A boot camp for the college-bound


Alexandria Burton and Tiaju McCalup were already fairly well-versed in the complexities of the college admissions process. Rising seniors at Parkville High School, the pair had a good idea about where they wanted to go, and they already had practice with writing the all-important essays that would introduce them to their prospective universities. 

But when Baltimore County Public Schools offered a free, first-ever, three-day "boot camp" for college-bound students and their parents, they figured it would be a good opportunity to burnish the skills they will need to be accepted into their first-choice schools.

"I'm in the AVID program at Parkville so I wasn't sure I needed to be here," McCalup said of the intensive sessions held at Loch Raven High School from June 24-26. "But it was really pretty helpful. We have learned a lot that will help us." A year from now, she's hoping she'll be ready to attend either Salisbury University or Penn State.

"I thought my essays could use a little polishing," added Burton, who's hoping to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Through the boot camp, she said, "I've been learning how to be more personal in my essays, how to put a personal touch on it."

Nearby in the school's cafeteria, a group of BCPS teachers huddled over essays from hundreds of other students who attended the boot camp. As part of the experience, each educator pored over the students' papers to provide comments and tips on improving the writing, presentation and impact of the essays.


"The response was awesome," said Tim Hayden, coordinator of the school system's Office of School Counseling, which organized and sponsored the event.   "Parents wrote on the evaluation, 'I feel like BCPS gave my child a gift, thank you.'"  

Over the three days at Loch Raven, more than 300 students and about 170 of their parents learned about the best ways to plan, organize and develop the skills needed to be college- and career-ready. They gained a deeper understanding of college admissions and financial aid and connected their high school careers and courses with what they will need to succeed after graduation.

Open to all rising BCPS seniors, the boot camp also reviewed the Common Application, NCAA eligibility, applications to military academies, state scholarships and selective admissions. Guest speakers from Georgetown and Tufts universities provided insight on the often-confusing admissions process, as well. 

"Working on the college essay is a challenge, and school counselors want to help students with this challenge," Hayden said. "I believe the Office of School Counseling saw a need and responded to that need with a dynamic program."

The bottom line, Hayden said: "We want our students to arrive in their senior year ready to apply to college."

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