Virtual Volunteer Burcak Goes the Distance for College Access 🚗💨
At ScholarMatch, we make college dreams possible.
Through our Destination College program, we connect students from all over the country with the resources and mentors they need to reach their college dreams. Each student in our program is paired with a caring and knowledgable ScholarMatch volunteer that supports their students (locally in SF & LA, and virtually nationwide through our CollegePoint partner) through every facet of the college application process: from building a college list, to polishing personal statement essays, to even completing financial aid paperwork.
We had the chance to sit down with Burcak Deniz Cakir, a veteran Virtual Volunteer and founder of her own private college counseling organization, and learned how she goes the distance to mentor, uplift, and support her students.
Hi Burcak! Can you tell us about your background and where your passion for education stems from?
My dad passed away when I was a baby. I was raised by my mom and grandma, two strong women who instilled the love of education in me. With their guidance, I studied hard and gained admission to a very prestigious, Ivy League caliber university in Turkey — free of charge. Although the education system in Turkey had its flaws, academic success in a standardized test was sufficient to attend a good college without paying tuition. It didn’t occur to me that attending the college of my dreams was a privilege until I moved to the US.
While teaching at US colleges, I started to realize that there was more to a good college education than just studying — you actually needed to be able to pay for it. College was not a given right for high-achieving students; it was a luxury item that only a specific portion of the population could afford. The mere thought of not being able to attend a good college with my single mom’s limited income or having to borrow thousands of dollars in loans just to pay for college still gives me the chills. It took me a long time to accept the fact that there can be a price tag attached to higher education, but the day I came to terms with this reality, I decided to do something about it.
I was able to gain their trust by assigning weekly tasks and following up with them every week, never missing an appointment, and always being there when they reached out to me. I think they eventually understood that I was real, and I was there to stay as long as they wanted me to.
Through our program, you helped two high school students through the entire college application process. What has your relationship with them been like?
My students and I were very nervous at the beginning. They were nervous because they sounded really lost in the college admissions process — they were especially worried about the financial aid applications and the essays. I could tell from their voices that they had a lot of reservations during our first month together. As you can imagine, it was not easy for them to trust a total stranger who claimed to give them free college advice. I was nervous because I was doing this for the first time. I was well-prepared through the UCLA courses I had been taking [for my college counseling credit], but we all know that knowing something is totally different from actually doing it or putting it into real practice.
After the first couple of weeks, everything started to fall into place. My nervousness turned into excitement. I was actually looking forward to my weekly calls with my students! It was nice to see that they were also getting less nervous as time went by. I was able to gain their trust by assigning weekly tasks and following up with them every week, never missing an appointment, and always being there when they reached out to me. I think they eventually understood that I was real, and I was there to stay as long as they wanted me to.
Now that both of these class of 2019 students have completed their college applications, we are talking less frequently. Both of them are very special young people, and I feel very privileged to have known them. One of my students says he will still call me when he is in college, and I really hope he does! I’m also very excited to match with my new class of 2020 students.
What are some highlights you experienced supporting your students?
Joining these young people on their college journey has been the biggest highlight of my year, so I would love to see them thrive in college and beyond. I hope to stay connected and hear from them to see how they are doing. I have my own Independent Educational Consulting business; however, I must admit that nothing has been as rewarding and satisfying as my experience as a Virtual College Coach at ScholarMatch. I am thankful for the opportunity and look forward to many more years together.
Although we are still waiting to hear back from more colleges, each time one of my students gets accepted to a college or receives a scholarship, I get happy as if it happened to me or my own kids! When my daughters hear me scream, they now know that I just got good news from one of my students!
We’ve had the pleasure of having you as a Virtual Coach for several years now — thank you! Do you have any advice for new Coaches as they begin supporting their students?
My biggest advice would be to have a good rapport with your students and try to earn their trust from day one. You do not have to reveal all the details of your life, but try to identify with your students. Just listen to them; sometimes all they need is an extra set of ears that will hear them out without any judgement.
One final word of advice would be to be patient with your students. If you see that they have not been responsive to you, do not take it personally. They have many other things that they are facing in life, so do not automatically assume that it is you. Keep sending them a short and sweet text to check in with them, or send them an article that might be of interest to them… just to let them know that you are still there. Some students might benefit out of that one-way interaction. The fact that they do not want to engage in a two-way communication may not necessarily mean that they are not reading your texts or emails. Just like every good deed, do it without expecting anything in return. Trust me, you will still have touched many great lives.
With Burcak’s support, both of her Class of 2019 scholars earned admission to more than 7 colleges each, including acceptances at more than 4 selective, high-graduation rate schools! One of her students also earned the highly competitive Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship! A huge thank you to Burcak and all our incredible Virtual College Coaches for their support.