DODDS students get a jump on higher education
January 17, 2006
HEIDELBERG, Germany — She’s got a ways to go before she starts applying to college, but 12-year-old Dymond Blackburn already knows she wants to study dance. And while she won’t even begin to study for the SAT for a while, Dymond was one pupil taking part in a college information night recently at Heidelberg Middle School.
Applying for colleges and scholarships is complicated enough in the States, with reams of paperwork and a vast range of choices. But factor in living overseas as a Department of Defense Dependents Schools pupil, and those complications increase.
“I’m very disorganized,” said Dymond, a seventh-grader who counts Harvard among her top scholastic choices. “I really want to do a lot in school, but I don’t know how to do it.”
Over the past few years, help has materialized to guide pupils and parents in Europe to higher education back home. DODDS has partnered with various organizations to produce the Real World program, a series of monthly sessions at the Heidelberg school that is available to all DODDS-Europe students from seventh to 12th grade, focusing on all aspects of getting a student into college. The most recent session was Jan. 8.
“It helps you a lot, and it’s fun,” Dymond said. “And you get door prizes.”
Students and parents learn how to hunt for scholarships, write resumes and even manage their money while in college, said Juanita Harvin, a Heidelberg School District official who oversees the program. Guest speakers from participating organizations also visit and talk to pupils about everything from internships to interviewing skills.
The program is in its fourth year.
“These kids need help, and a lot of parents just don’t know,” she said. “I was a DODDS kid, and I wish I would have had this.”
Pupils who participate compile portfolios of grades and other records they’ll need to apply, she said, and the program also offers instruction on military and other career choices.
DODDS students apply in relative isolation compared to their peers back home, Harvin said. Few recruiters from stateside schools make the trip across the Atlantic Ocean, and there can be questions of state residency for students who have lived all their lives in Germany, Harvin said.
Planning early is key to a successful application process, she said, and it’s never too early to get going. For example, financial aid applications should be completed early in the year, but require parents to have their taxes filed months before the April deadline.
While earlier is best, Harvin said that families getting a late start can get instruction as well.
“We’re helping students in May,” she said.
Some students are already taking advantage of the opportunities out there.
The 1,779 graduating seniors in the DODDS-Europe class of 2004 earned more than $18.4 million in scholarships, aids and grants, said Dennis Bohannon, a DODDS spokesman. About 60 percent of the class of 2004 indicated that they would go on to a four-year college or university, he said. Figures were not yet available for the 2005 school year.
Aside from stateside aid, DODDS offers its own scholarships, Harvin said, and there are numerous other financial resources and educational options.
Students with a certain grade point average who can pass the entrance exam can attend a Germany university for free, she said, a good option for those moms and dads not quite ready to let their child head to the States alone.
“Some kids just need a start, and their parents can keep them here for a year,” she said, adding that some German colleges offer the first two years of classes in English.
Aside from the logistical hurdles, sending a child to a stateside university can be a challenge in other ways, she said.
Students who grew up in Europe can experience culture shock and loneliness when they go to live in the States for the first time, said Harvin, who has a son attending college in Florida.
“They are international students, and they’re with some kids who have never left that state,” she said. “Some students drop out of school because they’re just not ready. They’re so homesick and not used to America.”
Johanna Heaton was born in the States but grew up in Europe, and this fall she will head back alone. She has already been accepted to a few schools in South Carolina and is waiting to hear from the others.
Heaton has mixed emotions with regard to leaving her family and Europe.
“I’m looking forward to it, and I’m nervous,” the 18-year-old said. “I’ve never lived in the States, and it’s where I’m from.”
For more information on the Real World program, including dates for upcoming sessions, log on to http://www.heid-dso.eu.dodea.edu/RealWorld.
Tips on college applications for students and parents
1. Make copies of all scholarship and college applications that are sent out.
2. Track application and scholarship deadlines, when they were sent and when they are awarded.
3. Apply for financial aid as soon as mom and dad have their taxes filed, the earlier the better.
4. Ask teachers, counselors, supervisors and volunteer coordinators for letters of recommendation.
5. Make extra copies of your resume and letters, and ask for electronic copies as well.
6. Apply to at least three colleges, and apply for scholarships using a Web site like www.fastweb.com.
7. Take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (www.collegeboard.com) by your senior year.
8. Visit the European Scholarship Database at https://188.8.131.52/scholars.nsf/.
9. Parents, teachers or counselors should proofread any scholarship application.
10. Visit the Real World workshops. For dates and locations, log on to www.heid-dso.eu.dodea.edu/RealWorld.