Volume 6, Issue 2 – April 2022

In This Issue:

Director's Note

COVID-19 Enrollment

College Preparation Opportunities Students Want and Need

Celebrating College Signing Day 2022

Counselor Corner


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Excellence in College Counseling Webinar Series
Learn about a variety of hot topics in college counseling in this series of recorded webinars from Common App, Reach Higher and College Wise.

NCAN Spring Institute on Mental Health
April 27 and May 4
Register Now

ASCA Annual Conference
July 9-12 in Austin, Texas
Register Now

On Demand Webinar: Hosting a 2022 College Signing Day Event
Watch Now

ACAC State Coordinators Only:
ACAC 2020 Virtual National Convening
May 10-12, 2022


College Counseling Now Campaign
Responsive and informed college counseling resources for a quickly changing world.

Register your College Signing Day event
Download the toolkit

Upcoming College Admission Testing Dates
ACT: June 11, register by May 6; July 16, register by June 17
SAT: June 4, register by May 5

There is still time to submit FAFSA
Learn more


Webinar: Ready, Set… So You Can Go: Using The End of Junior Year Wisely So You Can Start College Application Season Strong
Thursday, April 7, 6:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.
Register now

NACAC College Fairs
Online opportunities for students to meet with college representatives.
April 12 and 26
Register Now

Toolkit Tips:

It’s 2022 and time to transition to planning for a new campaign year. State coordinators are encouraged to:

1. review host site recruitment materials and prepare any state-specific documents, including a host site sign-up form;

2. create a target list of schools and community-based organizations to approach for hosting;

3. launch recruitment efforts for new and returning host sites, including your college application campaign’s registration site;

4. host informational sessions in-person or via webinar for potential host sites; and

5. celebrate students on social media as they make their #CollegeSigningDay decisions.

Director's Note

Last week, ACAC released our official 2021 campaign results and the 2021 Schools of Excellence recipients, a group of exemplary schools across the nation that are helping students pursue postsecondary success. ACAC selected the Schools of Excellence based on their demonstrated commitment to student success and for serving as exemplary models for their states’ college application campaigns. This is the third year that ACAC has recognized outstanding schools.

The 19 winning schools were key contributors in helping ACAC reach the following national achievements, as reported by 45 state campaigns on the 2021 annual survey:

  • nearly 5,170 high schools hosted a College Application Campaign event;
  • more than 222,600 seniors submitted at least one college application during events; and
  • roughly 460,600 applications were submitted during 2021 College Application Campaign events.

Nationally, more than 3.9 million students have been served by ACAC events and 6.4 million applications have been submitted since the Campaign began in 2005. High schools interested in participating can complete the national registration form or contact their state coordinator directly.

Though the 2021 application campaign has officially come to an end, we face the reality that some students were unsure this fall, are changing their plans, and are still in need of support. Preliminary results of a Class of 2022 student survey by San Diego State University Center for Equity and Postsecondary Access found:

  • students want personalized and responsive postsecondary guidance that is malleable to a quickly changing world;
  • 87% plan to enroll in a two-year or four-year college after high school;
  • 32% report that COVID-19 is significantly affecting their postsecondary plans;
  • 23% have changed their first choice of college;
  • 81% are worried about abrupt college and university closures;
  • 78% do not think they can pay their tuition or other college related costs; and
  • 34% worry about being able to afford housing or food costs.

Lisa KingWe must take the time to truly listen to student concerns and adjust our college advising process to meet their current needs. Before the Class of 2022 graduates and walks out your doors, ask them what their overall future mindset is? What challenges are they facing? What help do they need? Reassure them that it’s never too late to apply.

Lisa King, director

COVID-19 Enrollment and Persistence Strategies: A State-by-State Audit

By: Chantelle George, outreach consultant for ACAC, and Brittani Williams, research consultant for ACAC

As part of the COVID-19 Enrollment and Persistence Strategy Grant, funded by The Kresge Foundation, San Diego State University Center for Equity and Postsecondary Attainment (CEPA) and ACT’s American College Application Campaign (ACAC) conducted a state-by-state audit to understand the current landscape of COVID-19 guidance, funding, and policy changes to better serve the graduating high school classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022.

As young people were weighing the decision whether to enroll in school or work (or do both), they were no doubt considering the costs and benefits of schooling during the pandemic and the potential to earn labor income. Direct high school to college enrollment for the class of 2020 dropped by 6.8% and fell another 2.7% for the class of 2021, with the largest declines from students attending low-income high schools and high minority high schools (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 2020; 2021).

To mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on students across the country, the federal government issued significant funding to help districts and institutions safely reopen and to get back on track to meet their ambitious postsecondary goals. Legislation through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, and the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund  supported both secondary and postsecondary initiatives. How did states use that funding to specifically support graduating high school seniors with postsecondary enrollment and persistence?

To assess, we conducted a 50-state audit of resources that targeted support for college readiness and persistence for senior classes 2020, 2021, and 2022. This audit scanned publicly available information and sought input from ACAC’s state coordinator network. While this isn’t an exhaustive search, there are two key findings to consider. We welcome additional information and feedback on efforts happening in your state. Please email [email protected].

