Beginning the college admissions process can be stressful and confusing for high school students, but the Cherokee Nation Foundation has been hosting a week-long camp at Northeastern State University for those hoping to standout among other college hopefuls.

The Cherokee College Prep Institute provides students with advice and strategies on how to prepare for college and how to get into the colleges of their dreams. For many students, it can sometimes be difficult knowing where to start.

"I came here because I wanted to learn more about the college admission process and meet mentors who could guide me to make myself a better candidate for college," said Braeden Smith, Tahlequah senior. "It's a lot better now that I've been here for a day or two, because it seems a lot less complicated than it actually is."

The students have been participating this week in workshops designed to increase their odds of getting into college. Students work on admission essays, interviewing skills, and how to navigate financial aid. Not only are they learning how to get into the school of their choice, but they also are learning about their are other options, besides staying at home for school.

"This is really working to get the kids to open their eyes to see the possibilities," said Marisa Hambleton, with CNF. "I think, especially here around Cherokee County, they think we're here in Tahlequah so NSU is our option. But we have these Ivy League colleges and out-of-state college, and they offer scholarships to these students that makes going out of state more affordable."

Students came from all over to attend the camp, including places like Arkansas and Texas. Several campers visited from nearby cities like Locus Grove, and there were some homeschool students who decided to attend the institute. There were locals, too, as Tahlequah senior James Maxwell was on site to work on his goal of studying business at the University of Notre Dame.

"It's in the blood," said Maxwell. "My grandfather was the CEO of a company. He got his major in accounting, and I think he got his MBA as well. And then my dad actually owns his own business right now. I would love to own my own business and would just like to be my own boss."

Out-of-state schools participating in CCPI include Notre Dame, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, Yale University, Duke University, and more. Some of the nearby schools include University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, University of Arkansas, and NSU, among others.

Representatives from each school work with the students throughout the camp to help them improve the college eligibility. For some of the reps, it's more than just recruiting.

"From a job perspective, this is what I get paid to do, but in addition, this is really where my heart is at," said Steve McLaughlin, admissions officer for Duke. "There are students here who have different life perspectives, different experiences, different talents and so forth, which is all what we look for at Duke. There are also kids here who are so genuine and you can get a chance to connect with kids in a way that when I do a college fair or a high school visit I don't get a chance at."

The camp is for students entering their junior and senior years. So students still have time to apply and work toward the campuses of their choice, but working with admission officers can make it easier.

Maxwell said it was helpful getting to learn from McLaughlin.

"With Steve, we've really been working on the essay and what colleges are looking for in your essay," said Maxwell. "We talked about how they're looking for extracurricular activities and looking at you as a person, rather than just a test score. I learned that from Steve."

Student will leave the institute with an activities list, which remind them of when things need to be turned in and what to include in their college resumes. Many students will also be leaving with a message. McLaughlin said the biggest questions in a person's life is, "Do I matter?" and that his participation in the camp allows him to reinforce the idea that students do "matter."

"The second thing we get to tell them is, 'You have what it takes,'" he said. "That's such a critical question, too, because some of them don't think they have what it takes to go to a school outside of Oklahoma. Some of them don't even think they have what it takes to go to college.

"We get to reinforce that, 'You have what it takes to be a college student. You have what it takes to go to a strong school.'"

Learn more

The camp is open to Cherokees only and it's free for students to attend. Those interested in future Cherokee College Prep Institutes, or for more information, should call Hambleton at 918-207-0950 or email

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