Janet Godwin, ACT CEO, recently said, “We are forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and what we’ve always done simply won’t serve us well—and it won’t serve students and workers well either.” This is just as true for the American College Application Campaign. Over the last year, we’ve watched our state campaigns pivot and adapt to ensure students still have the support and resources to successfully apply to college. While the past 12 months were not as we expected, our network of state coordinators continued to show up and demonstrate their ability to adapt and adjust to the demands of a challenging year.
To our state campaign coordinators, thank you. Thank you for reminding students, families, school leaders, and community champions that planning for the future must continue, no matter the uncertainty.
We also want to acknowledge and thank our hard-working school counselors who occupy the front line of every college application event. As we continue celebrating National School Counseling Week (#NSCW21) February 1-5, know that ACAC is “ALL IN” for school counselors because you make a difference and positively affect lives.
As I reflect on the 2020 campaign season, I am grateful that, since January 2019, ACAC has called ACT’s Center for Equity and Learning “home”. Though the national campaign has existed since 2011, operating within ACT has allowed ACAC to reach more communities and strengthened our toolbox of resources for state campaigns and those they serve. We are most excited about our deepening relationship with myOptions, a program of ACT | NRCCUA that provides counselors and educators the ability to connect with students and families to guide the college planning process with integrated exploration apps, progress monitoring and reporting, and college application management tools. ACT continues to show up for students at every stage of the learning journey, and this includes ensuring students are successful through the college application process.
ACAC is now integrated as a key component of ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning and remains rooted in our commitment to ensure every student has the opportunity to apply to college.
Lisa King, director
A Message from Federal Student Aid
There Is Still Time for Students to Complete their FAFSA®
Authored by: Fred Stennis and Isaiah Ellis, Federal Student Aid
Since the 2021-22 FAFSA® form became available on October 1, 2020, completion rates among high school seniors are down 12 percent compared to the same time last year. This means that students across the U.S. could miss the opportunity to take advantage of Federal grants, work-study funds, and loans to continue their education. Moreover, since some states distribute aid on a first-come, first-served basis, students may miss key deadlines for state and/or institutional aid by waiting to file the FAFSA® form.
FSA has made it easier than ever for students and families to access resources available on its digital platform at StudentAid.gov and the myStudentAid mobile app. In December, we added improved features to the myStudentAid mobile app, including the ability for students to complete the 2021–22 FAFSA® form directly in the app. It was important to give students, parents, and preparers an enhanced in-app FAFSA experience. You can read more on our FSA enhanced myStudentAid Mobile App here.
In addition, we've launched several new tools and improved others, like the Annual Student Loan Acknowledgment, Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Help Tool, and Loan Simulator. These resources are available through a computer, tablet, or mobile phone and include enhanced help topics that provide even more guidance through the FAFSA® form.
To see how many seniors at high schools across the country have filed a FAFSA® form, please visit FSA's data here. As high school counselors and college access professionals, please feel free to use the resources and tools provided on FSA's Financial Aid Toolkit webpage to assist in counseling students and parents in the Federal financial aid process and completing a FAFSA® form in the virtual environment. We also invite you to join the ACAC Network for a webinar on Understanding the 2020-21 FAFSA with Federal Student Aid on either February 10 or February 16, 2021. Register now – space is limited.
Student Spotlight: Jheanelle Johnson
#IApplied: Howard University Freshman Reflects on College Application Support
Authored by: Jheanelle Johnson, freshman, Howard University
This is the second ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning blog featuring current college students who participated in American College Application Campaign events last year.
I applied to college because it is an important step toward the future I hope to have for myself. I will be the first in my family to graduate, which is a tremendous achievement for me personally as I am making my family proud. On a professional note, college is my opportunity to expand out of my comfort zone and improve myself on both the academic and personal levels. College is life changing, as I get to spend every day investing in myself and my goals, gaining unforgettable experiences, and maintaining long-lasting relationships with other like-minded individuals. Honestly, I can’t picture a more fulfilling way to spend my next four years.
Read more on the blog.
Put On Your Oxygen Mask First, Then Help Others: Student Success Depends On It
Authored by: Bryan Contreras, vice president, myOptions®
As we transition into the winter months after an extraordinarily challenging year, this is the time for us to all take in a deep breath and focus on some self-care. By giving yourself the freedom to check your own mental and physical health, it serves as a springboard for you to do the same for those you lead and serve. January can truly lead us into a season of being more tired than we anticipated. So many are juggling a heavy load during this time: buttoning up “to do” items from the fall semester, implementing new initiatives, building plans for the remainder of the spring semester, starting fall planning for the next academic year, and, oh yeah, meeting the needs of our students. It can be a lot. February represents a time for us to slow down and conduct an “oxygen check” on our individual personal health and well-being.
One of the best tools you can place in your counselor toolkit is one of self-monitoring and self-care. In September 2020, Education Week shared an article by Peter DeWitt, "Educators, Don't Forget About Your Own Mental Health" which outlines not only the pandemic 's effect on student mental health, but also highlights the pandemic 's effects on us as educators, and how we can manage our own stress, anxiety, and fatigue. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation illustrates how teaching and counseling are very demanding jobs, but there are ways to mitigate the pressure of these roles. We know from research at Leeds Beckett University that our general well-being is directly connected to student progress and success. And experience tells us that students pick up on our stress, fatigue, and feelings of being overwhelmed. These are all normal things. But they can also be amplified in student counseling settings, and inadvertently hurt the students we seek to serve. Of course, this is furthest from what any of us want to happen.
Let me share a short personal story to illustrate the point. I experienced a very difficult period as a college counselor a few years back which has helped me bring into focus the true importance of self-care and well managed mental health. As I personally pushed through a series of traumatic losses personally, and my “work family” lost two students to unnatural causes in a matter of one month initially I didn 't realize how the situation was affecting me. Both of these beautiful young ladies were 20 years old at the time and had their entire lives in front of them, and their absence left a dramatic effect on our school community. My team was reeling. Our alumni community was deeply hurt. And so was I. It was at that point in my professional career that I truly started to realize that my counseling work at school could not be completely separated from my personal life, and vice versa. This meant I needed to be more deliberate with my self-care and work-life balance, and I also needed to help my team do same. Critical to our student success was our ability to “keep our oxygen masks on.”
Recently The 74 published an article titled "How My Chicago Collaborative Supports Social-Emotional Health of Students, Teachers & Families Amid Online Learning and COVID Stress," highlighting how critical it is that we remain mindful of students who suffer from chronic stress and trauma. The article points out how our students may be feeling “during times of uncertainty and disruption” and that “our students may feel a sense of loss, grief, anxiety, and depression.” The article also shines a light on the need for a collaborative approach to meeting the emerging needs of students and laying out a few simple steps for educators to embrace in prioritizing self-care:
- connect with other people;
- exercise regularly;
- make time to unwind;
- take breaks from the news; and
- separate what you can and can 't control.
I found the article useful in reminding me of the educator 's role in assisting students at this time while also giving me some clear guidance for how I can continue to wear my own oxygen mask.
Just as we can benefit from these reminders and guidance, so can students. To that end, myOptions provides a handful of micro articles that you can share with students to help them self monitor and self care. These articles are freely accessible to all, even without a myOptions student account:
Our work is tough. We are building our future communities and world, one student at a time. We must care for ourselves, so we are in a better position to serve and lead those around us. It is so easy to get caught up in the work. So, I want to take this moment to remind you - before you sprint into your next quarter of work, take the time to first put on your oxygen mask so you can help others with theirs.