Kristian’s Story of Exploring Life Beyond High School
“The similarities that you see between college students and high school students… it’s due to a lack of resources in preparing you to evolve as [the] adult that you should be.”
Kristian is a rising senior at a private liberal arts college in Washington. She grew up in Woodlawn, a majority-Black neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. In 2018, she graduated from a combined charter middle and high school, which she attended since sixth grade.
Kristian is currently on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology next spring. Having persisted through many challenges and changes throughout her college career, she is driven to complete her college education to fulfill her own personal sense of accomplishment. Kristian is also proud of all she’s accomplished thus far in college — including teaching a rat how to play basketball for one of her psychology classes.
Kristian’s Story of Exploring Life Beyond High School
“[In high school] I knew I wanted to go to college,” Kristian shared, “but we had a very understaffed counseling center.” She recalled only two college counselors to help the approximately 80 students in her senior class apply to college, prepare for the SAT and ACT, and go on college tours. To get the help she needed with her college application materials, Kristian said, “I was in [my counselors’ office] every day. I was there all the time, like I’m talking no breaks off… I remember [one of my counselors] being willing to stay after school well past four o’clock [and] be on the phone with my mom trying to just walk her through [filling out the FAFSA], like the little steps that she needs to do, but also showing me how to do it.” Kristian also remembers taking an eye-opening college-readiness class. “It was a class that you had from sixth grade to 12th grade that’s supposed to follow you through college, talking about college and what it is… counselors sharing their stories about being in college. When we went on college tours, that really put things into perspective — these some regular people that came to do this big thing, I’m a regular person trying to do a big thing, I don’t know, it seems like it could work out.”
“When we went on college tours, that really put things into perspective — these some regular people that came to do this big thing, I’m a regular person trying to do a big thing, I don’t know, it seems like it could work out.”
When she graduated high school, Kristian immediately enrolled in a private liberal arts college in Ohio. While there, she described several of her experiences as “forms of racism and discrimination that I just didn’t want to handle.”Relatively soon after enrolling, she considered leaving. “I was tired,” she said, “I’m not in school to be protesting. I’m not in school to be an activist. That’s not my goal of being in college. I don’t want to get up every day to go learn and then, before I do homework, I gotta fight the system… I have enough stuff going on. The last thing I’m trying to do is to be fighting with an institution that doesn’t want to support me when they say that they want me there, so that’s why I left… It’s not about if I could or couldn’t [handle it]. I just didn’t feel like I needed to put myself through any kind of traumatic experiences in the name of trying to get a college degree.”
“The last thing I’m trying to do is to be fighting with an institution that doesn’t want to support me when they say that they want me there, so that’s why I left… It’s not about if I could or couldn’t [handle it]. I just didn’t feel like I needed to put myself through any kind of traumatic experiences in the name of trying to get a college degree.”
Kristian then took a semester off from college and eventually decided to transfer to a private, historically Black research university in Washington, D.C. During this process, she recalled receiving a lot of support from her high school’s college counselors, from providing feedback on her personal statement to taking care of sending her transcripts to the appropriate admissions office. “I remember having a conversation with [one of my counselors], and I just did not know what was going on in life,” Kristian said. “He was willing to take me on as a little mentee, just a little bit, and I have had many conversations with [him] over the past few years just checking in, constantly creating and recreating goals and making sure that I’m striving to what I say I want to be. That encouragement is very meaningful which is why [my counselor], I probably never told [him] but, he is a great person. He really is.”
Kristian transitioned to her new university virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I was at home the whole time, and I wouldn’t say that I can’t focus on work at home, but I think there is definitely a real disconnect… I’m trying to get used to things, I don’t really know what I’m trying to get used to… that didn’t make me feel motivated to do my work.” Kristian also recalled, “I came in at this awkward stage. I had enough credits, but not enough credit in the areas I needed to have them in, so I’m… taking these courses I don’t necessarily need to just because the school doesn’t recognize what I already have done [at my previous college].” She remembered having difficulty interacting with the faculty at her new university. “Like, I’m just trying to figure out who my advisor is. You don’t have to be so aggressive, and then, when I do find my advisor, she don’t respond to me. I’m still waiting on a response. It’s been a year and a half…” As a result of these experiences, Kristian ultimately decided to transfer out of this HBCU as well.
Determined to complete her degree, Kristian again sought the help of her former high school counselors to apply to a private liberal arts college in Washington. Upon transferring to her new and current college, Kristian noticed, “I’m doing great. I don’t know if it was a pandemic or [my previous university], but oh, did my GPA drop when I was there at [my previous university]. But I got it back on track, two semesters in a row, at that. I’m proud of me for this.” Kristian is set to graduate from her current university with a bachelor’s degree in psychology next spring. “It’s really just about me now… I’m really just at peace with what’s going on.”
