In the age of coronavirus, life has come to a virtual standstill. But while hundreds of millions of Americans are hunkering down and sheltering in place, high school seniors are facing a unique pressure: to see past the pandemic and envision what life might look like this fall. College decision deadlines are rapidly approaching, and 12th graders must find a way to project themselves into an uncertain future and make a choice that will shape the rest of their lives.
At Milken, our message to upperclassmen has been clear: You are not in this alone. They are benefitting from an extraordinary, far-reaching support network of Milken alumni, who have been stepping up to help current students evaluate their options and select the school of their dreams.
Conceived and coordinated by Ross D. Mankuta, Director of College Counseling, Alumni Relations & Strategic Partnerships, 'Virtual College Chats' are video conferences, hosted by the Office of College Counseling & Academic Planning, that bring together groups of 11th and 12th grade students with Milken alumni who attend or have graduated from a wide variety of colleges and universities. “One of the consequences of COVID-19 has been that our students aren’t able to visit campuses, which limits the information they have to assist with their decision making,” Mankuta notes. “This impacts not just our seniors, but also our 11th graders, who often use their spring break to go on college tours and start the research process.”
Taking advantage of his unique perch at the helm of both college counseling and alumni relations, Mankuta launched into action, recruiting Milken alumni and their parents to participate in the meetups. The response was overwhelming: More than 350 people responded to his email, offering to share their knowledge and experience to give current students invaluable first-hand insight.
The first meetup took place on March 30. By April 7, Mankuta and his team had hosted 13 of them, each one focusing on a different school. Campuses were selected based on results of a survey college counselors sent out to juniors and seniors; some of the schools covered by the chats were UCLA, George Washington University, the University of Colorado Boulder, Boston University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“The events take place using Zoom, and they typically last about an hour,” Mankuta says. “It’s great because our alumni are excited to give back, and our students have so many questions about transitioning to college, choosing majors and finding the right match in terms of Jewish life. The discussions have been fantastic.”
In addition to running the sessions for larger groups, Mankuta has also been working one-on-one to connect alumni with individual students who might be considering schools that have not had as much demand for an actual meetup. “Our counseling really emphasizes finding the right fit, and we’ve been able to support students pursuing a broad range of options,” he says. “One senior asked if we could put her in touch with a Vassar graduate; another wanted details about enrolling at Santa Barbara City College and then transferring. In both cases, we paired them with Milken alumni.”
When school resumes post-Pesach, Mankuta has lined up another eight meetups for schools including the University of Michigan, NYU, Tulane, the University of Miami, USC, UC Berkeley, the University of Texas at Austin and Washington University in St. Louis.
One clear sign of the meetups’ success, Mankuta observes, has been students participating in multiple conversations. “There have been a number of the same kids in every single chat,” he says. “I’m proud we’ve been able to provide this service to them – and I’m thrilled they keep coming back for more.”