The first year of college is critical for student success: students drop out as they transition to managing their own time, handling the rigor of college classes and potentially being apart from friends and family. Although colleges have a plethora of support services, students may not know or feel empowered to access them.

Therefore, high school educators can provide a much-needed bridge of support through students' first year of postsecondary education. GEAR UP schools use several strategies and resources to maintain contact with their recent graduates and give additional encouragement and guidance.

Connecting with College Students

In order to support alumni after they leave high school, schools first make sure to get contact and college information before students graduate from high school. The next step is to plan regular check ins via text, phone calls, social media or even in person when GEAR UP coordinators and counselors are on or near college campuses.

Building Near-Peer Relationships

Schools also create traditions that build near-peer mentoring relationships between current high school students and alumni now in college. These opportunities are a win-win: college students receive encouragement and support in their first year and high school students learn from their peers about what it takes to succeed in college.

High school students send care packages to alumni with food, fun activities and notes of encouragement. "Students in their first year of college are often homesick and the care package helps them continue to stay connected and will hopefully encourage them to stay in school vs. coming home when times get tough," said Shannon Fye, GEAR UP coordinator at South Umpqua High School.

Schools also utilize their alumni as unofficial tour guides when they visit campus with students. "[This gives students] an opportunity to explore [colleges] on a real level with a peer," said Mandy Weiss, GEAR UP coordinator at Taft 7-12.

College students are also invited back as guest speakers to share their experiences with younger students during College Application Week events or over college breaks. "[It's] always an awesome opportunity to have alumni come back and share their successes and struggles," said Cindy Jarrett, counselor and co-GEAR UP coordinator at La Pine High School. "16 of our alumni came back to spend part of the day talking about what they are enjoying in their post-secondary education experience whether that be military, community college or a 4 year university. Our student body got to listen in and ask questions." (see top photo)

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