Tiona Thompson and Sarah Mohr ’17 finished college and went straight back to high school.
The two women serve in Furman’s College Advising Corps, which places recent college graduates in high schools to help build a college-going atmosphere and give students practical support in the college preparation and application process.
“My applications process was horrible,” Mohr said. “I did everything completely wrong.”
She submitted just one application, to her dream school. When she didn’t get in, she was devastated and adrift. But in an “unbelievably lucky” moment during the scramble for a backup plan, she found Furman.
“I had to learn the hard way,” Mohr said. “Now I have the opportunity, in the name of my alma mater, which has given me so much, to try to provide that network for students that don’t have it.”
The College Advising Corps, created in 2005, has partner programs in 24 institutions across the country. Most of its advisers are AmeriCorps volunteers who typically give two years of service after college.
In 2017, Furman became the first South Carolina university to partner with the Corps, placing advisers in the seven high schools in Lancaster and Chester counties. Of the seven volunteers serving for the 2018-19 school year, five are Furman graduates.
For many students, the work starts with a simple question: What are you doing after high school?
“Sometimes, nobody’s asked them that, and they really haven’t thought about it,” said Tomeika Bennett, the program director at Furman since April.
Top priorities include one-on-one interactions, the concept of match-and-fit – what college or university is most suitable and positions a student best for success – and equipping students to not only get in school but also stay there until they graduate.
Thompson, a 2016 graduate of Erskine College, is adviser at Chester Senior High School. It’s a unique placement because she graduated from Chester herself. The first class of seniors she worked with was full of her classmates’ siblings.
“It meant a lot for me to be able to help them get prepared and get ready for the next step,” Thompson said.
The idea isn’t to supplant high school counselors. Instead, recognizing the load those counselors carry, the advisers are working to add another level of support and information.
“The possibilities are endless,” Bennett said of the Furman College Advising Corps. “It’s about helping young people and their families to see those possibilities.”
The advisers cover everything from college and financial aid applications to SAT/ACT prep to social development. But how they do that looks different from school to school.
Some take students on campus tours or host workshops for parents. Some meet with students at lunch or speak to entire classes. One joined the band. Another answered questions while sitting in a dentist’s chair.
Having recent college graduates right in front of them makes everything real for the high school students, Bennett says.
“They help them see all of what’s possible – it’s transformative,” she said.
When her second year starts Monday at Andrew Jackson High School, Mohr expects to be busy in a hurry.
“They know I’m here; they know what I’m about,” she said. “So hopefully I’ll be a better resource for them.”
And the College Advising Corps isn’t only broadening the horizons of high school students. Thompson had been thinking about a healthcare career. With one year of advising behind her, she’s planning a different path for the future – one that will end with a career in student affairs.
“I found my purpose in this job,” she said.