The 2021-22 college application season is here and ACAC is ready to provide the knowledge and guidance needed for juniors and seniors to successfully navigate the college admissions process. While it’s too early to know the full effect of the pandemic on students’ access to higher education, the information currently available suggests it has disproportionately affected students who are systemically underserved including Latinx, Black, and Native American students, those who will be the first in their family to attend college, and those from rural communities. For the Class of 2020, fewer enrolled in college, and fewer members of the Class of 2021 applied.
The support we provide the Class of 2022 is critical and urgent. ACAC has a number of activities and resources for school districts, community organizations, and individuals to get engaged and remove barriers preventing students from successfully applying to college.
- For high schools that are unfamiliar, ACAC is hosting a webinar on Thursday, August 12 at 4:00 p.m., ET to introduce the campaign, review host site expectations, and discuss how to adjust for possible in-person limitations. If there is a high school in your county or neighboring community that hasn’t joined the state and national campaign efforts, please share the opportunity with them.
- Join ACAC on Friday, September 17 for the fifth annual #WhyApply Everyone is encouraged to head to their favorite social media channels to answer the question, “Why apply to college?” #WhyApply Day celebrates the college application season by sharing supportive and motivating messages on social media about the importance of applying to college. Whether applying to a certificate program, two-year college, or four-year university, it’s important to celebrate this critical and necessary step on the journey to life-long learning and career success. Check out our digital toolkit to learn more about participating.
- Ready to register as a host site? Fill out the national registration form and we will connect you with your state application campaign.
- We are seeking current college student and recent college graduate voices to share on social media and blogs. Please give this short questionnaire to current college students and/or college graduates in your network who may be willing to share college advice with high school students.
Enjoy the final days of summer. We look forward to helping you better serve the Class of 2022!
Lisa King, director
State Spotlight on Virginia: Increasing Schoolwide Excitement and Celebrations in Your Campaign
By: Erin McGrath, ACAC state coordinator for Virginia, State Council for Higher Education of Virginia
Last month, four ACAC state coordinators presented a session at the annual conference of the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP). The goal was to highlight best practices for encouraging school-wide involvement in college application campaigns, with a particular focus on helping GEAR UP professionals build a roadmap that begins preparing students in sixth grade for their application event in 12th grade. In prior newsletters and on our website, we’ve shared resources for engaging middle school students, and we’ve delved into the topic of fit and match. We haven’t spent as much time talking about engaging younger high school students, so we asked Erin McGrath to reprise her part of the NCCEP for you – and to share how some Virginia high schools are doing just that.
Can you briefly describe the various programs that are part of Virginia’s 1-2-3 Go! Initiative?
In Virginia, our statewide college access campaign includes:
1) College Nights in Virginia – ECMC’s College Nights workshops give students and families information on best fit, planning, and paying for college.
2) Virginia College Application Week – Virginia’s college application campaign, where participating students are encouraged to submit at least one college application. Select public high schools across the state coordinate a week of activities that provide hands-on college application assistance and resources, including application fee waivers and support from postsecondary institutions.
3) Super FAFSA Project – State Council of Higher Education of Virginia (SCHEV) and ECMC partner with select Virginia public high schools to host events where seniors and their families receive hands-on assistance completing the FAFSA.
Go!) Decision Day VA – Through celebrations and recognitions, high schools and college access organizations support students in making final decisions and remind them of next steps to enrollment.
In the NCCEP presentation, you talked about the importance of rites of passage. Can you tell our readers how that relates to college application completion events?
A rite of passage is a ritual one goes through to move on to the next stage of life. A rite of passage many may be familiar with is when the junior class plans, organizes and decorates the venue for the prom. Similarly, younger classes can assist in planning, organizing, and decorating for a college application campaign. We used this concept to introduce younger high schoolers to the 1-2-3 Go! campaign. The GEAR UP cohort entered high school buildings in 2017, and we asked our site-based GEAR UP coordinators to begin involving GEAR UP students in some capacity. But what do students do if they’re not old enough to apply?
Site coordinators in King & Queen County’s Central high school began by asking GEAR UP students to assist with door decorating during Virginia College Application Week. That practice grew, and soon many ninth and tenth grade GEAR UP students were assisting in various aspects of each of our campaign’s events.
