Page 72 - Volume 6 - Issue 1 - DBU Journal for K-12 Educational Leadership

70 Julie Leslie, EdD apply for scholarships (Conley, 2010; Conley et al., 2010). Given that the United States will face increased demands for innovation, creative problem solving, and a more technologically advanced workforce, college readiness is more important than ever (McDonald & Farrell, 2012). In the years since Conley’s seminal research, college admissions has become increasingly competitive and stressful for students and their parents. Students in affluent and/or high-achieving high schools are now considered an at-risk group because of the stress associated with preparing for college and college admission. Students from affluent schools are engaging in self-destructive behaviors such as cutting, eating disorders, and substance abuse at higher rates than their inner-city peers (Luthar & Latendresse, 2005). Also, the use of a holistic admissions process has added to the stress, as well as to the ambiguity of everything that is encapsulated in college admissions in the United States (Bastedo et al., 2018; Bastedo et al., 2017; Duffy & Goldberg, 1998; Jaschik, 2021; Zwick, 2016). Summary of Findings and Interpretation of Results Research participants were eager to talk about their experiences in the ISM Program, which is comprised of six components that prepare students for college and for life. Those six components include • Professional Conduct and Communication • Personal Branding and Digital Presence • Career Exploration and Mentor Search • Public Speaking and Interviewing Skills • Real-World Product Generation • Confidence and Resilience Participants gave detailed answers to all the interview and follow-up questions. Their interview responses provided a wealth of information related to their perceptions and beliefs about the ISM program’s impact on their college admissions process, their transition from high school to college, and their choice of college major. Participants used descriptions such as “life changing” and “completely changed the trajectory of my life.” Though each participant had a different experience, five dominant themes emerged in the data. Those themes are • Increased Opportunities • Mentorship • Professionalism/Soft Skills Development • Academic Freedom • Confidence Summary of Findings for Research Question 1 (RQ1) Research Question 1 (RQ1) What are the perceptions of students who took the Independent Study and Mentorship course (ISM) on their college application process? The first research question examined what impact, if any, the ISM program had on ISM students’ college admissions process. College applications and all the tasks students are required to accomplish to apply to college are growing increasingly more time-consuming and stressful (Luthar & Latendresse, 2005; Selingo, 2020). Findings showed participating in the ISM program positively impacted their college admissions process because the ISM program provided increased opportunities to research a career and to gain valuable, real-world experience with a professional mentor. Participants reported their ISM experience strengthened their applications and helped them gain admission to their first-choice university and to earn significant scholarships to that college or university. Experiences with professional mentors provided substantive, unique topics for students to write about for their college admissions essays. Almost all participants reported their participation in the ISM program was the critical difference that allowed them to be chosen over others. As one research participant put it, “ISM gives you something you can talk about that sets you apart from other applicants.” Research participants also reported the ISM program helped them gain valuable interviewing skills, helped them create a professional resume and online presence, and increased their confidence to apply for highly sought-after scholarships, internships, and jobs. Table 1 shows the themes and codes for RQ1.