In the landmark report, Potholes on the Road to College, Professor Melissa Roderick and her colleagues at the UChicago Consortium found that even students with the desire and qualifications to attend college often struggle through the planning and application process. They also found that many low-income students who do enroll in college end up at schools that are below the level they are qualified to attend.
To help prepare all students at NCS schools to apply to college and succeed once they get there—and to help students find the best match for their qualifications—we work with our partner schools to build strong college-going cultures.
High school counselors are leaders in the school and play an important role in students’ academic performance, social-emotional development, and college readiness. In reports, like Poised to Lead by the Education Trust, and our own experiences as leaders at high schools all across Chicago, it’s clear that prepared, focused counselors are key to creating schools that are platforms for college success. NCS supports counselors to lead this work in their schools.
Preparing All Students for College
NCS Postsecondary Coaches work with school counselors to address common barriers that keep students from considering, applying to, and enrolling in college. The key components 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 college and help them meet deadlines throughout the process. Counselors also coordinate with other school leaders to promote college-going school-wide. This ranges from the “splash” of college memorabilia in hallways to targeted conversations during school team meetings and professional development days.
Increase college applications: Counselors develop procedures so all students complete a minimum number of college applications, including more selective schools for high-achieving students.
Complete student aid forms: Counselors put systems in place to ensure all graduating students fill out the Federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) paperwork. Failure to fill out the FAFSA has kept many low-income students from being able to attend colleges where they have been admitted.
- Choose a good match for college: Counselors work with students and families to become knowledgeable about their opportunities in the complex college environment, with full consideration of factors such as 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.
This focus pays dividends. In 2016, for example, 94% of students in NCS schools applied to at least one college. 88% applied to three or more colleges, which is important because submitting applications to more than one college increases the likelihood of being accepted. For the past four years, NCS schools have averaged a college enrollment rate at least 8 percentage points higher than the District.
How We Work
Each month, NCS hosts a Counselor and Coach Collaborative, a professional learning community where more than 60 counselors from our partner schools engage in focused discussions on key 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, engage in a 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 a FAFSA. In addition, NCS helps counselors connect with other school teams, such as the Instructional Leadership Team or Senior Leadership Team, to embed the counselor perspective in all areas of student learning and school planning.
This year, NCS Coaches are supporting counselors to develop and sustain Postsecondary Leadership Teams that work collaboratively with teachers, administrators, and other school leaders. These teams develop 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—on improving college success. In fact, more assistant principals and teachers are attending the Counselor and Coach Collaborative than ever before. As more educators become involved in the postsecondary work, more students will benefit and succeed.