Three high school guidance counselors and the director of a test preparation center discussed Bethlehem’s attitudes about higher education and post-secondary options for high school students and the resources available to them.
Travis Wuchter, School Counseling Department Chair, Liberty High School
Travis Wuchter said a hallmark of Liberty High School is the staff’s passion for identifying what students like to do and helping them put that passion into a purpose beyond their education there.
He said the introduction to counseling starts with freshman year orientation, along with a freshman seminar where students learn how to navigate Naviance — a college and career readiness software where students can research colleges and careers to start thinking about their future.
“Around the time of course registration, we survey students as well as meet with them in person to understand their interests and prospective post-secondary plans,” said Wuchter, who has been a school counselor for almost 30 years. “This helps us understand what the students are interested in…so we can get them assistance.”
Each class at Liberty is labeled with an icon representing a different career path so students can choose electives with possible career choices in mind.
During their junior year, guidance counselors will come into students’ classes to inform them about their resources. Students and their families are also given the option to meet with their guidance counselor to receive Liberty’s Post-Secondary Guide.
The Post-Secondary Guide, which is linked on Liberty’s guidance webpage, features resources like applications to two- and four-year colleges and employment services.
Unfortunately, at this point in the process, Wuchter said a lot of students are still not tuned in.
“We are working on a job fair for students, which is something that I have wanted to see for a long time in the spring for students who don’t know what they are going to do once they leave the doors of Liberty High School,” Wuchter said.
He has also seen a change in students’ attitudes about post-secondary education.
“One thing that hasn’t changed is parents, for the most part, expect or want their kids to do something after high school, whether that be college or a trade school,” Wuchter said.
According to Liberty High School’s 2021-2022 Profile, 40% of the class of 2021 planned to attend a four-year college, 23% planned to attend a two-year college, 2% planned to attend a technical school, 2% planned to join the armed forces, 12% planned to enter the workforce and 21% didn’t report post-secondary plan information.
During the final exam make-up day, Peter Schmidt from Prepare Test Prep comes in to practice SAT and ACT exams pro bono. Students are required to pay $10, but that money is put toward a college scholarship for students.
There are about 40 scholarships offered by Liberty High School through panels.
Though there is pressure from parents and families to attend a four-year college, Wuchter said he doesn’t see this pressure among the students. Ultimately, he sees more students attending community college because of the cost.
However, he tells students if they want to go to a school, they should apply and worry about paying for it later because they might receive financial support later on.
Some students, he said, just don’t want to go to college.
“Personally, I think this is fine. If (college) is not your thing, don’t do it,” Wuchter said. “It is up to the individual to figure that out.”
Robert Smith, Owner and Executive Director, Huntington Learning Center
Robert Smith opened the Huntington Learning Center in 2010. The center provides tutoring and test preparation services to over 100 students and is based in the belief that there is too much of an unchallenged push to attend college.
In the summers before sophomore and junior year — for the students who are looking to apply to college — Smith said the center sees students from all over the Lehigh Valley for test preparation, which costs an average of $4,000.
He said many students don’t know what they are looking for in terms of college, so the center uses their test scores and GPA to make recommendations.
The biggest barrier to higher education for students who are motivated, have many extracurriculars, maintain a near-perfect GPA and SAT score, and apply to only Ivy Leagues, is limited capacity in the college’s first-year class. But those who don’t rank as high, Smith said, often attend schools with reputations of worse career outcomes.
“Students who selected a major that leads to lower starting salaries end up working at Starbucks with $30,000 of debt,” Smith said.
He said students must understand the estimated salary of the major they are applying to at every school, and instead the financial aspect they focus on is the cost of attendance.
To increase community awareness about the resources the center offers and information about standardized testing, the Huntington Learning Center is featured at Liberty’s college application night.
Tammy Adelsberger, Guidance Counselor, Liberty High School
Tammy Adelsberger has been a guidance counselor for 18 years and thinks by sophomore or junior year, most students decide on their post-high-school plans.
She said the students she has advised over the last two years have been more four-year college-oriented.
Adelsberger is also in charge of managing the 90 college admissions representatives who come to present at Liberty High School.
For students who don’t have the opportunity to visit a college campus, she said these visits can give them a better idea of what life is like at that particular institution.
Along with these on-site visits, the Bethlehem Area School District facilitates events for students and their families to spread knowledge about college admissions, This is especially geared toward first-generation students.
Liberty hosts a college application night and a financial aid night, featuring a representative from a local college to talk to families about the application process, filling out their FAFSA forms and different types of scholarships.
However, Adelsberger said the FAFSA completion night, during which students and parents come in with their tax forms, is their most impactful event because it allows families to get all the important information in one place. This is critical for parents who have never been exposed to the process.
“I always say I am available as you need me to be,” Adelsberger said. “A lot of parents will take advantage of that.”
In addition to these events and appointments with guidance counselors, the high school also offers a 9-week ACT and SAT preparation course during the school year. While fewer students are using these resources due to a rise in test-optional submission policies for most applications to institutions of higher education, Adelsberger still encourages her students who are looking at more prestigious universities to take the tests.
She also encourages her students to think about the practical applications of a degree and the requirements of each career.
Adelsberger said she has observed a lot of students want to major in psychology, but she always reminds students of the graduate degrees that are often required for psychology-related careers, as well as the debt that comes with this added schooling.
John Kaczmarek, School Counseling Department Chair, Freedom High School
John Kaczmarek wrote in an email to The Brown and White that Bethlehem had a positive attitude toward higher education due to its proximity to Northampton Community College, Lehigh University, Moravain University and Lehigh Career & Technical Institute.
To him, post-secondary life is celebrated around the Lehigh Valley.
According to Freedom High School’s 2022-2023 Profile, 44% of the class of 2022 planned to attend a four-year college, 30% planned to attend a two-year college or trade school, 4% planned to join the military, 7% were planning to enter the workforce, and the last 15% were reported as other, uncertain, or homemaker.
For those students who choose to apply to two- or four-year colleges, Freedom also offers SAT preparation courses and a wide range of scholarships. The largest one is the Moravian Superintendent Scholarship, a full four-year scholarship to Moravian University.
Kaczmarek wrote that he wishes more students knew the financial impact of higher education.
“If the cost of a two- or four-year college severely outweighs the income from their ideal career, it would be best for students to search out grants and scholarships in order to help offset the cost,” Kaczmarek wrote.
He wrote that juniors and seniors should remember life experiences can inform career and life goals, and any decision they make doesn’t need to be permanent as long as students are working toward a goal.
To improve outcomes for Bethlehem high school graduates, Kaczmarek wrote that exposure to post-secondary options is critical.