Key Findings

  • Insufficient public-facing, intentional postsecondary transition funded initiatives

Through CARES funding, states received about $14 billion for postsecondary education. Unfortunately, the allocation to postsecondary transition efforts were minimal or unnamed. If states had an agenda for COVID melt strategies to reach the most recent high school graduate classes (2020, 2021, 2022), it was not publicly available.

2.) Opportunity to mobilize or re-engage statewide networks

Most states have a statewide strategy in place to increase FAFSA completion, college application submissions, and/or college enrollment for graduating high school seniors. Additionally, some states have scholarship programs focused on adult learners ages 25+ entering the college pipeline. These campaigns are mostly coordinated through state agencies and nonprofits and have the foundational elements and expertise to quickly mobilize state level teams to focus on postsecondary trajectory with intentionality to serve recent high school graduates (ages 18-25) who are not entering postsecondary education opportunities. 

Promising Practices

Two programs stood out from the others and target student support in postsecondary enrollment and persistence amid the pandemic. These promising practices were funded through the American Rescue Plan, state agencies, and local foundations and philanthropic efforts.


The 16 Kentucky Community and Technical College System campuses and the member institutions of the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities received funding to support newly created summer bridge programs. These summer bridge initiatives are an effort to improve college preparation and retention for Kentucky high school students who graduated during the pandemic (spring 2020 and 2021). These programs will be offered in the summer between high school and college, or between the first and second year of college. Although the content of summer bridge programs will vary across institutions and by the population served, they will last from one to six weeks and involve (a) an in-depth orientation to college life and resources; (b) academic advising; (c) training in skills necessary for college success (e.g., time management and study skills); and/or (d) accelerated academic coursework. 


Future Focused TX is a collective initiative created to help Texas high school classes of 2021 and 2022 in pursuing their postsecondary educational goals, despite the effects of COVID-19. In collaboration with Get Schooled, United for College Success, Educate Texas, and The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, this statewide effort provides free, compelling, research-based digital content to school educators to help their students graduate and matriculate into college. The digital content is available to all educators across the state and includes weekly student-facing (or centered) activities, advising resource packages, and monthly webinars.


As educators and college access leaders, we know that postsecondary efforts must be made now to address the long-lasting effects of the pandemic. We cannot afford to waste time. State secondary and postsecondary education leaders should be reviewing existing strategies for opportunities to expand services to reach those who recently graduated high school.  Important topics for the group would consist of equitable access to resources that support enrollment and persistence, college affordability, and college preparation. District leaders should engage in data-driven informed practices that will support in fostering a college-going culture across high school campuses.

Additional Learning and Resources

You can read more about the COVID-19 Enrollment and Persistence Strategy grant efforts and our discoveries at the links below.

College Preparation Opportunities Students Want and Need

By Lisa King, director, American College Application Campaign

This article was first published on ACT’s blog on March 3, 2022.

Though the pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to both K-12 and higher education, there are lessons we can learn on the importance of college preparation activities and how students and families experience the college-going process. On Feb. 24, ACT released "College Preparation Opportunities, the Pandemic, and Student Preparedness: Perspectives From Class of 2021 College-Bound ACT Test-Takers," new research that highlights student experiences and provides insight into the types of college preparation activities students engaged in during the pandemic, and how prepared they feel for life after high school.

In May of last year, ACT surveyed high school seniors who took the ACT test between September 2020 and June 2021. Most college-bound students from the class of 2021 were engaged in college preparation opportunities, but disparities existed in who engaged in those opportunities and the extent of the engagement. As the director of a national college preparation program, I was particularly struck by a few elements.

  • Where there was an increase in exposure to in-person learning, the likelihood of participating in college preparation activities increased.
  • Taking college-credit courses increased the chance of participation in college preparation activities.
  • Students who engaged in college preparation activities showed higher levels of non-academic self-reported preparedness.
  • Engaging in college preparation activities in which students were able to talk with a knowledgeable adult about college was associated with lower levels of financial concerns among students from low-income families.

Continue reading this article on the ACT blog.

Celebrating College Signing Day 2022

By: Cindy Jara, digital communications manager, Reach Higher at Common App and a first-gen 2020 graduate from the University of Florida

College Signing Day is very special to Reach Higher. In spring 2014, our team planned the first national College Signing Day in San Antonio, where the mayor and the entire city had been formally celebrating their graduating seniors for years. We wanted to lift up the great work happening in the city and also set an example for others to follow. Eight years later, we see, now more than ever before, the importance of a postsecondary education.

College Signing Day celebrates all students committed to pursuing an education beyond high school. Whether they plan to attend a community college, a four-year university, a certificate program, the military, or any other education after high school, College Signing Day shows full support of students making decisions for their future. That’s the entire reason why former First Lady Michelle Obama started Reach Higher and Better Make Room: to inspire students to complete their education and own their future.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama at College Signing Day at UCLA in 2019, honoring students for their pursuit of a college education or career in the military. (Photo: Chuck Kennedy)

This year, especially, we need to come together to help students do just that. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly one million students – 938,000 students to be exact – have been accepted to college but chose not to enroll. And this school year alone, only 37.6% of high school students have filed for FAFSA since February 2022. Studies show that job opportunities across the next decade will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for people with a high school diploma or less. That’s why hosting your own local College Signing Day can be a life-changing event for students; it shows them that it’s never too late to apply to college, the military, or a certificate program.