It's clear that there are benefits for ninth and tenth grade students who help to plan events for their older peers. What are the benefits for site coordinators who include these younger students in this process?
Each campaign requires some effort to plan and implement. Consider how you can leverage your freshman and sophomore classes to share the work involved to implement successful events and begin a school-wide tradition around your college application campaign. Freshmen and sophomores can help with the following:
- Spreading the word
- From fliers to texts to announcements to social media, your younger students can communicate the importance of your college application campaign in a very effective way. They already know what words and phrases will catch attention. They are TikTok and SnapChat content creators. They have a strong emoji game. Under your watchful eye, your outreach may improve vastly with the help of ninth and tenth graders.
- Securing donations
- Freshmen and sophomores can work with local businesses and use their connections to secure raffle prizes for events.
- Setting up, decorating, and taking down
- Similar to junior planning the senior prom, younger students will take pride in the “look” of these events, as they know in the future others will be doing the same for them. In Virginia, ninth and tenth graders particularly enjoy door decorating, especially when there is a prize at stake.
There are two key components of ACAC events – that students receive the support they need to complete their applications and that they are celebrated for their accomplishments. In what ways does inviting younger high school studentsto participate in planning their schools’ events contribute to these goals?
Recruiting these students lightens the workload of site coordinators. These younger students can improve the outreach, the participation, and the look of your events. Freshmen and sophomores can cheer on the senior class while picturing themselves in those 12th grader’s shoes someday.
By the time students reach their senior year they will have experienced the college application campaign for multiple years and added to the school’s college-going culture. They will reach their goal after helping classes before them do the same. Now that’s cause for celebration!
What advice do you have for site coordinators who want to begin including students in the planning for this fall’s campaign?
Start small. Find a group of young artists, makers, and influencers. Find your younger students that already feel a connection to a college. Invite them to planning meetings and create a countdown calendar for them. Suggest implementation ideas that have worked in the past but expect that they will improve on them!
They will create excitement for the event that will inspire their classmates to join in – and motivate future classes to do the same.
Taking a Look at Public Transit and Community College Access
By: Ellie Bruecker, senior research associate, Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation
This article previously appeared on ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning blog. We share it here to raise awareness about an accessibility issue that is often overlooked but is critical to consider when counseling students about their options for education beyond high school.
Are community colleges accessible by public transit? Does a student need to own a car to attend community college? Transit infrastructure is a critical component of community college access and affordability, but the absence of national survey data and analysis has hampered coordinated support for students. The Seldin/HaringSmith Foundation (SHSF) Public Transit Map offers a first look at transportation accessibility at America’s community and technical colleges. Our team has produced a national analysis of transit accessibility at community and technical colleges. The (in)accessibility of community colleges via public transportation is a key equity issue that cuts across transit, workforce development, and higher education.
Are community colleges transit accessible?
Our analysis found that 57 percent of community and technical college main campuses have a transit stop within walking distance. Nearly half of these colleges have transit stops within 0.2 miles, often transit that stops right on campus. But for 37 percent of community colleges, the nearest transit stop is more than 1 mile away, including approximately 250 institutions located in areas with no existing public transit infrastructure.
Our team identified 354 institutions with a transit stop between 0.5 mile and 4.5 miles away from campus. In some cases, improvements would require extending an existing bus line; other schools would only require a slight route adjustment of a bus line to provide close access. In some situations, where the only nearby transportation is a rail station, a shuttle service could close the gap. The opportunity to expand transit accessibility at these 345 colleges is distributed throughout most of the country, and across all types of American communities. There are more target institutions in sparsely populated areas, but schools in denser areas tend to accommodate more students.
Why is transit accessibility critical for community college students?
Community college faculty often note that their students are “one flat tire away from dropping out.” Strong and multi-faceted transit solutions can keep students on the path to graduation. Instead of being “one flat tire away from dropping out,” students should be “one transit stop away from enrolling and graduating.”
Why is public transportation accessibility to community colleges an equity issue?
Read the answer to this and other questions on the blog.
What Does Test Optional Really Mean for Students?
