In the landmark report, Potholes on the Road to College, Professor Melissa Roderick and her colleagues at the UChicago Consortium for School Research found that even students with the desire and qualifications to attend college are not supported enough during the planning and application process. They also found that many students who are part of families with low incomes who do enroll in college end up at schools that are below the level they are qualified to attend.
To better support students, particularly Black and Latinx young people who are historically underserved, NCS partners with counselors, College & Career Coaches, and other educators to develop robust college-going cultures. NCS Postsecondary Coaches also work with educators to create school environments responsive to young people's adolescent development and foster strong developmental relationships.
High school counselors are leaders in the school and play an essential role in students' academic performance, social-emotional development, and college readiness. Research, and our own experiences as leaders at high schools all across Chicago, tell us that prepared and focused counselors are vital to improving both the student experience in high schools and college success. Therefore, NCS supports counselors and postsecondary teams to lead this work in their schools.
Preparing All Students for College
NCS Postsecondary Coaches work with counselors and other educators to address common barriers in schools that keep students from achieving their postsecondary aspirations. The primary goals of this work are to:
- Develop college-going cultures: Counselors promote college as an accessible and achievable next step after graduation. Counselors work with students and their families to increase their knowledge about how and where to apply to match colleges and help them meet application deadlines. Counselors also coordinate with other school leaders to promote college-going school-wide. Such efforts range from the "splash" of college memorabilia in hallways to targeted conversations about postsecondary options in school team meetings and classrooms.
- Increase match applications to college: Counselors develop processes that help all students complete a minimum number of college applications, including more selective schools for high-achieving students. Counselors also support young people in applying to postsecondary options that match their academic qualifications and social, financial, and personal needs. This work is crucial for our Black, Indigenous, and Youth of Color who are underrepresented on college campuses.
- Complete student aid forms: Counselors implement systems to ensure all graduating students fill out the Federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Failure to fill out the FAFSA has often hindered students from being able to attend colleges to where they have been admitted.
- Choose a good college match: Counselors work with students and families to learn about their opportunities in the complex college environment, fully considering academic rigor, financial aid, and available on-campus supports. Students who attend colleges that "match" their academic, social, and financial needs are more likely to persist.
How We Work
NCS hosts the quarterly Counselor and Coach Collaborative, a professional learning community where more than 60 counselors from our partner schools engage in focused discussions on relevant topics and share lessons and questions with their peers at other schools. Counselors also review the latest research and data to create action plans to better support students.
A dedicated NCS Postsecondary Coach then meets with counselors at their schools, often several times a month, to listen to issues, dialogue on how the school is performing, and collaborate on options. The NCS Coach and counselor review the research on what works to improve student postsecondary outcomes and analyze data from the District and the school, like reports on which students have not yet filed the FAFSA. In addition, NCS helps counselors connect with other school teams, such as the Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) or Senior Leadership Team (SLT), to embed the counselor's perspective in all areas of student learning and school planning. Finally, NCS supports counselors in collecting student voice data to learn, directly from young people, how educators can improve the student experience and better support their postsecondary aspirations.
In addition, NCS Coaches help counselors to develop and sustain Postsecondary Leadership Teams that work collaboratively with teachers, administrators, and other school leaders. These teams establish strong college going-cultures in their schools so that all students feel confident and prepared to enroll in college. Postsecondary Leadership Teams engage a broad set of leaders—not just counselors—in improving college success. As a result, more assistant principals and teachers are attending the Counselor and Coach Collaborative than ever. As more educators deepen their engagement in postsecondary work, more students will benefit and succeed after graduating high school.