Every student should have the option of becoming a two- or four-year college graduate with minimal debt, and as a counselor, it’s your job to create a college-going culture that encourages postsecondary planning. Here are a few tips for how to get your students excited about college, even from an early age.
#1: Promote AP program/dual enrollment
Depending on the size of your school, the Advanced Placement program can be your biggest influence on your college-going culture. These teachers can be instrumental in motivating students towards college. The college credit students can earn through these courses also gives them a foot in the door and encouragement they may not otherwise have. Advertise the benefits of AP courses and exam dates through parent nights and classroom visits. Encourage students to sign up for at least one AP class their junior and senior year. Provide resources on scholarships and ways to pay the exam fees. Making the AP program a prominent presence in your school can have a positive impact on your college-going numbers.
#2: Admission rep visits
Representatives from area colleges visiting your school creates buzz and is another great way to encourage college with students. Some schools use the lunch hour for these visits, while others let students leave class. Either way, make it easy for students to sign up and attend these events.
College reps will call to schedule appointments. These phone calls are important to start developing relationships. As a counselor, establish personal relationships with admissions reps so they want to return yearly. Greet them at the door, provide a bottle of water and make sure your programs are efficient in moving students from classrooms to the event. This maximizes the time your students have to ask questions and learn from the reps.
#3: Organize a college/career fair
Choose a Saturday or Sunday to host a college and career fair. Invite regional two- and four-year colleges as well as local businesses and organizations (military, apprenticeship, local law enforcement, etc.). The more different kinds of representatives you invite, the more likely it is that ALL your students will be interested in going. Add other reasons for students and parents to attend–babysitting, food, music, ACT/SAT experts, breakout sessions, graduation cap/gown ordering, and a content session delivered by you can add value to the event.
#4: Make May 1 special
May 1 is National Notification Day, the deadline by which seniors must decide on their college. This is a great opportunity to celebrate your students’ achievements and create buzz with younger students. Make it fun by employing strategies like:
- Have seniors wear their college t-shirts and take a group picture to send to college reps and your local newspaper.
- Ask local admissions reps to come for the lunch hour and set up a “mini college fair.” There, they can meet with the seniors who are coming to their school, as well as prospective applicants from lower grade levels.
- Play college fight songs during passing periods.
- Host a college trivia contest during advisory or homeroom periods.
- Encourage teachers to wear their alma mater’s t-shirt and talk to their students about their college memories.
#5: Create a visual presence
Students should see visual reminders of the college-going culture at your school all year round. Create large banners promoting upcoming ACT and SAT testing deadlines and post them around the building. Set up “trophy cases” for recognition of academic achievements. Use bulletin boards to display college news and announcements. When students get accepted to a college, post their acceptance letters on a congratulatory display. When they select a college to attend, display that college’s pennant.
When in doubt, overestimate the influence college culture will have on your student’s outcomes. All members of your staff are key players: teachers, department heads, administrators, coaches, and more. Elementary and middle school teachers are also instrumental in setting the tone for student success before they ever set foot in the high school building. Partner with middle school staff to align on strategies and embed a college-going culture early in students’ educational careers. College culture benefits the entire district, builds success at every level, and leads to significant leaps in test scores, academic achievements and percent of students attending college.