Strengthening a college-going atmosphere
There are countless ways to create an atmosphere in your school that promotes going to college for all your students. We gathered some ideas to do just that with the wonderful help of college and career counselors Jamie Shady (Harding High School) and Rebecca Schmitz (Washington Technology Magnet) who presented on the topic at the fall MACAC College Counseling Institute.
You don’t need to go the whole nine yards if you’re starting from scratch. Try creating a visual display in a hallway near the college center or counseling office or in a high traffic area. Here are a few examples of what you could display:
- College pennants (Some may have paper pennants available, which are less expensive.)
- College poster
- Photos of students holding acceptance letter (or the name of school they got into)
- Photo gallery of where seniors decided to go (not just those graduating at the top of the class)
- Calendar of important test dates, financial aid deadlines and common application timelines
- Posters about upcoming events or test dates in hallways, the library, the cafeteria and even bathrooms
Next, sing it from the hilltops! Tap into your school announcements for reminders about deadlines, events and other college-going tidbits. Look into adding something to the daily morning announcements, your school’s TV monitors (if you have them), the home page of your school’s website or any email that goes out to families. Check if you can include a college-going message at prep rallies, homecoming, spirit days, etc.
And don’t forget to make a regular appearance in students’ homerooms. This can be a good time to share broad college-going messages.
Recruit school staff to the cause
Teachers and staff can be great college ambassadors, since many of them will have gone to college themselves. One of the easiest ways to do this is to encourage them wear college gear from their alma maters on a specific day of each week. Another option would be to create a staff photo gallery or a map in a hallway showing where they went to college. You could even invite staff to share their favorite college experience — either in person during a meeting with students or on a hall display.
Don’t forget to enlist teachers!
Talk with them to find ways to incorporate a college-going message and exercises into their curriculum. (For example, you could ask an English teacher to add college essay writing as an assignment in their class.) You may even want to offer teachers a training workshop on how to write effective recommendation letters for their students.
Keep everyone informed
As you know, information and details about college are ever changing. Make sure staff and teachers are up to speed about admissions and graduation requirements, entrance exams and other college topics. You could do this by holding a workshop for staff or via a paper or electronic newsletter.
Add technology to the mix
There’s no escaping it: Technology makes it easier to reach people but also harder to grab their attention — especially students. Start by bookmarking college-related websites on all computers in your labs, including those for your local colleges.
Next, consider using outside technology resources to help you break through the noise. Here are a few examples:
- Remind is a free tool that allows you reach students and parents via email or text — while keeping that contact information private.
- Edmodo is a private social networking-like platform that use can used to connect with students as well as parents.
- Schoology offers a full suite learning management tools and allows you communicate with students via a private social networking-like platform only available to your students and/or parents.
Also consider reserving computer labs after school, in the evening, during parent conferences or as part of other event near and around FAFSA and college application deadlines. If possible, have someone on hand to offer assistance to student and parents who have questions.
Create opportunities for engagement
While technology is a handy communications tool, nothing really takes the place of face-to-face interaction with families. Below are a few ideas to get you started.
In the cafeteria over lunch:
- Have a college Q&A table if student have questions
- Have information sessions with admissions reps
- Have informal workshops on different parts of the college process (These would be good to repeat in the evening for parents.)
Take advantage of other scheduled events:
- Have a table with college-planning information at freshmen orientation
- Arrange groups visits during Minnesota Private College Week
- Pay for a bus to National College Fair. (A transportation grant may be available if your school has high populations of diverse, first generation, or economically disadvantaged students.)
Organize your own events:
- Offer a college fair at your school or host a Minnesota Education Fair.
- Host Minnesota College Goal workshop at your school to assist families with the financial aid process.
- Offer SAT/ACT prep workshops during the school day.
Include student and parent voices into the mix:
- Have soon-to-be graduating seniors mentor and share what they learned with lower classmen on the college planning process
- Invite high school graduates who recently graduated from college back to share their experiences. (You could also create a directory of your high school grads and where they attended college.)
- Invite parents of these recent college grads to share what they learned.
Boosting the college-going atmosphere at your school doesn’t have to be an onerous or overwhelming task. And remember that you’re not alone: reach out to other counselors to find out what they’re doing and what’s working.