In June 2020, the Associated Press reported that the number of high school seniors applying for financial aid plunged in the weeks following the sudden closure of school buildings due to COVID-19. The pandemic cut students off from school counselors, and families became increasingly cash-strapped, leading them to reconsider higher education. In June 19, 2020, the number of applications was down 70,000, or 3.7% less than a typical year.
What appeared to be a COVID-based anomaly became a crisis. Nationwide, undergraduate college enrollment dropped 8% from 2019 to 2022. Predictions of the “gap year” many students planned became more long term. It started feeling like those who did not enroll in college during the pandemic might be opting out for good. This reality would certainly impact our economy and labor market, and I found this to alarming. What bothered me more than anything else was that many of these students were opting out not because they didn’t want to go to college, but because they believed it was no longer accessible.
As an educational consultant who has worked in the college admissions space for decades, this COVID-based phenomenon became a problem I wanted to help solve. So many students who typically would have pursued higher education were opting out because of their lack of access to resources. My response? The College Axis Project, providing access to college preparation resources and to workshops that assisted with the actual application process: guidance in filling out the essay, writing a college resume and working with students to help them tackle the college essay and supplemental essays through in-person and virtual workshops, bootcamps and retreats in a socio-economically blended model.
In July 2021 we held our first in-person workshops in the parish hall of Saint John’s Church in Hopkinton with seven students and in Walpole MA at SheBreathes Wellness Center. Students brought their laptops and my team worked with them to get organized and dig right into the work of providing feedback, assisting with essays, reviewing resumes and providing guidance. It was important that we “met them where they were” – some kids had very detailed plans for their post-high school journeys, while others were just starting to think about it. The workshop was a tremendous success and we have in-person workshops in Massachusetts every summer, including one coming up at St. John’s on August 28. Our biggest (and my favorite) program is our Vermont Application Retreat, which we began running in August of 2022. We’ve now had three Vermont Retreats in total and the students who attended got a ton done, and even managed to make some lasting connections with people they might not have otherwise met from all over the country. Last year’s attendees received acceptances to:
- Boston University
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Claremont McKenna
- Southern Methodist University
- Boston College
- Boston University
- Georgetown University
- New School
- Northeastern University
- Wake Forest
- University of California at Santa Cruz, San Diego and Santa Barbara
- University of Florida
- University of Georgia
- University of Miami
- University of Michigan
- UNC Chapel Hill
- University of St. Andrews in Scotland
- University of Texas at Austin
The College Axis Project offers programming to students of all income levels in its blended socioeconomic models. Those who can afford to pay for programming do so; those who cannot can apply for financial aid. One free resource that is really personalized and impactful, and free to everyone is the free profile review. These 1:1 meetings that I host give a student (and family) 30-45 minutes where they can ask questions, and learn as much as they can about timelines, things they can get done now, and help them attain a better understanding of the college landscape and application process.
To prepare, the College Axis team requests a form to be filled out along with a copy of their transcripts, test scores, a list of activities, writing samples and other information that will help us understand their unique student profile. We evaluate the materials and schedule a Zoom call with the student (and often their parents too, who furiously scribble notes throughout the meeting.) They get so much out of this free meeting, sometimes even some school suggestions they were not expecting. Many of the students we see have an idea of the colleges they want to attend. We often suggest others that they haven’t heard of, and we work with them to tighten their essay and fill the gaps in their resume. We can send the Zoom recording to them so they can review later as well.
The free profile reviews have been a hit. In 2022 we performed more than 150, and this year our goal is to reach 400. I believe everyone – regardless of their socioeconomic background – deserves equal access to higher education. Part of getting there is by getting good advice from their parents, teachers and coaches along the way. The College Axis Project is committed to providing all students with access to resources that prepare them to successfully navigate the complicated college admissions process.
Hopkinton has long supported our public schools and the higher education of our children. If you know a student that could benefit from a profile review we would love to meet them. We’re also always looking for supporters of our mission–whether they be volunteers, partners and potential collaborators in any way. Please check us out and help us spread the word!
Christine Chapman is a co-founder of The College Axis Project, a registered 501(c)(3) that helps students bridge the gap in the college admissions process.