There have been more than 5,000 College Signing Days across the nation celebrating millions of students over the years. And when schools and offices had to turn to remote work, we all worked together to celebrate the class of 2020 and the class of 2021 virtually. In the past two years, College Signing Day has had more than 515.8 million social media impressions, 272.6 million social media accounts reached, and 47 states that hosted an event (whether in person, online, or hybrid). We can’t wait to see how we can all come together this year to celebrate the class of 2022.

Si, Starr, Nia, Vicky, and Addy celebrated College Signing Day 2021 with us by sharing their commitments to Syracuse University, Rutgers University, University of Southern California, and University of Illinois, respectively. (Credit: DevinePhotography_ on Instagram)

To help get you started, we’ve created a brand new College Signing Day website and toolkit with the steps educators and communities can take to host their own College Signing Day events. We’ve made sure to include ways to celebrate in person, virtually, and on social media because we know that each community has been affected by the pandemic differently. Not only that, but we’ve created social media resources, in-person accessories, and more on our website. Sign up for our College Signing Day newsletter where you’ll get the first look at all of the new resources and be the first to know how we’ll be celebrating College Signing Day on the national level. Be sure to follow us on social media (@BetterMakeRoom on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok) and check out our #CollegeSigningDay Twitter hashtag for updates.

We are so excited to celebrate together, and we can’t wait to see all the ways that you do, too!

Counselor Corner

Lifting up Your Juniors’ “Dream” Lists

By: Bryan Contreras, vice president, Encoura

Bryan Contreras

Symbolically, springtime represents renewal and growth, as trees fill in, azaleas bloom, and grass grows lush across lawns. It also means that for many students their futures become clearer with their college decisions. Others may be realizing their path will be different than anticipated. If college is in their future, now is time for the class of 2022 to make their decisions and share the news.

At my former school district, we found a way to capitalize on the energy of the senior class’ College Signing Day to channel momentum into motivating the junior class.  So not only did this allow us to celebrate our seniors publicly, but also to be intentional with helping the juniors who were in the thick of their college planning cycle. We used the opportunity to communicate with families, faculty, and the administration about the college lists for each of our juniors. We found that this motivated students and their families, increased overall investment in the process, and enabled us to help students start early with college applications. We recognized that their lists could change but making the symbolic announcement ensured our juniors kept their eyes on the prize.

For our spring work with juniors, our first goal was to help them build a balanced, smart college list. We hear about “balanced lists” often. For our team a “balanced list” meant that if our students were to be admitted to all the colleges on their list, the student would be able to matriculate and succeed at any of those colleges. In other words, there should not be any surprises for students and families in spring of senior year. We developed a simple rubric that met the needs of our students which included:

  • Undermatch
    Identify and segment colleges into bands or categories based on admission rates
  • Personal Values
    Consider different types of colleges, including any special focus institutions like Hispanic Serving Institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges, women’s colleges and work colleges
  • Sense of Belonging
    Identify colleges that meet the social and emotional needs of our students
  • Completion & Success
    Research the six-year college completion rates for each school
  • Affordability
    Use historical financial aid letters to help us discuss affordability

With these five factors in mind, college counselors could structure their counseling conversations to help students and families learn to be more intentional when adding to or removing colleges from the student’s college application list.

Our second goal was to publicly acknowledge students’ recommitment to excellence and the hard work they invested in themselves. We called this college list building process a recommitment to excellence because this was truly going beyond their commitment to academics and other co-curriculars. Our college counseling team did several things to celebrate their recommitment to excellence.  Here’s how we socialized this: 

  1. college counselors crafted a letter to be sent home to parents and families. This letter asked students, families, and the college counselor to sign off on the list of colleges;
  2. students shared a copy of the letter with their academic advisors and/or school mentors; and
  3. the college counseling team shared a “shape of the class” college application dream list with ninth and 10th grade advisories. This was an aggregation of all “dream list” colleges for underclass students to view in their academic advisories.

No doubt, this took a lot of planning and time. We needed to be careful to balance our attention so that we didn’t lose sight of the seniors. However, we learned that if we invested heavily into our junior class, then the work with them during their senior year would not be as taxing. If you build a smart list with the right colleges, then students should have great options waiting for them. So, in theory, the decision-making phase requires less time from the college counselor. For most students, this was true.

Will this approach make sense for your team? As you explore the option remember that there are some things to consider.  For example, we served students in communities where college-going rates were historically low and where families experienced significant financial hardships. We needed to be intentional in helping our students find colleges that would be affordable and provide a sense of belonging, while also offering the support to ensure students would complete their degrees. 

With this approach, we found that our students completed all their applications on their list, early decision applications increased, students applied to colleges with stronger completion rates, and financial aid packages were returned earlier.

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