Schools open renovated college and career rooms

HARLINGEN — University of Texas, here I come!

Or Princeton, or Harvard, or Texas A& M …

A lot of high school seniors are singing that tune, or some variation of it. The new optimism is due in part to the professional college advisors now ready to help them in high school here.

Harlingen High School and Harlingen High School South both recently opened renovated College and Career Rooms with new technology, new furniture and more space. The rooms are equipped to assist students in the college application process. Advisors are available to answer questions and provide direction.

“It’s very helpful, the way they set it up,” said Cody Garcia, 18. “They have good advisors that have been very helpful, how to apply for scholarships, making sure that I meet the standards. They found certain schools I should apply for my major.”

He plans to go into pre-med and wants to remain in Texas to save money. The advisors helped him find the right schools for what he was looking for, and he’s been accepted to both the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M in College Station.

The College and Career Rooms opened this school year but weren’t finally completed until last month when the district held the grand opening. Previously, the rooms were smaller, had fewer computers and less furniture. Paraprofessionals in each room helped students as much as they could. However, seniors were responsible for obtaining as much information as they could and then had to do their own research.

Now professional advisors can answer any questions students may have as they apply for college, scholarships, financial aid and any other steps necessary to continue their education after high school.

Belen Valdez, an advisor, said it has been a good first year.

“We help students sign up for the SAT and ACT tests,” she said. “When students finish with a class, they bring them over to do something, like apply for college.”

The online application form for Texas colleges, she said, is a daunting eight to nine pages, not something they can fill out in one sitting. Some sections can really present a headache for students, such as the part asking about their community service.

“That’s ninth through 12th grade,” she said. “That’s their whole high school. ‘What did I do in my ninth grade year?’ They have to include how many hours a week. That section is quite hard. There’s another section about their extracurricular activities. Many colleges require an essay.”

Aalexus Mueller, a senior at HHS, already had completed that part of the application process. Wednesday she was online in the room filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). An anxious intensity seemed to command her every move as she filled it out. Valdez stood nearby to offer assistance, much to the student’s relief.

“I feel like what I don’t know they are there to help me,” said Aalexus, 18, who plans to study education. “I come in once a day. They helped me with transcript requirements. I asked if it was mailed out.”

She was grateful for the assistance of Valdez and also Delicia Sanchez, the other advisor. Without their help, her experience would be quite different.

“I think I would be lost,” she said. “I wouldn’t know where to start.”

The room at HHSS was alive with activity as students and advisors spoke quickly about the financial aid application. A sense of urgency prevailed because the applications couldn’t be filed without their parents’ tax returns.

“Have your parents filed their tax returns?” asked Barbara Mora, an advisor. “We are not going to be able to submit it until they do.”

Some quick dialogue followed with Alexis Cerda, 18, about financial aid for campus housing when she attends school at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to study nursing. She’s been coming into the room every day.

“I love it,” she said. “They are a lot of help. They push us to apply for scholarships. I wouldn’t know about that and how to apply.”

Superintendent Art Cavazos welcomed the new rooms and advisors.

“These rooms provide students a college-going culture and a research environment where they can study about and apply to colleges,” he said.

“Our college and career advisors have done an outstanding job designing this new space. It is truly an amazing time at HCISD, and we are very excited about this new initiative.”