Paying for College in Cecil County

An Ode to High School Guidance Counselors

During the public comment portion of one of last year’s Cecil County Public Schools Board of Education budget meetings, a citizen remarked  “…the board often talks about preparing students for college but rarely talks about preparing students to pay for college…” His comment was later reported in the Cecil Whig.

While I haven’t heard much discussion about financial aid for college at the board of education meetings I’ve attended in the last few years, that doesn’t mean county high school students and families don’t receive information and support on the college application process or financial aid opportunities. In fact, our older son graduated from Perryville High School 2015 and the guidance office couldn’t have done more to help students find scholarship money.

Introduction to the College Application Process

In the first semester of his junior year, the guidance office held parent meetings about the college application process. My son’s guidance counselor told us about online resources to research colleges and scholarships and gave us a timeline for applying. He encouraged students to start drafting essays, participating in extra curricular activities, and performing community service to make themselves more attractive to colleges. He even added tips like asking teachers for recommendations at the end of junior year so they could write the letters during the summer break. He also explained that the PHS guidance office kept a file of scholarship applications that was updated frequently and encouraged students to check it regularly.

Financial Aid Workshop

In the first semester of his senior year, the guidance counselor held a parent meeting specifically about financial aid. A representative from the financial aid office of Cecil College explained the importance of the FAFSA application and the process for completing it in order to meet state deadlines. Parents were provided with a booklet of scholarships compiled by the guidance departments of the county high schools. Inside this handy booklet scholarships were categorized in several ways including:

  • Academic area of study (education, STEM, nursing, etc.)
  • Extra curricular activity (both community service and sport specific)
  • High school

The booklets were also given to seniors with their 1st marketing period report card.

College Fairs

Each fall CCPS organizes a college fair that is hosted at one of our high schools. Here’s a promotion I received about the 2014 fair:

“I’d like to remind everyone that the 2014 CCPS College and Career Fair will be held at Elkton High School this upcoming Wednesday, October 1st from 6 PM until 8 PM. There will be over 70 colleges, universities, technical schools, and armed forces recruiters available to speak with students and families.

There will also be four presentations available with very important information. The topics of these presentations are:

  • Junior Year Timeline (not applicable to seniors)
  • The College Application Process
  • NCAA Athletics
  • Financial Aid

The format of the fair allows everyone to be able to attend two of these four workshops, which is a great way to learn about the various topics and prepare yourselves for the upcoming months.”

I ran across the promotional email for the 2013 college fair and the line up was very similar. I believe the 2015 College Fair was held at Rising Sun High School.

Scholarship Nights & Emailed Updates

At the individual school level, PHS held a scholarship night in the spring of 2015 to match students with other available local scholarships. And we received countless email messages from his guidance counselor as scholarship opportunities arose during the year–a quick search of my email box lists 56 messages from that year and I know deleted some.

I’m sure the guidance office provided other support that I wasn’t even aware of.

Can’t Beat the Value of a Community College Education

While some families may only consider four year colleges, Cecil College is an affordable local option and CCPS works closely with the college to help students make that transition. Last year, they even administered the college placement tests at PHS.

LIke any college, Cecil College has an active financial aid office to help students in need. It also has its own foundation that provides scholarships to students for academic merit.  Here are articles from the Cecil Whig about the 2015 and 2016 scholarships.

Additionally, CCPS adopted a policy to allow students to receive high school credit for courses taken at Cecil College. In the fall semester of this school year, a professor from Cecil College came to Perryville High School each week to teach Psychology 101. Taking college classes at your local high school (and I think for a reduced tuition)?! Yes, please, we need more of this!

I’ll admit that I am partial to community college education since I received my associate’s degree from Harford Community College over 20 years ago and went on to get my bachelor’s degree from the University of Baltimore. (If you are in Harford County, be sure to check out the Alfred O’Connell Scholarship program at HCC.)

Because I had such a positive experience at Harford Community, we planned for our sons to start their college careers at Cecil College. Our older son is in his second year at Cecil and we couldn’t be happier with his experience there.

Paying for college in Cecil County is a challenge, just like anywhere else, but to say CCPS doesn’t help students find financial aid is nowhere near accurate. I encourage you to talk with your child’s guidance counselor to learn about the many resources available.