voices and experiences as possible," said Kirsten Wright, GEAR UP coordinator and counselor. "Many are at four-year universities, but we also had representation from a grad who just completed beauty school, one who went through the diesel technology program at our local community college, and one who started at a community college and got their AAOT before transitioning to a four-year."

It is ideal to have a diverse group that has taken a variety of different pathways and gone through different challenges and barriers along the way.

Alumni panelists are divided into four groups to speak to students in small groups by grade so that students are comfortable asking questions that are relevant to their needs and interests in the college process. The grads share what they are studying, how college differs from high school, how to prepare, their experiences with financial aid and scholarships, what they did that most helped them get to where they are, what they regret most from middle school and high school, and other related topics. "There is open time for the students to ask questions of the panel, which seems to be the most relevant and beneficial for the students," said Wright.

La Pine High School hosts a similar "College Experience" day and invites recent grads to speak specifically with juniors and seniors. The school also uses that time to check in with the alumni and offer help or advice for their transition to college. "We instill in our graduates that they have the support of their teachers even though they are graduated," said Cindy Jarrett, GEAR UP coordinator and counselor.

Host your own Alumni & Parent Panel Discussion with Oregon Goes To College's helpful resource which includes a sample agenda and questions.