The Saturday morning soul of the city usually belongs to Eastern Market, but Motown's epicenter of energy moved a few blocks up Mack this Saturday, thanks to a little known program called College Decision Day 2017. 1200 area high school students registered to give up a Saturday morning of sleeping in to head to the immaculately maintained Detroit Edison Public School Academy, where the floors sparkled and a arc of balloons spanned half of the gym.
Two dozen ebullient student hosts welcomed guests from the parking lot and guided them to the gymnasium, where college admissions representatives from all 15 of Michigan's public four-year universities and two Michigan private universities welcomed high school seniors and their college applications. High schools planned ahead and bussed in groups of students, and when one school's bussing plan went awry, the principal became the bus, and drove the students to the event herself.
The real attraction to this event was the turnaround time. If a student submitted a completed college application by 10 AM, they could come back and get an admissions decision from most of the participating colleges by 2 that afternoon. In the meantime, there was a table with information on how families could use the wait time to apply for federal financial aid, along with a map directing participants to a site where they could get free help completing the sometimes lengthy form. This event left nothing to chance.
The atmosphere was simply electric. Students waited to submit 2281 applications, with some students talking excitedly with their peers, and others just calmly waiting for their chance to leave their application and test scores with a college admission officer. Noticeably absent from the scene was the presence of cell phones. There was no passive screen viewing to be found at Decision Day. Students were taking in all of the moment, because they knew this was their moment .
There were almost as many parents as students in the gym, and while teens often view Mom and Dad tagging along with an eye roll and lots of sighing, Decision Day brought them together like a holiday or a family reunion. Parent-student couples recognized friends and neighbors with shouts of glee and laughter that filled the room, and some students greeted the college admissions officers they knew with hugs of gratitude. Not a lot of hugging goes on in college admissions, but today was a day to think outside the box. Apply by 10, get an answer by 2, and get hugged along the way.
The amount of planning it takes to pull something this creative off is staggering. A many as 15 admissions officers from each college arrived at the event by 7:30 and stayed until about 4, on a Saturday during the height of application season--but it was clear that today was a labor of love for them, with way more love than labor felt in the room.
This requires even more organization from the students, who have to complete the application, request a transcript from their high school, and present test scores to the college. Since most of this work is usually done online, and some of it is done by the student's counselor, this requires a high level of communication and organization between student and counselor, where the student has to take the lead. It may look like students are only applying to college, but the planning skills Decision Day instills in students will come in handy once they're attending college, where the bulk of learning--and living--is up to the student to initiate.
More than a few Decision Day students also gave up their Saturday nights for this event, thrilled with the news they were going to college, but tapped out from the excitement of the day. In an era where high school students are too often depicted as self-absorbed screen zombies, Decision Day reminds us of all that is right and good with Detroit students, Detroit families, and the Michigan college admission officers who support their efforts. Those of us who were at the event have seen the future, and it is very bright indeed.
This blog has been updated to correct the total number of applications submitted.