Prepping for post-secondary

Published 9:39 am Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Guidance counselor offers tips for heading off to college

Kim Danner helps high school students prepare for college, and she wants to offer some simple tips to readers.

“My personal goal is that every senior has a plan when they walk across that stage and graduate from high school,” said Danner, a guidance counselor at Albert Lea High School. “Whether that’s going to college, going to the military or to work right away, they’re going to want to have a plan.”

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Danner has occupied her position at ALHS for three years. Her favorite part of the job is working with the students.

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“It’s fun helping them figure it out,” she said. “They start self-discovery, and they get excited about their future.”

Laying the groundwork for post-secondary education isn’t something a student can easily do over the course of one year. Danner suggested that eighth-graders begin preparing for college as soon as they enter high school by choosing elective classes wisely.

“Not all the classes may be fun and giggles, but I encourage kids to have a good balance,” she said. “You don’t want a full day of lecture, so you can shake it up a bit.”

College visits and fairs, as well as research on the Internet, can help students find the right school. Despite the time and effort, the research can be worth it.

“There are so many opportunities,” Danner said. “We have two to three college representatives weekly who stop in from all over the Midwest.”

Kim Danner is a guidance counselor at Albert Lea High School. --Micah Bader

Kim Danner is a guidance counselor at Albert Lea High School. –Micah Bader

Students and parents also are encouraged to explore campuses in session and out of session. However, the multitude of choices can be daunting.

“There are so many options, that a lot of students and families can get overwhelmed,” she said. “But it’s an investment, and it’s something you’ll never lose.”

Danner had personal experience with the selection process when she decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree at the University of Dubuque and a master’s degree at Winona State University. She went through the process with her daughters Sara, 28, and Kelli, 24, too.

Although GPA, ACT scores and class rank are important, they’re not the only factors a college recruiter will use to consider an applicant.

“I’ve been seeing colleges pay attention to what students are doing outside of school,” Danner said. “Are they involved with the school? Are they in sports? Are they in fine arts? Are they volunteering in the community? Do they work part time? They’re looking for the whole person, not just the GPA.”

With a struggling economy, the field is competitive for students to get accepted to their college of choice. Along with graduating high school seniors, many nontraditional students are headed back to school. Danner mentioned that only 5,000 of 45,000 applicants were accepted to the University of Minnesota this fall.

ALHS partnered with the University of Minnesota on a new initiative called Ramp-Up to Readiness. Through the program, students will attempt to grow in six areas: academic, admissions, career, financial, personal and social readiness for college.


Q&A with a college student

Colleen Thompson, 19

Hometown: Clarks Grove

College: University of Sioux Falls


Q: What is one thing or experience that surprised you during your first year of college?

A: I was pleasantly surprised by how easy of a transition it was! College is kind of like an adventure, in a way, and my whole first year was full of new experiences. I also couldn’t believe how fast I bonded with the girls in my dorm, and I loved how close we became. I found myself getting my homework done faster so we could go out and do something!

Colleen Thompson, who was a Tribune intern last summer, attends the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota.

Colleen Thompson, who was a Tribune intern last summer, attends the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota. –Brandi Hagen


Q: What was one thing you could have done to prepare yourself better for college?

A: I probably should have gotten more background information

in the field I was interested in to make sure I knew what I was getting into. Now that I’m set in a double major, I can start taking required classes that I’ll need to graduate.


Q: Why did you choose the college you’re at? Would you do it again?

A: I chose USF because it’s a small, Christian college and my faith is very important to me. It’s just the right distance away from home, and Sioux Falls has a ton of hangout spots and restaurants. (There’s honestly two of every kind of restaurant you could ever want.) I also liked it because of all the cool activities that the campus has to offer, like intramural sports, Humans vs. Zombies, Harry Potter Week and Summer and Winter Olympics, to name a few! The students and faculty all genuinely care about each other, and I love the way I feel when I’m there! After finishing my first year there I know I made the right decision.


Q: Is there any other advice you can give to high-schoolers who are thinking about college?

A: I’d say the best way to go into college is with an open mind. Try things that you never were able to before because you might find that there’s things out there that you really love! Meet new people, go to events, try out for things and just get involved. College is where you really find out who you are, and it can be the best years of your life if you let it.


7 tips for high school seniors:

1. Keep grades up

2. Stay involved with extra-curricular activities

3. Get letters of recommendation ready for applications and scholarships

4. Take or re-take the ACT

5. Make final campus visits

6. Attend college fairs

7. Complete FAFSA application for financial aid