Chapter 2
B. College Access, Planning and Finances

Equipping students with the cognitive and non-cognitive skills needed to succeed in college is only part of the college completion equation. Many young people simply do not know the steps that are necessary to make the transition from high school to college, even when they are academically prepared. The financial aspects of attending college can be daunting. Students need assistance identifying which colleges they might attend, which are a good match for their interests and abilities – often with a stretch school built in but not an impossible one – and how and when to apply to colleges.

Each community must support and expect that its schools and out-of-school programs help students set goals of going to college, and later develop the skills to navigate the logistical and financial responsibilities of attending college, beginning in the early middle grades Students should learn to use the U.S. Department of Education’s College Navigator database to research postsecondary institutions’ location, type, programs, and majors, and resources relating to financial aid, career exploration, and preparation for the college application process. School counselors are in a good position to address these challenges with students, as are programs sponsored by nonprofits, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs.

Students should also cast a wide net when looking at post-secondary education. A recent study shows that the majority of high-achieving students from low-income families do not apply to a selective college or university. This contrasts with the choices of students from high-income families, raising many questions because the subset of high-achieving, low-income students who do apply to selective institutions are just as likely to enroll and progress toward a degree as high-income students with equivalent test scores and grades. Also to be considered is the fact that very selective institutions not only offer students much richer instructional and extracurricular resources, they also offer high-achieving, low-income students so much financial aid that the students would often pay less to attend a selective institution than the far less selective or nonselective institutions that most of them do attend.1

Other steps can be taken as well. Communities can foster college awareness by supporting middle and high school students on college exploration trips. Successful college graduates can return to their community’s middle and high schools and inspire youth, offering a unique perspective on what preparedness for postsecondary education, work, and life means in concrete terms.

Communities can also obtain a deeper understanding of how well the education they provide stands up to modern needs by probing how well prepared their college graduates felt for postsecondary coursework, job applications, expectations in the workplace, and their own financial literacy. In addition, community members can work with local universities and community colleges to establish the college completion rates of students who graduated from different high schools in the community, as well as the percentage of high school graduates from the community who must take remediation courses during their freshmen year. (Some estimate that one-third of all college freshmen need remediation coursework.) Also determine the percentages of graduates from your community’s high schools who drop out of college by the end of their freshman or sophomore year. Assembling these facts will give you the tools to convince others of the challenges that exist in your community.

  1. Hoxby, C., & Avery, C. (2013). The missing “one-offs”: The hidden supply of high-achieving, low income students. NBER working paper number 18586. Retrieved April 22, 2013 from  

Deeper Look

For more resources regarding the Common Core State Standards Initiative visit:

For a power-point addressing how one school is implementing the standard see:

For the PTA Parents’ Guide on Common Core see:

CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, provides further information and resources regarding SEL, why it matters and how communities can begin to implement. See the CASEL website,

According to the 2012 National Survey of School Counselors. “There is a growing national movement to better utilize school counselors and with changes in policy and practice, counselors can emerge as invaluable resources in our nation’s school to boost college and career readiness at a time of fiscal constraint.” For further information on the role of school counselors and college access see the 2011 and

2012 National Survey of School Counselors. Additional resources (including tools to support each of 8 components for a school counseling program that supports students’ college success) are available at the National Office of School Counselor Advocacy (NOSCA) of the College Board.

2011 National Survey of School Counselors: Counseling at a Crossroads.

2012 National Survey of School Counselors True North: Charting The Course To College and Career Readiness. office-school-counselor-advocacy-nosca 

To read about one example of how counselors are instrumental in one district’s college affordability initiatives see: Yonkers Public Schools, Yonkers, New York: Increasing Scholarship Dollars

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