As teachers, high-school counselors, and administrators, how can you help your students with college readiness? Well, it really takes a village to create a college-bound culture, setting high expectations for all students that college doesn’t have to be a distant dream. Today, every single student deserves a life of options rather than limitations. It is possible to turn what some call idealism into reality.
Moving in the Right Direction
Overall, as a nation, there has been a tremendous shift in a focus on a college-going culture and success for seniors, according to Dr. Ashley Johnson (Detroit College Access Network). As a panel participant at our recent Parchment Connect Virtual 2021, she explained that getting in front of earlier grades, rather than waiting until senior year, is the issue. However, only a limited number of schools are getting it right, she says. So, there’s lots of room to grow.
Advice from the Experts
We consolidated advice from Ashley and her Connect 2021 co-panelists Ariana Wilson (Director of Pre-College Programs at Tufts University) and Joe Almazan (Director of Admissions and Attendance at United ISD) to compile these tips to help you become more college-focused at your school.
To bring you the best possible tips, we’ve also sourced helpful information from the College Board nonprofit organization, as well as, Barbara Schneider, a John A. Hannah Chair University Distinguished Professor in the College of Education and Department of Sociology at Michigan State University. (See below for links to all resources.)
- Set high expectations for ALL students. Help your students see college as the norm. Your job is to raise them up and provide opportunities where students can see themselves as college-worthy. Challenge the existence of low-level and unchallenging courses, and debunk negative myths about who can and cannot achieve success in rigorous courses. Eliminate those assumptions we sometimes make about specific groups. All students should be encouraged to have aspirations regardless of living environment or academic grades.
- Start college-related conversations early. College-bound convos are opportunity convos. The more impressionable kids are at a young age, the more they are receptive to the idea that they can do or be anything. By the time students are middle schoolers, labels are starting to be placed on them. So, they may shift their mindset and change perceptions of their potential. Start the narrative early and keep it going to help young learners understand they are college material.
- Actively work to remove barriers to learning. Just graduating high school is a challenge for many, including low achievers, middle-to-low-income levels, under-represented minorities, disabled youth, and families with no college history. They face college-planning obstacles like social and language barriers, less access to information and guidance, less access to the Internet, lack of awareness of available financial help, and less exploration because of low expectations. So, embrace social, cultural, and varied learning styles when developing the college-bound environment and activities at your school.
- Provide much-needed information and resources in a variety of ways. There are a wide range of high-quality, college-prep tools available for students and families (Did someone say College Tools?). Get colleges to speak and offer services, so students (including freshmen) can get to know the institutions and recruiters. Hold virtual fairs to explore universities, and educate both students and families about resources like financial aid and scholarships. Help them become self-sufficient and self-advocating. And be sure to connect studies and college with workforce opportunities.
- Work collaboratively with all school personnel. Offer adequate training and support for teachers and staff that promotes high expectations and standards for all students. Involve leaders at all levels of your school in establishing policies, programs, and practices. Maintain sufficient financial and human resources to execute programs. And last, assess regularly to determine effectiveness.
- Be intentional. The day-to-day operations of schooling swallows up well-meaning teachers, counselors, and staff if they aren’t intentionally setting things up at day one and making it part of the ongoing culture to embed a college-going, student-ownership mentality. Help students see college as the norm. Focus on their GPAs, plan around career exploration, and provide tutoring for SATs.
Every student needs to understand that post-secondary learning can be a possibility. We must empower them to embrace college, enabling them to expand their learning horizons and open up new opportunities for the rest of their lives. There’s never been a better time to nurture a college-bound culture. The future starts now.
There’s always more to learn.