By: Bryan Contreras, vice president, myOptions®
As college counselors we sit in a special position to shepherd students through a mass of information and to navigate jumbled processes, so they submit carefully crafted and complete college applications on time. Word choice in this opening sentence comes with purpose: shepherd, information, processes, carefully, crafted, complete, and on time. In previous articles, I covered the importance of a student’s intentionality in their approach to the entire college application process. Being intentional can lead to the successful completion of a college degree or other higher education credential. Our college counseling community will again be asked to iron out another wrinkle of confusion for students in this process: What does “test optional” mean for me?
While we do not control admissions requirements such as the use of the ACT or SAT for admissions consideration, we do control how to help students shape a balanced college list that accounts for college or university requirements regarding these standardized tests. Helping a student reflect on their individual needs and then align their finalized college list based on these needs gives a student more control on whether the ACT or SAT will indeed be optional for them. As with all things under the “college counseling sun,” there are some shaded areas that limit our line of sight and a careful review of a student’s college application list is critical.
So, how common is it for a college or university to fall into the “test optional” category? According to data cited in a recent article published through INSIDE HIGHER ED, it is estimated that approximately 1,500 colleges will not require students to submit test scores for admissions consideration for fall 2022. This represents about 65 percent of all four-year nonprofit colleges. Starting last summer our colleagues at NCAN started to help us understand what this means for our students. With a closer eye, we can distill the various ways that standardized tests are used by colleges beyond an admissions decision. We will get to that in a minute, but first some definitions.
Students need to consider that colleges fall into four categories:
Test Optional is when a college or university does not require students to submit ACT or SAT test scores to be admitted. If students do submit scores to a test optional institution, the scores will be considered.
Test Blind is when a college or university does not look at or consider students’ scores for the purpose of the admission decision. Some test blind schools still use the test data for scholarships, course placement, and advising.
Test Flexible is when a college or university has a longer list of assessments deemed acceptable for use. In addition to the ACT or SAT, test flexible institutions may accept AP, IB, or other standardized test scores.
Test Required is when a college or university requires students to submit ACT or SAT test scores to be considered for admission.
Given the number of colleges, and the fact that admissions requirements are specific to each college and even more specific to individual departments at said colleges, trying to keep up with it all makes it easy for us to lose sight of our primary function to help students build college lists based on their needs, and not a college list based solely on the use of standardized test scores. And, while we guide students towards their final college list, we also need to bear in mind that some colleges use standardized test scores for first-year course placement, remedial courses (non-credit bearing), retention programs, and awarding merit-based aid and scholarships. To that end here are a few questions students should ask as they consider colleges:
- How much weight is given to my GPA for admissions purposes?
- How much weight is given to the strength of my high school course load? And types of classes I have taken?
- How important are my personal statements (essays)?
- Is demonstrated interest part of the admission process? If yes, how is that measured?
- Does it help me if I visit campus more than once and meet various departments?
- Does a visit to your admissions office play a critical role in admissions?
- Does virtually visiting campus or with an admissions counselor play a role in admissions?
- Will I be assigned an admissions counselor to help me navigate the process?
- How are co-curricular activities and experiences helpful in admissions decision?
- If I work, and do not have many co-curricular activities, how do I share this? Will this negatively affect my chances?
A student has a right to decide whether they need a standardized test score to help tell their full academic story and whether this will help a college see beyond their GPA or other components of their application. I once helped a student apply to Santa Clara University who had low grades in the first two years of high school. She turned it around in 11th grade and then focused on her prep for the ACT. She knew that she would need another “data point” to tell a more complete academic picture. Beyond my individual counseling with this student, I spent a lot of time building strong relationships with her coach and teachers- we knew her grades did not reflect her potential. Including the strength of her ACT score in her list of attributes, we built a college list based on her complete profile, and she worked to carefully to craft applications geared towards a specific set of colleges. She was admitted to Santa Clara University and completed her degree on time.
Our approach should always start with each individual student’s needs, not the college’s test requirements. Standardized test scores can be part of the student journey, but they do not have to be. And a decision to sit for the ACT or SAT is part of a longer conversation with a student, not a decision to be made at a point in time.