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It’s My Senior Year, Now What!? w/ Nichole Renee

Welcome to the Bridges to Wealth (B2W) blog series that explores how first-time entrepreneurs and investors in Philly navigate business ownership, financial literacy, and education. Bridges To Wealth is a non-profit organization based at the University of Pennsylvania and on a mission to close the wealth gap in Philly through education and opportunity.

We are currently living in a crazy world right now! Everybody has been affected in some way by the current pandemic that is going on. I, along with B2W Bridges To Entrepreneurship Program students and mentors Aliah Harris, Siani Ross, and Justin Glover got a chance to speak with Nichole Renee, M.Ed., author and College Planning Specialist, about how this pandemic is currently affecting Seniors in High School and how they can navigate this challenging time and make sure they stay on track to go to college.


We began by speaking about Gap Years. A Gap Year can look different for everyone, but basically, it’s a year that a student will take off between High School and College. Right now more students may be planning on taking a Gap Year because they are thrown off by the whole situation this pandemic has created. They may feel like there’s just too much going on in the world right now and the last thing they are ready to handle is the stress of attending college. We asked Nichole about her thoughts on this. Nichole said, “I kind of has a love-hate relationship with the whole Gap Year concept.” Gap Years can be very expensive if done in a traditional way through a Gap Year program and not everybody can afford them. Also, when you take a Gap Year, life happens and things change and you may not want to or may not be able to go back to school after the year. On the other hand, though, Gap Years can be affordable and worthwhile if that’s a path someone wants to take and they are done smartly. Nichole says that if you’re going to take a gap year it is helpful to make sure that you are focused, driven and ready to go back to school after the year is complete. She recommends enrolling in one class at your community college during your Gap Year so you can stay connected with learning and school. School is kind of like going to the gym. If you are in a routine and go to the gym daily you’re likely to continue going but if you only go to the gym once a month eventually you’re just not going to go back. If you want to take a Gap Year you can apply for scholarships to different Gap Year programs. Some programs around Philly that students can look into are City Year and College Together. Through programs like these, you can learn skills and earn college credits.


We then talked about students that weren't planning on going to college in the fall - didn’t take any of the necessary tests - but are now starting to rethink their post-pandemic plans and maybe want to go to college. Is it too late? Nichole says “There’s still time, there are schools that are still accepting applications, and actually the schools/colleges are hustling right now because they know that students' brains are about making some changes and pivots from the original plans that they had.” A lot of colleges are extending deadlines for applications. There are also test-optional colleges. If you didn't take the ACT or the SAT you can still apply and potentially get into one of those colleges. You can go to to see a whole list of colleges that are test-optional. It’s definitely not too late to get into a college. Nichole says the only true deadline right now is for the Pennsylvania State financial aid. You must get your application in by May 1st or you will not be able to get state financial aid, although you could still potentially get federal financial aid.


Then one of our students, Aliah, asked Nichole about how to handle stress. A lot of seniors are feeling stressed, anxious and depressed about what is happening because they don’t get to have their rites of passage experiences like an in-person graduation ceremony or they may not have the support system at home that they need in order to get through the end of the academic year school and get ready for college. Nichole agrees that what’s happening is a lot for anybody to deal with, especially young adults that are in a transition period of their life. Prom and graduation are a right of passage, something that everyone has the opportunity to experience, up until this year. Now the Class of 2020 can’t attend their senior prom and their graduation ceremony and it is perfectly normal to feel upset about that. She says if you are feeling down it is helpful to find someone who you can talk to about what’s going on, someone who won’t judge you or downplay what you are feeling. She says “with the anxiety and depression everybody is different and we don’t know when our breaking point is.” Find someone who is positive and will help you work through your thoughts and emotions. Also, attempt to, and it can understandably be challenging, stay optimistic because school leaders are working on getting some type of ceremony or recognition together for the seniors. And surround yourself with positivity, don’t watch the news too often, and don’t follow negative social media pages.


We also spoke with Nichole about the advice she would give seniors who are trying to choose a college. Usually, at this stage of the college process, a student would go and tour college campuses but because of the pandemic that can’t be done. Nichole says she has three tips to help students pick what college they want to attend. First, go to the website of the schools you are considering attending and take a virtual tour of their campus. Some schools even offer separate virtual tours for accepted students and will send out swag boxes and have a dedicated session for questions at the end of the tour. It’s also important to look at the town the school is in. Remember that you will be living in that area for the next few years and you want to be in an area that you like. Second, find out when deposit deadlines are. Most were set for May 1st but a lot of schools have pushed them back to June 1st. If your school hasn’t moved their deposit deadline you can try to reach out to them and see if they will work with you. Her third tip is to “thoroughly compare each of the financial aid packages the schools have offered you”. When you’re applying for financial aid, you want to fill out as many scholarship applications as possible. You also want to look at what financial aid/scholarships are renewable for the upcoming years. Often colleges will offer you big scholarships for the first year but they aren’t renewable so then you won’t be able to afford the rest of your education. Reach out to the school if you have any questions about the financial aid package that was offered to you. After you do all three of these things hopefully you will have a better idea of what school is the best fit for you.

Life may seem uncertain and uneasy right now, however, we can stay connected and support each other through this. Stay focused on your goals and we will get through this pandemic together.


Written by Gregory Nesmith, Community Relations Director & Entrepreneurship Mentor at Bridges To Wealth, Philly native, Founder at UNderdogstuff, and soon to be Wharton School alum.

Related Content:

Audio Podcast - It’s My Senior Year, Now What!?

Video Podcast - It’s My Senior Year, Now What!?

B2W YouTube Channel

April 15, 2020