Soaring Ahead with Roots and Wings

May 2022

by brooke wagner | photo by arianna skoog

"The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence." - Denis Waitley.  

Hopefully, by the time teens transition from high school to college, the roots have been planted and cultivated, and students are ready to soar into the next chapter of their lives. This season is full of anticipation of life and adventures yet to live. Still, it can also be fraught with feelings of trepidation. Teens and parents alike might find themselves on the precipice, preparing to launch from the structure of high school into a wide-open college campus.  

Enter Headwaters Educational Consulting. Founded by Jennifer Quinn to support high school students’ and their parents' unique needs, HEC offers full-time comprehensive college planning for grades 7-12. Quinn saw a need in the community after owning and operating a thriving learning center in Billings for 13 years. Here, she encountered many families who were unsure about college…everything from the admissions process and choosing a major to applying for scholarships and financial aid seemed overwhelming to them. Quinn adds, "Many students just picked a school to pick a school. Maybe it was a parent's alma mater or the school where a best friend is going. It surprised me how many families were misinformed about college options." 

Although post-graduation plans typically begin midway through a student's junior year of high school, Quinn emphasizes that proper planning can start much earlier. "Beginning in middle school, I account for all facets of a student's learning while looking ahead to post-secondary education. During these early years, I cultivate the student's strengths, interests, and goals to formulate an academic plan." As a teen progresses through the first few years of high school, Quinn hones in on assessing a list of potential colleges, guides them through career discovery activities, and personalizes the student's journey. Far from taking a one size fits all approach, Quinn views each young person as an individual on their unique road to college and a career. While some families merely need a few questions answered, others seek someone to guide them from middle school to the final college acceptance letter and decision.  

Parents of neurodiverse students or those with learning differences often have additional concerns about the entire college process. These students no longer have the same guarantees of accommodations once they enter the college classroom; they attend college at nearly half the rate as their peers. In addition, those who do attend college are less likely to complete a degree. HEC is a resource for parents in these situations. Quinn says, "I apply my firsthand knowledge of college disability services to accommodate each student's needs." This information can otherwise be hard to find or confusing for families.  

Quinn says working directly with students is the most rewarding part of her job. Full of excitement and energy, their whole lives are ahead of them as she assists them on their journey, no matter when they cross paths with HEC. She laughs, "The hard part is waiting for answers after submitting the applications. It's agonizing for the student, the parents, and me!" Another challenge is helping families understand that a college, while an educational training ground, is also a business. Schools have a list of priorities for admission, which can fluctuate from year to year. The admissions officers have to figure out who meets the specific needs of the college. One benefit of working with HEC is the significant time Quinn devotes to visiting schools, researching educational and financial trends, and studying changes in admissions policies. Quinn says, "Numbers (GPA, test scores, undergraduate population size, etc.) tell only part of the story. Recognizing the current state of institutions is highly beneficial when considering potential matches for each student." 

Quinn is no stranger to the flexibility and ingenuity that college planning requires. Unfortunately, the pandemic has significantly impacted college admissions over the past few years. Students missed out on important internships, summer programs, and extracurricular activities. This caused a decline in the strength of students' qualifications for college admission. In addition, many schools have done away with an SAT or ACT requirement. Without this assessment, other factors become even more critical, and students have to strengthen their applications in different ways. HEC is prepared to fill in those gaps, helping students and parents in our community feel more confident and prepared as they prepare to leave the nest for a fresh new season.  

HEC's Top 3 Tips to Prepare for College During High School: 

  1. Start early. The process is a lot less stressful when families begin early. It allows time to consider options and work around unexpected situations. 
  2. Take the most challenging classes available. Rigor and grades are very important. Take the most rigorous courses you can handle while maintaining good grades. 
  3. Get involved in extracurricular activities. The quality of the activity matters more than the quantity. Extracurriculars include sports, internships, volunteering, research, music activities, etc. Try out activities that relate to your interests and keep track of them in a journal. 

Several camps are offered through the summer. Register at  

  • Extracurriculars and Resume Building 
  • Finding the Right College Fit 
  • College Essay Writing Bootcamp

Originally printed in the May 2022 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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