Taking it to the next level: College and Career Office at Eastern Christian School
College placement and career training are critical components of the academic excellence at Eastern Christian School. 95% of our graduates go on to college or university and 100% of our students graduate high school. Since this is such an important program, we sat down with the college and career team to get a better understanding of their role at EC and the impact that they have on students’ lives.
Who are you and what is your role at Eastern Christian School?
- Jesse: My name is Jesse Struck. I am the College and Career Counselor.
- Amy: My name is Amy Shepley. I am the College and Career Office Administrator
What brought you to EC? What do you love about your calling here?
- Jesse: The short answer is of course, providence. The longer answer is that I was drawn to EC’s culture. It is a school that values and cultivates academic excellence, community engagement, and spiritual formation in its students and faculty. The best part about being a school counselor is building meaningful relationships with students and helping them thrive. I love that Eastern Christian provides additional opportunities for me to do this beyond my primary role—as coach, chaperone, club sponsor, and mentor.
- Amy: I would say I was less ‘brought’ to EC than that I was ‘pushed’ to EC! After being uncertain whether EC was the right place for me to continue my career, I was given sound advice and guidance by friends and family who could see, better than I could, how much my family and I would benefit from me being here. They were right; the transition to EC last year was smooth and easy, and I feel very at home with both students and staff. I have wanted to work in the education field for some time and this role has been an excellent fit for me. I love that EC consistently looks for ways to innovate and expand, and that our administration is open to change. This has allowed me to feel confident presenting new ideas and exploring ways to support our students and families even better.
Talk about the 4 year plan. What does this look like for all four years of high school?
- Jesse: The 4-year plan is a framework designed to help students make informed decisions and pursue appropriate opportunities for academic, spiritual, and personal growth. Students meet multiple times each year with deans and school counselors to discuss postsecondary goals, course sequence, and other activities. Intentional, guided decision-making helps students take ownership of their high school experience and build a resume aligned to their future plans.
What if my child is unsure about what he/she wants to do after high school? How do you help these students?
- Amy: We realize that not every student knows exactly what they want to do after high school and acknowledge that it’s ok to be unsure. We provide our students with tools that can help narrow down their interests and match them with careers that may fit. From there, we give them plenty of opportunities to speak to college representatives to explore programs that may line up with their unique skills and passions. While it isn’t a program run through our office specifically, we try to work in collaboration with WINGS, which allows students to earn class credit at a local business, such as a law office, marketing firm, or construction company. It’s a fabulous way to explore a field without committing to a costly college program. We are committed to helping students transition out of high school to the next best step for them on an individual basis. For most of our students that means heading to a 4-year college, but for others, it may mean an internship, a community college, or even the workplace. We strive to help families learn to listen to the unique calling God has placed on each of our kids’ lives.
Your office does a van trip every year. That seems like a fun/busy/crazy trip! I would have loved that in HS. Why do we do this trip? What are the goals?
- Jesse: This trip, affectionately knows as “the college road trip”, is one of my absolute favorite events of the year. We started running the trip five years ago in order to provide a fun, cost-effective way for students to visit colleges that might be too difficult to visit independently. Over the course of four or five days, students who participate in this trip gain exposure to four or five colleges. We visit different colleges every year and we try to visit different types of colleges (large vs. small, public vs. private, rural vs. urban, etc.). This helps students develop categorical preferences in addition to learning about specific schools. There are so many college research tools out there, but ultimately, there’s no substitute for setting foot on campus, eating in dining halls, attending class, and sleeping in dorms. We believe this trip equips students with insights and experiences that help them make informed decisions about their futures.
We like to talk about the fact that “You can get there from here.” EC graduates are accepted to top universities every year. EC graduates also go to community colleges, Christian colleges, and state schools. How do you adjust your approach based on students’ expectations and goals?
- Jesse: College and career programming has expanded considerably over the past few years to support the diverse aspirations of our students. We have developed in-school college planning workshops, increased access to college admissions personnel, and improved evening programs such as financial planning and college application seminars. We have also integrated top-notch college and career readiness software for families. That being said, the greatest distinctive of our college and career program is the high level of individualized attention that each student receives. Our hope is to equip students and families with tools and resources to navigate this process confidently, regardless of their specific destination, and to work individually with them as they do.
5% of our graduates do not go to College… hence you’re the college and career office! What services do we provide for these students?
- Amy: While 5% seems like a small amount of our grads, each of our kids are precious to us, and we want to be sure we are supporting every one of them well. Last year, our office, in conjunction with the TESS academic support program and the WINGS internship program, began developing a program called Pathways, which seeks to help students learn about options other than 4-year college. This year, Pathways will be offering field trips to community college and vocational college and offering an evening exploration event where we’ll discuss 2-year colleges, trades, workplace and internship programs, gap-year opportunities, and military options. We want EC students to feel confident that wherever they go after high school, they can do it with our support, our love, and our best guidance.
If you could only tell students and parents one thing about preparing for the next level, what would it be?
- Jesse: I would encourage students who are planning to attend college, and their parents, to resist falling into the “dream school” myth. There is no such thing as a perfect school. In fact, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of schools that have the potential to be a great fit. Keep an open mind, consider lots of options, and remember that it’s up to you to make the most of your college experience, wherever you end up.
- Amy: As that mom of a junior myself, I realize that I have to trust daily. I have to trust my daughter and trust my parenting, but trusting that God has already laid a path before us is, I think, the most important thing. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or worried about the future, read Psalm 139, and insert your child’s name everywhere it says ‘me or I.’ Your perspective will be changed! As your son or daughter finishes school, ask them to work to the best of their ability. Pray for them. Ask them to work for the Lord and to consistently seek his will for their life, and don’t stop filling their heads with wisdom and truth (even when they are rolling their eyes and telling you to stop!). God blesses us when we honor him, so if we do that first, we cannot go wrong.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
- Jesse: There are certain seasons each year that become quite challenging due to an increase in volume of work. For instance, the weeks leading up to major college application deadlines, like November 1st, can be taxing.
What’s the most fun thing about your job?
- Jesse: Helping students gain postsecondary clarity and confidence, and celebrating their victories, both big and small. That, and the college road trip!
- Amy: Celebrating success! The work we do can be challenging and even discouraging at times, but when the hard work of our students pays off and we get to celebrate their futures, it reminds us that we really have amazing jobs! When moms and dads are teary with joy, when students are truly excited for their next steps, when families feel supported and loved, we’ve done our job well, and nothing is more fun than that.