13 September 2019
How I sought peer connections when my college closed down

Like most U.S. high school students, I spent my junior and senior years searching for the right college to attend. I was looking to pursue a degree in the sciences, while also playing on a collegiate level softball team at a smaller university that would put me in the best financial situation upon graduation.

During my first college search, I visited multiple institutions all over the east coast from as far south as Florida to as far north as New Hampshire and west to Ohio. After numerous college visits, tours, meetings with admissions counselors, softball coaches and various department heads, I ultimately decided to apply and later enroll at Dowling College: a quaint, private liberal arts college located along the southern shore of Long Island.

Following my high school graduation, I spent the summer preparing for move-in day. All went as smoothly as a college move-in can go, my family dropped me off in this new place where I was to spend the next four years of my life. It did not take long for me to get to know my peers, including the locals on the softball team many of who called Long Island home. By November, I started to hear from my peers and teammates that the college I had fallen in love with was facing financial difficulties.

How could a college be facing financial difficulties?

This is the question I asked myself, my peers, and my parents. To those of us not from Long Island, this was like breaking news on the front page of the New York Times. But to those from Long Island, this was old news; something that they were shocked that we (out of state students) were not aware of prior to our enrollment.

Dream come true

As the pages of the calendar turned, more information came out. Including that the college went through a series of six presidents in five years, enrollment had dropped by approximately four thousand students from 1999 to 2015, and the college was quickly approaching 54 million dollars in debt.

As March rolled around, softball season was in full swing! The excitement I felt was unlike any other, to finally be playing games on a collegiate softball team was a dream come true for the athlete inside of me. On top of that, the college announced that it had secured a partnership with Global University Systems, which would allow the college to continue operating!

Fast forward to May, the end of my first year away at college. I was overjoyed to be going home to New Jersey for the summer, I filled out my housing form for the upcoming fall semester, registered for classes, and submitted my housing deposit. My parents picked me up and we headed home for the summer. I was excited to enjoy the warm weather at the beach.

Starting from scratch

But my excitement did not last for long. On May 23rd, the agreement with Global University Systems stalled and the entire student body was blindsided on May 31st when it was announced in a mass email that that college would be closing. We had three days to pick up any necessary documents from any college office, nearly all employees were laid off, and the college would not reopen in August for the fall semester.

Say what? Yeah, you got it. There I was, at the end of my first year of college, without an institution to attend in three months to continue my education and softball career. I would have to immediately start the college search process all over again except this time, instead of having two years to find a college, I had a mere three months.

My search this time around contained similar checkpoints. I still wanted to play on a collegiate level softball team, while also pursuing a degree in the sciences at a smaller university, that would put me in the best financial situation upon graduation. Many institutions were understanding of my situation but I was met with several challenges. Transfer application deadlines occur in the beginning of the spring semester and they were not able to bypass those deadlines. Those institutions who were able to disregard those deadlines presented other concerns for me; there were no more funds for scholarships, there were no more spots open in the program I was interested in, no more spots open on the softball team, or their dorms were at maximum capacity.

The influence of peer-to-peer

After contacting literally hundreds of colleges, by mid-August I was ready to give up and just take the year off. Then, out of nowhere, I was given the contact information of the softball coach at St. Joseph’s College (SJC) – a private college located in Brooklyn, NY. There I was off to Brooklyn for yet another campus tour, yet another application to fill out, and yet another meeting with an admissions counselor. She sat with me and informed me that after speaking within the admissions office, they were willing to offer me a scholarship if I chose to attend. On top of that, the softball coach was offering me a spot on the softball team. All that was left was to take a campus tour to see if I could visualize myself spending the next three years in Brooklyn.

I was introduced to a student tour guide. I was delighted to speak with a true student, finally someone who will give me the inside scoop of what it’s like to attend SJC! I asked at least a hundred questions ranging from cafeteria food to the dorms to the athletic department, all of which she answered from her own experience as a student-athlete at the college. But, as an English major, she was not able to answer my questions about the Computer Science & Mathematics department. Ultimately, I made the decision to become an SJC Bear.

From applicant to ambassador

During my junior year at SJC I was presented an opportunity to become a student ambassador. I assisted with office work, gave guided campus tours to prospective students, and worked many events such as open houses, information sessions, and accepted students day. During the application process, I was asked why I thought I would be a good fit for this position. I shared that I wished to have the opportunity to provide students with information that would allow them to make a better-informed decision regarding their future education. I hoped that as an ambassador I would be given the opportunity to help students not be blindsided like I was about the truths of the college they choose to attend.

I am ecstatic to say that I graduated in May 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics & Computer Science, as a member of the Bears Scholar-Athlete Team and a two-year ambassador in the admissions office.

During my time in the admission office, the college chose to implement software from a company called Unibuddy. I was given the opportunity to become a buddy on this platform. As I read about this company and what it was doing for prospective college students, I discovered that it was working to connect every prospective student with a current student at institutions around the world, in order to instil more confidence so that they could make better informed decisions on their educational future. If only Unibuddy had been around when I applied to St. Joseph’s, so that I had the opportunity to speak to a student who not only shared my degree, but one who shared my hobbies.

From Buddy to Unibuddy!

This is precisely why I have now gone on to continue my first (dare I say real world, adult) job with Unibuddy as a University Partnership Executive. I will dedicate my time to help drive Unibuddy’s future growth in the U.S. by building relationships with universities and turning them into successful partners. I want to help those currently going through the college search (like my two younger brothers) to make better informed decisions on their next step in life.

If you wanted to know more about my experience as a Unibuddy, or want to know more about how your institution can implement our peer-to-peer platform, drop me an email at [email protected]

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