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Learning to help scholars map their road to college

PEAK mentors help and support their scholars along their journey in many ways – from helping them with study habits to modeling professional work habits. They're always keen to learn how to be the best mentor they can be.

Often staff are asked what mentors can do to help them scholars get into college. How important is the overall GPA vs. improvement? What can help a PEAK scholar thrive once he or she starts a post-graduate career?

HighSight Executive Director Mark Duhon detailed some answers to those questions recently during one of our twice-yearly Mentor Roundtables. Mark has spent more than 30 years helping Chicago students from low-income families excel in high school and graduate from four-year colleges.

It’s a numbers game, according to Mark, and it’s important to understand what numbers will equal success.

All colleges are most interested in students’ grade point average, Mark explained - up to 35% of admission decisions focus on a student’s grades. The traditional cut-off has been a 2.8 GPA on a 4.0 scale, he said; anything less than that is an early warning sign a student might not graduate college and makes it unlikely he or she will be considered for admission unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Colleges next consider a student’s “class rigor,” or the curriculum’s level of challenge. Students who take rigorous math, science, English, social science and language courses throughout high school are considered more ready for college than those who take less-challenging courses or opt out of math and science after completing the state-mandated basics, Mark said.

Students focused on getting into college should also be involved in extracurricular activities such as sports, service groups and clubs; college admission officers are looking for people who exhibit good character as well as community involvement, both at school and in a student’s home neighborhood. These particular extracurricular activities are good indicators of someone who will be a strong addition to the college’s community and a positive influence on peers, he said.

While SAT and ACT scores are slowly becoming less important for applicants at some colleges and universities, many still require their inclusion on applications, Mark said. Students should take test preparation courses if they can - all PEAK scholars are encouraged take the prep courses available at Holy Trinity - and research the minimum scores needed at the colleges that interest them. Students can consider taking the tests more than once if they feel their initial scores aren’t high enough - both the ACT and SAT only count a student’s highest score and transmit that to colleges.