“It’s really just about me now… I’m really just at peace with what’s going on.”
What Kristian Found Helpful
- Having mentors who could support her logistically and emotionally in navigating her post-secondary journey. Kristian sincerely appreciated the help she received from her former high school counselors during her senior year and during her two transfer experiences. Additionally, Kristian felt comfortable enough with her counselors to reach out to them for support beyond college admissions, which gave her the encouragement to redefine her goals and persist.
- Being exposed to the college experience and college campuses early on in high school. As Kristian pointed out, “Everybody doesn’t have a dad that’s willing to get up at three, four o’clock in the morning to drive five hours across states just so that you can go visit a school for one hour and turn back around and do that all over again.” Fortunately, Kristian’s father figured out how to provide her with these experiences. She noted that going on college tours in high school allowed her to familiarize herself with what campuses are like and realize that it was an attainable post-secondary pathway for herself.
Kristian’s Aspirations for the Field
- Students are better prepared to make the transition to both college and adulthood. Although Kristian felt that her high school had a strong focus on college preparation, she also said, “What I think students need to know about going to college is that it is definitely a life lesson and you are introduced to adulthood in such a strange way that… you really have to understand just one step at a time, because everything is coming at you from a lot of different ways, and from some places, you never knew existed… We got to do better to prepare the students to understand that this is a real life transition… We do too much of just throwing kids into these situations and saying, ‘That’s how the world is so you need to figure it out, and that’s how you earn your badge of adulthood.’”
- Students have access to meaningful and practical support for their mental and emotional health at their schools. “[Universities will] never have enough counselors for all of the people that need counseling, and that’s something I can understand,” Kristian stated, “but if there were other ways to make coping with college life easier, that would definitely be helpful. Like what if we had [required] classes… about different coping mechanisms?”
- Students are better supported in understanding the challenges they will encounter in college. Kristian advocated that CPS students need to “know what college is in great, nitty-gritty detail.” For example, she thinks students need to be taught “about accessing resources that [their schools] may not be able to provide.” She explained, “Students definitely need a lot of truth and honesty when it comes to the things that the schools and institutions and higher ups want for the students so bad. How do you want that for them so bad, but you can’t even begin to help prepare them for the things that you say that they should have?… It ain’t no butterflies and sugar cups out here.”
Read other students stories of exploring life beyond high school:
Sean is a Black college student who went to high school in Bronzeville. He immediately enrolled in a public university in Illinois and is now transferring to a community college in Chicago to develop his trade skills.
Jarfaire is a Black CPS alumni who graduated from a CPS high school on the West Side of Chicago in 2017. After graduation, Jarfaire immediately joined the army. Although she is grateful for what she has learned from the experience, the idea of going back to school drew her back home.
Mitzi is a Mexican-American, first-generation college student who grew up in Gage Park. She immediately enrolled in a private university in Chicago, took time off, and transferred to a community college to complete an associate degree. Currently, she is seeking to transfer to a private college in Chicago.
Drea is currently an active member of the workforce, Drea graduated from a CPS Options school in 2020. Proud of her accomplishments, she shares the reasons behind her positive high school experience and explains each factor of her decision-making process.
Syed immigrated to the United States with his family from India. Syed settled in Rogers Park and graduated high school in 2020. Now a sophomore at a two-year college in Chicago, he reflects on his experience taking a gap year during the pandemic and thinks about his plans for the future.
Kenia is a Mexican-American graduate who grew up in Gage park. Having found support in the YearUp community, Kenia has been able to both progress in the corporate world and spend quality time with her son, whom she had in her senior year of high school. Looking back on the four years before graduating in 2019, Kenia describes some of the support she wished she had.
Elijah is a Black college student from the Far Southeast Side of Chicago. He took time off from college after graduating high school and then enrolled in a public university in Illinois. After completing several semesters, he again took time off from college before returning to the same university.
Sergio is a Mexican, first-generation college student and DACA recipient from the West Lawn neighborhood. He immediately enrolled in a private university in Chicago, took time off from college, and then transferred to a public university in Chicago.
The To&Through Project team would like to express our most sincere gratitude to Kristian for sharing her story with us.
Arturo Ballesteros is a class of 2024 student at the University of Chicago, majoring in Public Policy with a specialization in education. Having been born and raised in Chicago, Arturo is passionate about making a positive impact on the South Side and is working to become an educator in his local community in the near future.