Many high school students in Georgia face barriers of entry to higher education. Whether it’s making sure they take the right classes or helping them apply for financial aid, high school counselors are essential to making the transition to college possible for students across the state.
On the bottom floor of the Louise McBee Institute for Higher Education, Georgia high school students have a hidden advocate, operating a program to help make college an easier option for everyone.
Brook Thompson became the program director of the Georgia College Advising Corps in the middle of 2020 and has already made a lasting impact on the program.
GCAC is a program created by the Institute of Higher Education to promote college success for underserved high school students. The program places recent college graduates into selected high schools as advisers to help students register for the ACT/SAT, conduct college searches, fill out college applications and source financial aid opportunities.
“We want to work with schools that have students who come from low-income backgrounds, who come from populations underrepresented on college campuses, and schools where they may also have this need because of their student-to-counselor ratio,” said Thompson.
The state of Georgia reported a student-to-counselor ratio of 432:1 in 2020, making it incredibly difficult for high school counselors to make a strong personal connection with each and every student.
GCAC hopes to mitigate that.
“We have 25 college advisers,” said Thompson, who had just spent the morning training the latest college adviser recruit for GCAC. “The advisers really step in and provide the individualized support that many students need to complete the necessary steps to enroll in higher education.”
The program now partners with seven school systems and 20 individual schools, including three schools that Thompson added to the program in January 2022.
Thompson’s role as director means she is communicating with the school systems and funding partners, organizing and training the college advisers and problem-solving behind the scenes.
According to Thompson, advisers have to be ready to support students with questions about college-going tasks, and help them navigate the larger systemic barriers students may face.
“We train them on issues around college access and higher education policy, as well as the nitty-gritty details of teaching a student how to fill out a college application, or how you troubleshoot issues with the FAFSA system,” she said.
GCAC is funded through a variety of outside sources, including the school systems, private foundations, the National College Advising Corps, the federal AmeriCorps program and individual donations. Thompson manages the operating budget for GCAC and the fundraising initiatives that help the Corps continue to expand into other schools and include more advisers.
Like many other professionals, Thompson and the college advisers had to pivot the way they worked last year. Most high schools they worked with conducted school virtually, requiring advisers to meet with their students over video platforms.
“Due to the pandemic, I wasn’t able to visit any of the schools for my first year in this position, which was hard,” said Thompson. “This year, our school partners have been largely operating in-person, and almost all of them have allowed me to come to their school. Seeing the variety of ways the advisers motivate and support their student has been really rewarding”
Thompson came into the program director role with education experience already, having spent time teaching English and training English teachers in Mexico and working in college access programs and higher education in North Carolina.
“What I liked about this job was it gave me the opportunity to take what I learned from working in higher education and disseminate that information to a bunch of people who can then share it with their high school students,” Thompson said of her draw to GCAC.
When Thompson isn’t going to and from schools or managing the advisers from her home base in Athens, she enjoys going to the many parks with her dog and spending time outside. She also enjoys some of the local cuisine, particularly Seabear, Viva Argentine and Maepole.
Whether training English teachers in Mexico or training the next generation of college advisers, Thompson has committed herself to helping everyone achieve academic success. Now, with GCAC, Thompson brings that achievement to Georgia.