Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Every Student Finds a College in Five Days

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

It’s hard to pick one month out of the year where high school counselors are most busy, but I think I would nominate October.  With schedule changes almost done (are they ever really done?), counselors have to gear up for the PSAT and statewide testing, and support the endless number of college applications their seniors are submitting. With all that going on, it doesn’t quite seem right to suggest one more October activity to fill your plate…

…but here goes. College Application Week started as a small but mighty idea in North Carolina.  The premise was simple: take one week in late fall to focus all of the counseling office’s efforts to make sure every high school senior applied to at least one college. Some students would certainly apply to college before College Application Week, and many would apply to more than one college; the activities and events held during the week are designed to support students who haven’t applied to college by early November, and to help them find a college match.

It didn’t take long for this idea to expand, both in scope and in breadth.  Counselors quickly realized getting every student to apply to college by the end of CAW would require more computers than the one (if there is even one) in the counseling office, and many students might need help navigating an online application.  In addition, it would probably help to offer seminars and activities to get seniors thinking about college choices before the actual week started; that would give them time to investigate different colleges and use their time during CAW to make strong, personalized college choices.

Now in its ninth year, College Application Week has burst out of counseling offices, and overtakes entire schools for a full five days.  Teachers wear sweatshirts and other gear with the name of their college proudly displayed, and most take five minutes out of every class period to talk about their college experience.  Many teachers also put up a bulletin board or door display where students can post a Success message once they’ve applied, while volunteers from local colleges and the PTA work with students in computer labs to complete the college applications.  And if you think this inspires the seniors, just think how this celebration of college impacts the juniors—and the freshmen.

CAW has also inspires principals in important ways, as the energy of the week leads them to ask, “So does this program make a difference?”  This has led to principal-led efforts to keep better track of the colleges students apply to; where they are admitted; where they attend; how they do once they’re in college, and if they complete a degree.  This kind of data helps counselors and teachers evaluate one aspect of the school’s mission, and provides clues for improving college readiness and completion.

And yes, the program does make a difference.  The first CAW in 2005 supported the college goals of one North Carolina high school.  In 2011, over 25,000 North Carolina students submitted over 68,000 college applications, and CAW programs are being initiated or in full swing in 39 states, each one serving the needs of all students, but especially those who are convinced college isn’t for them.

You may be too swamped this October to put together a College Application Week of your own, but put it on your spring calendar as an idea to investigate and implement next year.  Information on CAW can be found at, and it can change your students’ lives forever.

Plus, it might even get you out of schedule changes.

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