Foster Your Creativity: Advising Beyond the Classroom

A veteran college adviser once told me that, “navigating college admissions is like trying to drink water from a fire hose.” While humorous, this statement is very true. There is an overwhelming amount of information out there. New tools, rules, and resources are constantly being introduced. As advisers, we cannot afford to rest on the laurels of what might have previously worked. We need to constantly learn how to manage new information and increase our efficiency in order to make college a reality for as many students as possible. Here are three tips advisers should consider as we start the 2015-2016 school year.

1. Re-think Your Strategy

Advisers are creative and strategic in their methods of outreach and team building. We ruminate on what works and needs to be revisited. Reflecting on my early days of advising, I start this new school year with a new strategy and vision to create a long-lasting college-going culture. Re-think your strategy to fit your school site, nurture your ideas, and bring them to fruition.

2. Campaign Like a Political Leader!

Working on the ground in the Los Angeles Unified School District – the largest public school system in the country – comes with its challenges. The majority of my students are the first in their families to go to college and frequently come from low-income households. Many students have never spoken about college with anyone until their initial conversation with me. So reflecting on the specific needs from last year’s graduating senior class, I came to realize that many students are anxious and unwilling to move due to financial insecurities. Thinking critically about this, I realized that I was helping to overcome this barrier effectively by educating students about the generous State of California Cal Grant and federal FAFSA. Students who never believed they could continue an education beyond high school and did not want to be a financial burden to their families were now willing to apply and study at any one of our 23 Cal State Universities or nine of the University of California campuses.

This year I am revamping my strategies to efficiently get this type of information out to students. The college and career center (the Lobo Center at Rancho Dominguez Preparatory) is the center of operations where the students that work with me share their own vision and past reflections on the school year. With my background in political management, I think of my center as the headquarters of a year-round campaign. I am not only going to use grassroots methods of community outreach, but I plan on also heavily relying on technology, social media, and one-on-one interaction for my students and their families. To a certain extent, those aspiring to be President of the United States are using similar tactics.

It is a common sight to see me walking around my campus with a megaphone minutes before a lunch presentation or for students to get our Remind101 text before an important deadline. The reality is that our students have not created a habit of checking their email, so it is up to us to create alternatives on how to get our message out and leverage the technology that they are using most. Campaign often and remind students that they have options after high school.

3. Mobilize Stakeholders

We are the voices for our students and can advocate on their behalf to our local public elected officials. Recently I was fortunate enough to meet with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on the possible ways his office and cabinet can support first-generation college students through different public relations types of activities. For these students to feel as though they are being addressed and recognized could be just the right amount of spark they need to light their fires to look into attending college. While there may not be a chance for you to speak directly to your mayor, I believe that us advisers should get creative in getting stakeholders like teachers, parents, and others involved with our cause.

The team of students helping me carry out my mission this 2015-2016 school year are specifically special to me as I personally brought them in to help achieve our mutual goal. If our goal can be simplified, we are implementing our tactics and plan to make this year’s senior class more competitive than the previous one. Like any notable political campaign, we are campaigning for the opportunities of higher education. We should be constantly re-visiting our way of carrying our students’ voice to be projected beyond the classroom. We should reflect and strategize accordingly and with consistency. While you do all this and more, stay hydrated, breathe, practice self-care, and be the champion our students need.

Tilo Lopez is a second year adviser with the University of Southern California College Advising Corps (SoCCA).