Drawing from his own experience as a first-generation college student and professor, Donald Outing, Vice President for Equity and Community, University Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Lehigh University, provided strategies for how students can thrive in college all the way to graduation, during a 30-minute webinar hosted by CFES Brilliant Pathways.

The April 23rd event titled “Preparing Students for a Successful College Transition” was the second installment of a bi-monthly professional development series by CFES for College and Career Readiness Advisors, educators, high school students and their families.

Despite the difficult circumstances facing high school students due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Outing said it’s a unique moment in time for students to take advantage of rare opportunities like waived admissions fees, extended application deadlines, reduced wait list times, and less stringent admissions standards due to an anticipated drop in applicants.

“While this is not an ideal situation, there are some great opportunities right now,” said Ouitng. “I’m really encouraging students to do their homework and check out as many institutions as possible. First-generation, lower income students who are historically underrepresented at elite institutions don’t apply because of the sticker price, not understanding that there is a lot of financial aid out there right now.”

CFES President and event moderator Rick Dalton asked his longtime friend a two-part question focused on how – and when – students should star to prepare for college success, and what they should do once they arrive on campus to ensure that they graduate. The current college dropout rate in the United States is 40 percent with approximately 30 percent of first-year students dropping out before their sophomore year.

“I began to research that very question back in 2008 and we found that the middle school level is the critical point,” said Outing, who overcame poverty growing up in Baltimore to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. “If you can get students engaged in middle school and educate them on what prerequisites they need to take in high school to get into college, they will have a much better chance of getting into college.”

With that in mind, Outing launched a STEM outreach program with CFES while a professor of mathematics at the U.S. Military Academy for middle school students. The West Point Robotics Workshop exposed over 10,000 students to STEM, inspiring countless CFES Scholars to pursue careers in STEM.

“We don’t necessarily look at campus life or support resources the way we should,” said Outing in response to the second half of Dalton’s question. “I always encourage students to think about their passions and to join clubs and organizations that match those passions. But again, you should make sure the college you choose has the extracurricular activities and support services you need, because once you get there it can be too late.”

The next CFES webinar is scheduled for April 30 at 2 p.m. featuring financial literacy expert Yanely Espinal, Director of Educational Outreach at Next Gen Personal Finance. She will discuss how high school students can prepare financially for college and a career by saving wisely and avoiding some of the mistakes she made as a first-generation college student and young professional. Register here.