College Access and Success Educational Equity

Three Ways Counselors Can Improve College Access

by By Melissa Fries

Photo of Melissa Fries speaking on a podium

College access and college success are equally essential ingredients in improving the college graduation rate for low-income students. At CAP, we specialize in college success (i.e. supporting students in graduating from college). Last month we talked with college counselors about setting students up for college success at the Making Waves Foundation’s College Counselor Symposium. The symposium brought together more than 60 community partners to share best practices for supporting low-income students in college access and success.

Here are three key takeaways from the event.

  1. Provide emotional support as well as a decision-making framework for college decisions.

Think back to the last time you made a big life decision—did you consult a partner, friend, or family member? It’s hard for anyone—let alone young people—to make important decisions without emotional support. Yet many students making a college decision (especially those who are the first in their family to attend) may not have anyone at home familiar with the process to consult. College counselors can help students access their values, aspirations, and talents to select the right college for these individual characteristics. CAP helps students consider the academic, social and emotion fit so the decision is balanced and sustainable. We coach students through college, so they can earn their degrees as quickly and with as little debt as possible. Coaching is an emotional partnership that develops self-awareness, encourages action, and inspires follow-through.

  1. Change the way we message community college.

How often have you heard the word “just” paired with “community college”? Despite this negative rap, it’s an excellent option for many students. As such, we need to create a culture of choice around community college attendance and position it as a first choice instead of a last resort. College counselors can help students evaluate community college “fit,” the same way they do for four-year schools. And, college counselors can prepare students to succeed in community colleges by helping them prepare for math and English placement exams.

  1. Demystify financial aid and budgeting.

Come senior year, students and parents have many financial obstacles to tackle in addition to testing and college applications. These include filling out FAFSA forms, interpreting financial aid award letters, and making a budget for the one large check that comes from a campus financial aid office. But to many parents and students, financial jargon is akin to a foreign language. College counselors can provide support by hosting workshops that help parents and students communicate with each other about the myriad financial decisions to be made.

Melissa Fries is Executive Director of CAP.