The Newark senior found support during college admissions | Tech US News

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A typical day for Bernadette Asuquo involves balancing senior class president duties, keeping up with college classes, managing her event planning business and finding time to work on college applications.

Senior year of high school is often stressful, but Asuquo, an 18-year-old senior at Essex County Newark Tech High School, says she’s not stressed. The student from Newark remains calm mainly because of the support she has found during her admission to college.

“People around me always say why are you so calm about the whole college application process?” Asuquo said. “It’s because I got the tools I needed to help myself and the people around me to help me.”

As college and university application deadlines approach, students like Asuquo are busy writing essays and personal statements while juggling class loads, extracurricular activities and enjoying the last moments of their senior year.

Even after students submit college applications, those who identify as first-generation college students or come from low-income families face additional challenges, such as finding ways to pay for college, navigating federal aid applications, understanding financial aid options and deciding which major or which college to choose.

The U.S. Department of Education says mentoring programs and other programs can help by providing a professional network of professionals to support low-income high school seniors struggling through the admissions process.

For Asuquo, that extra help came from EdMom Scholars, a free program that provides college application counseling for “high-achieving, low-income students” from experienced college counselors and career counseling from experts. Students like Asuquo receive advice from volunteer college counselors who guide high school and sophomores through the admissions process and help them find colleges that are a financial fit.

“Honestly, at first, like this summer, it was extremely difficult to think about how much I had to do,” the senior class president said. “But when I got help from EdMom, it really put it into perspective.”

Although Asuquo is an involved student at the school, she is also a dual enrollment student, aiming to graduate in June with both an associate’s degree and a high school diploma. Despite being familiar with the applications and forms, Asuquo said it was difficult to keep track of all the application requirements and documents she had to submit.

Kate Sonnenberg, executive director of EdMom Scholars, said the goal of the program is to help “gifted students” like Asuquo who can’t afford private college counseling navigate the college application process. They currently have eight students in the program across North Jersey and hope to help even more next school year.

“Applying to college is not easy, and public school counselors have a high caseload,” said Sonnenberg, a former application reader at Princeton University’s admissions office. “We want to bridge that gap and provide low-income students with the type of counseling that more affluent ones regularly receive.”

Through the program, Asuquo has so far applied to Stockton, Rowan and Northeastern universities, and hopes to submit applications to Spelman College and Ivy League schools such as Princeton and Yale.

She has received acceptance letters from Rowan and Stockton, but is waiting to hear back from other schools before making a final decision. Her main goal is to secure as much financial aid as possible for college and save her parents some money.

“It’s just exciting, but also, like, nerve-wracking because it’s like you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Asuquo said of her college acceptances. “I understand that college isn’t cheap, so you have to go where they at least give you the most money.”

In addition to EdMom, Asuquo has the full support of her family during the admissions process and says they let her choose her major. She hasn’t decided on one yet, but hopes to pursue a degree in business, marketing or pre-med if she can travel abroad while studying, Asuquo said.

As a teenager who was born in Africa and immigrated to the United States at age 13, Asuquo is proud of her accomplishments and whatever she chooses to do, she hopes to make her family proud.

“I really want to be successful,” Asuquo said. “I really want to be better than the generation before me and I just want to leave my mark on the world.”

Meanwhile, Asuquo is busy planning senior year activities for her class and keeping up with her event planning and customization business. She says she has to constantly remind herself that she “can’t do everything,” but she’s looking forward to enjoying her final months as a high school senior.

Asuquo’s biggest advice to other students is to “take a break” from the stress of the college application process and seek help.

“You have to prioritize and make a to-do list, and then when you know what you’re going to do, take a break,” Asuquo said. “Then come back stronger with a fresh perspective, because eventually you’ll burn out if you don’t.”

Jessie Gomez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at [email protected].



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