As a first-generation college student, I know first-hand what it means to feel absolutely lost in the college application process. When I decided to apply to become a CAC adviser, I did so knowing that I would be trained to be the exact person I needed when I was in the throes of the college application process. After being at my site for a few months, I quickly realized that my school didn’t have a specific process for how students receive college application information. Our 11th & 12th grade school counselor, Barbara Sneed, regularly posts important information and scholarship reminders on Google Classroom, but beyond that, we did not have an established system focusing solely on college access.
In mid-October during the height of FAFSA season, I was talking with my AppCAC Mentor, Lila Sheon, about the FAFSA completion system she and her colleagues at Mountain Heritage High School developed which had been very successful. As anyone knows, FAFSA completion has seen record lows this year, our school included, so I wanted to make sure that going forward we had an established FAFSA program. In this conversation, she shared her experiences with me on implementing the program in her high school, and I immediately knew that my school would greatly benefit from such an organized system. You can read Lila’s full perspectives post on A Year In The Life of FAFSA, here.
While I was brainstorming this collaboration, I thought about the great team we have at Swain with my Site Facilitator and School Counselor, Barbara Sneed, GearUp Coordinator, Taylor Dodge, Project Discovery Counselor, Erin Goodpaster, and Southwest Community College Career Adviser, Jodie Waldroup. In just the past 2020-2021 academic year we have been able to assemble this group of college access avengers unlike anything else in Western NC. So I got to thinking; How can we have a system like this for the entire college application process at Swain County High School? And so the College and Career Guide was born!
The basis of the College and Career Guide, is that everything a student would need for a successful college application or career planning process would be created through a series of guided assignments over the course of their Senior year. The mission of CAC is to increase the number of students entering and completing higher education and the College and Career Guide helps to further that mission. Born in the times of COVID-19 and stringent class scheduling, this guide will live in Google Classroom so that students may access it any time they need, and it does not interfere with an already jam packed Senior year. Below I will map out how this guide will work and the benefits of collaboration with my fellow College and Career Center advisers.
Preparing Devil Grads (Swain County HS are the Maroon Devils): Spring semester of Junior Year we will bring all rising Seniors to the C3, our College and Career Center, to have them create their FSA ID and password. Much like Lila says in her Perspectives post, this system ensures that every Senior has a recorded ID and Password and there is no confusion when it comes time to complete the FAFSA application in October.
In July, Seniors will receive an email welcoming them to Senior Year and preparing them for College and Career Guide (CCG) requirements.
In August, Devil Grads will meet with myself and the lovely C3 counselors. We will give them a general introduction to the C3 center, what each of us does respectively, and I will cover CCG expectations. One of the biggest challenges we have faced during the Covid-19 pandemic is lack of student engagement with material due to a plethora of factors. The C3 and CCG seeks to mitigate those challenges.
Throughout the rest of Fall semester, Devil Grads will log onto the CCG to watch a short video lesson on the material for that week. Some of these will also be videos that our SCC Career Adviser, Jodie Waldroup, made in her previous role. By including these videos, we hope to increase the amount of information students directly receive about SCC so that they are more comfortable asking questions and showing interest.
In the Fall, these lessons will include topics such as college list building, SCC special programs info, essay writing, resume writing, how to ask for a letter of recommendation, proper email etiquette (you would be surprised how many emails I get with no subject, introduction, greeting, or signature), effective job searching skills, interviewing 101, and scholarship applications.
In the Spring, these lessons will include topics such as Alternative Gap year options, creating a LinkedIn Profile and taking Professional Headshots, Job search tips & tricks, understanding Financial Aid packages, 1st year College/Career essentials, and how to transition from High School into Postsecondary endeavors
To incentivise students and create a positive association with the CCG, there will be a small prize that students can get for completing each assignment. At the end of the year, students will have a final score similar to a “grade” that they will be able to use to get a prize from various community donors and college/career readiness baskets during Senior Week! In addition, I will be checking in on students each week during their morning W.I.N (What I Need) period (think of homeroom) to make sure they are completing assignments and answer any questions they may have.
This process of having an idea, creating a deliverable product, and presenting it to school staff and receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback has been really exciting and fulfilling. The entire C3 and student services team is excited to collaborate together to create the best college access culture we can at Swain High. Additionally, the direct collaboration with my CAC mentor and colleague Lila helped as she has nearly fulfilled her role as a CAC adviser and provided insight in our discussions that aided in the CCG creation process. Looking forward, I am very excited to see the CCG come to life and help students as well as their families be better prepared for the college and career application process.
*Perspective written by adviser Madison Armstrong