“There Are Black Women Like Me Doing That Kind of Work”: Brooklyn Charter Students Impress College Recruiters

Nearly 100 colleges participated in a career fair in Brooklyn this week, illustrating the growing influence that high-performing charter schools are having on college admissions in New York.

That many colleges at one fair at a school is not atypical for magnet schools like Stuyvesant High School or Hunter College High School. But what was unusual about this college fair is the number of universities coming to see high school students who are nearly all black or Latino and low income and who attend schools in which they were randomly selected in a lottery.

About 400 high school juniors and sophomores participated from the Brooklyn high schools of Uncommon Schools and Achievement First.

“Uncommon and Achievement First are two very strong networks that have been on the rise, especially at Binghamton,” said Craig Broccoli, assistant director of undergraduate admissions at State University of New York at Binghamton. Broccoli said the Uncommon students who are attending Binghamton have made favorable impression at the university.

“It’s very clear cut with the type of structure that’s put in place at Uncommon,” Broccoli said. “We’re pretty confident the type of student we are saying ‘yes’ to is going to be able to handle the burdens of college both academically and socially because they had such a strong foundation in high school.”

Colleges of all types were represented, including two Ivies, Columbia University and University of Pennsylvania, 16 campuses of the State University of New York and elite liberal arts colleges such as Amherst, Wellesley, Barnard, Bates, Colby and Trinity.

Jill Steier, assistant director of admissions at Seton Hall University, said Uncommon and Achievement First graduates stand out, which is why she came to Brooklyn looking to recruit.

“The students here don’t take education for granted and a large part of it is the type of environment they are in here,” Steier said. “They are excited for opportunities and they are eager to grab opportunities.”

By this time of year, most high school seniors have made up their mind about what college they are attending. But for juniors at Uncommon Schools and Achievement First Brooklyn, the process of narrowing down college choices is just beginning.

“This is not peak season. Most colleges are not going to college fairs in the spring unless it’s for a really particular reason,” said Patrick Rametti, director of College Completion for Uncommon Schools.

“We hold this college fair to make sure students who may have been marginalized from the college admission process are getting the access and information they need to make informed decisions,” Rametti said.

Students, dressed in their uniforms, some even wearing ties, pressed the flesh with nearly 80 admissions officers, asked questions and picked up literature and tchotchkes, like stickers and pens.

Similar to Uncommon, at Achievement First, the focus is on college persistence and college graduation. That’s why current students have many opportunities to work with college counselors and learn about colleges and universities, said Amy Christie, Achievement First’s senior director of college access and success.

“This fair is a critical opportunity for students to meet college representatives at institutions they may know really well or may have never heard of before. Those meetings will help further inform the list of colleges where they will eventually apply,” Christie said. “It’s also an incredible chance for our scholars to practice sharing their stories with college admissions representatives before they ultimately submit applications during senior year.”

For AF University Prep High student Gennoah Waldron, the number of schools at Thursday’s college fair was helpful because it allowed her to compare and contrast many choices in real-time, and it exposed her to options she’d never before considered.

“Now that I’m a junior, I actually know what I want to study, so it is easier for me to ask questions of the college representatives,” said Waldron, 16. “I want to study neuroscience—specifically, how the environment affects the mind and body—and at the fair, I learned that Wellesley College has really extensive research opportunities in its science program. That school hadn’t been on my list until now.”

Thursday, Waldron also spoke with representatives from other schools she is considering, including Macauley Honors College at CUNY and Johns Hopkins University. The detailed conversations she had with many representatives left an impression.

“When I spoke about my future career path, one representative mentioned that she knew a few doctors at Wellesley who are doing what I want to be doing,” she said.

“That was a real confidence booster, to know that there are women who are black like me, and they are doing that kind of work in these schools.”

The goal of both Uncommon Schools and Achievement First is to not only ensure their students attend college, but also graduate within six years. Rametti said its important that students pick the right college for them and that means they need to start early and do their homework about the vast array of choices available.

Another reason to start considering choices in their junior year is that many colleges are looking to admit students through the early admissions process. In the early admission process, students apply to only one college and must commit to attending the school if they are accepted.

“Low income students are at a disadvantage because they aren’t typically getting the kind of counseling and the guidance from their families and their schools that enable them to know about some of the phenomenal colleges out there that grant financial aid on the condition they commit early,” Rametti said.

Julian Jimenez, a junior at Uncommon Charter High School who is interested in studying computer science and mechanical engineering, said he spoke with representatives from Adelphi University, University of Pennsylvania, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Vaughn College and said he is leaning toward WPI.

“The representative listed everything I wanted,” Jimenez said. “She really drew me in with the focus on the stem fields and their major focus on computer science. The fair has been valuable to help me finalize my choices and its certainly elucidating what colleges are best for the STEM field.”


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