College Bound Opportunities program enhances possibilities for students

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Katie Pierce

In today’s world, we are always working ahead.  Elementary school prepares us for middle school, middle school prepares us for high school, and high school ultimately prepares us for college.  But for some, that dream of college can seem far off, or even somewhat confusing.  Some students may not think that college is an option because of financial limitations, a lack of resources, or even merely confusion about how to apply.  Fortunately, Lake County has a program just for students like the ones I just described.

The College Bound Opportunities program (abbreviated as CBO) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping students prepare and organize themselves for college, and beyond.  The program caters to five schools in the local area: Deerfield High School, Buffalo Grove High School, Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep, Highland Park High School, and our very own Lake Forest High School.  Adult mentors meet one-on-one with students starting in their junior year of high school, and the mentoring continues throughout the student’s college years.

Mentors meet with students often (at LFHS, it’s twice a week), and sessions can focus on everything from ACT prep to daily organization to tutoring.  Mentors help with college applications, and they even set up face-to-face meetings with college representatives.  Once the student graduates from high school, CBO provides the student with a laptop.  In college, the program offers emotional and financial support for its students, awarding each student up to $16,000 towards college expenses.  CBO has a goal to reduce college expenses and college debt, while encouraging their students to chase their dreams.  Annually, CBO hosts a job fair for its students, allowing them to make connections for future careers, or even summer jobs.

There are currently five CBO scholars at LFHS, and I was lucky enough to sit down with two of them, Jenny Ortega and Victoria Velazquez, to hear how the program has helped them succeed.  Ortega, a senior, heard about the program through her counselor, who explained to her how to apply for the program.  She eventually decided to apply, and after an interview and her acceptance, began to prepare for the ACT.  Jenny told me that the ACT prep was the most helpful thing that the program did for her, relieving stress and also leading her to success on the test itself.  After testing, Jenny’s focus with her mentors went toward college applications and even standard tutoring.  She told me that if she were to text her mentor with a question at midnight, she would respond at 12:01, authenticating the personalized approach for each CBO tutor.  In applying to schools, CBO recommended seven different schools specifically for Jenny based off of preferred size and program.

Tori Velazquez was approached by Ms. Harmsen about the CBO program. She knew for sure she wanted to go to college; her sister had been the first person in her family to go to college, and, because her parents did not know much about the college process, the CBO program served as an aid in organizational and scholarship help.  Tori also participated in the ACT prep class, and she even attended a college fair at Navy Pier where she was able to meet with one-on-one with college representatives.  Because of the CBO program, Tori was able to apply to numerous schools without cost because of application fee waivers.

I even got some personal advice from these scholars about college and all the preparation that comes with it.  Jenny told me that taking the standardized tests multiple times is the key to success, and that colleges don’t just look at test grades when looking at applications.  Tori advised me to start the application process as early as possible to reduce stress level during senior year, ultimately making the year more enjoyable.

In addition to getting ahead, the world is always working to improve.  Innovation is constant, learning is a daily occurrence, and growth is essential.  By helping kids reach their full potential through a higher education, programs like CBO are helping to progress the world’s thinkers and leaders.  By giving everyone a chance to succeed, dreams can be achieved.  Thanks to CBO, dreams are being pursued every day.  Our world is growing, and it doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon.