High school seniors celebrate College Decision Day
The excitement was palpable in the Perry High School gym where students, sporting spirit wear from their selected colleges, universities and branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, celebrated College Decision Day.
The event, modeled on signing day for college athletes, recognizes the hard work and achievements of high school seniors and celebrates the decisions they are making for their futures.
College and university representatives, as well those from the U.S. Armed Forces, were on hand to congratulate the students as they officially “signed” their intent to attend their selected college or enlist in the military after graduation.
Approximately 55 College Decision Day events were held this year throughout Iowa as part of Iowa College Aid’s statewide Course to College initiative. Course to College addresses five key components for successfully getting to college: preparing, applying, filing the FAFSA, deciding, and ultimately arriving on campus.
“It’s all about building a college-going culture that encourages, supports and prepares students for college and careers,” said Anne Horgen, school counselor at Perry High School.
The statewide Future Ready Iowa goal calls for 70 percent of Iowans to have education or training beyond high school by 2025 to ensure Iowa’s workforce is equipped with the skills and education employers need. While Iowa’s high school graduation rate is 91 percent, the highest in the nation, only 68.6 percent of Iowa students enroll in college within one year of high school graduation.
Horgen says events like College Decision Day are important in closing that gap because the process can be intimidating, especially for first-generation students.
“The support from the high school and the recognition at College Decision Day really helped me because I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Perry High School Senior Elaine Thomason, who signed her intent to attend Iowa State University. “The help and support really made me feel more comfortable with the process.”
Perry High School Senior Gabby West had the support of her family, but loved celebrating with her fellow classmates and learning about their plans after high school. She signed with Iowa Lakes Community College where she will play softball while earning a coaching authorization and working toward degrees in athletic training and physical therapy.
“I already had a signing day when I signed for softball,” Gabby said. “With College Decision Day, it is great for everyone, not just the athletes, to be recognized, too.”
Horgen emphasizes that there are multiple paths for students to take after high school and different choices work for different people.
Take, for instance, Perry High School senior Mario Cruz, who is going into the Iowa National Guard after graduation.
“I decided to enlist because of all of the benefits that will help me go to college,” Mario said. “After basic training, I am going to start at Iowa Central Community College. My goal is to be a special education teacher.”
As much as the event is meant to celebrate the successes of high school seniors, it is also aspirational for the underclassman, who get to participate and watch as the seniors are recognized.
“I really think College Decision Day has a big impact on the underclassman,” Elaine said. “I remember watching last year and thinking how I really wanted to be able to participate, too.”
Eddie Diaz, executive director of Des Moines Area Community College’s Perry Center, was one of 13 college and military representatives at the event. He said it is important for colleges to be on hand to celebrate with the students and to talk to those coming up the ranks.
“A lot of the students here today have already taken college classes through the DMACC Perry Center while in high school,” Diaz said. “It is important to stay connected with those students and show them that they will continue to be supported as they continue their education at DMACC.”
This is the third year that Perry has held a College Decision Day event, which Horgen says makes college feel more real for the students and sets the stage for them to arrive on campus in the fall.
“This is such a hard-working, talented group of students,” Horgen said. “We are so proud of all they have accomplished and look forward watching their journeys as they take this next step toward their future.”