The college planning program at IMG helps students succeed

newsintern@bradenton.comJuly 28, 2013 

BRADENTON -- IMG's reputation for developing athletes is world renowned. After all, Andre Agassi, Sabine Lisicki and Venus and Serena Williams all came through the elite sports academy.

But its reputation for preparing its student athletes for college hasn't received quite as much acclaim, even though the school is churning out college-ready high schoolers at a noteworthy rate.

The college preparation program offered at the academy -- which now hosts tennis, golf, soccer, track and field, lacrosse, baseball, basketball, and football -- has set the bar high for its high school students.

With the number of the graduating class increasing annually, counselors expects around 150 graduates this year.

"To be a student at the academy one has to also decide to spend half of their day doing athletics in one of our eight sports," said Mark Blaweiss, director of college planning, placement and NCAA compliance.

Students are constantly reminded that they are at IMG to pursue college, despite IMG's reputation as a "sports academy."

"By being students first we are always putting those needs first and those needs in balance with their athletic needs," Blaweiss said. "It's never balanced the other way around."

Fortunately, students seem to be listening: 98 percent of IMG high school graduates go off to college, while 2 percent pursue professional careers.

College planning advisors work closely with students to find the school that's the perfect fit for them.

"The 98 percent that go to college get services that include typical college advising that you would find at any good preparatory school where we work with students to find their aspirations away from their sports," Blaweiss said.

Since the program's arrival to the academy five years ago, students have shown exceptional success with their college placements.

The diverse student body includes acceptance to some of the nation's best colleges with 60 percent going to Division I schools compared to the national average of less than 2 percent. According to the bureau of Labor Statistics, 68 percent of 2012 high school graduates enrolled in college; nearly 48 percent of those students attendtwo-year schools.

It's really not all about athletics, according to Blaweiss. Students need to be accepted based on their athletics and academics.

"I think it's a misconception from the public that athletes can simply be talented athletically and not have the academic background to go to school," Blaweiss said.

"I get calls every day from football coaches asking how are the grades of the student athletes."

Blaweiss, along with two other advisors, work specifically with junior and senior high school students but include their services for freshmen and sophomores as well.

The process of finding the right college or university for each student focuses mainly on the students as multidimensional individuals, rather than only as athletes.

"Anything I needed, Mark took care of it," said Lauren Burich a rising college sophomore.

Burich believes it was Blaweiss' positive attitude and confidence in her that got her into University of Wisconsin last year.

"He made it seem likeI had nothing to worryabout even when things got really stressful," Burich, 18, said.

Student athletes must consider whether the academic standards of a desired school is a fit for them and consider the same for its athletics.

"A lot of times kids get in a school where they love the academics but maybe won't get in athletically or vice-versa," Blaweiss said.

It's all about finding the balance.

"We help our students find the best fit for them," Heather Von Seggern ,college advisor at IMG, said.

College planning advisors spend more than 40 hours a year with students besides the hundreds of hours students put in on their own.

Students have a set schedule to follow, which includes filling out applications, SAT and ACT practices, and test registrations.

"We try to give them general guidelines and have one-on-one meetings to meet their specific needs," Von Seggern said.

The "all-day-every-day" services from the counselors allows students to build close relationships with their advisors while handling the hectic process of applying for schools.

"Because so many of our students are here without their parents, they look at us to be more than an employee," Blaweiss said.

"A lot of students need to be reminded that we need them to be happy 24 hours when they go to college and not just the few hours of the day when they are playing their sport."

To help prepare stu-dents for colleges, IMG'sown academy program,formally called Pendleton, offers 10 Advanced Placement classes. It plans to add an online IB program next year.

Blaweiss said within the next one to two years the Academy plans to have IB programs in the classroom.

Students are also required to enroll in SAT and ACT prep courses as well.

"Our methodology is identify each topic that's on the exam," Mark Riddell, director of test preparation at IMG, said. "We want everyone to take the SAT prep program because it plays a big role for college admissions."

With colleges becoming more selective, students have to be committed to put in the long hours of studying, attending classes, and playing their sports.

"Our students' challenge is the same challenge as every student -- they have to have good grades, take good classes, and provide a really good application," Blaweiss said. "And then we add the challenge of getting recruited."

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