University of Delaware

College application help

Delaware high school students receive free college application help


8:54 a.m., Nov. 7, 2013--All month long, high school students across Delaware will have help doing something many of them would not have dared: applying to college.

“This effort is primarily to work with students who need hands-on help applying or otherwise wouldn't apply,” said Lisa Moreland, associate policy specialist for the University of Delaware Institute for Public Administration (IPA).

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The Delaware Department of Education (DOE) has partnered with IPA to make the month-long initiative possible. It's part of the state's College Access Grant Challenge initiative and a national push to help more college-ready students apply.

The focus is on students who may be the first in their family to attend college and on those who never considered applying, though they have the grades and test scores to do so.

In Delaware, 18 percent of high schoolers deemed college-ready are not applying. Moreland and Shayna Payne, director of Delaware DOE's Higher Education Office, said the goal is to reduce that number to zero.

A weeklong pilot program at Lake Forest and Smyrna high schools last year demonstrated success. At Lake Forest, 184 students filled out 464 applications to 90 colleges and universities. At Smyrna, 226 students filled out 449 applications to 115 colleges and universities.

This year, the program has expanded to reach 20 schools. And in the future, IPA and the DOE would like to have all Delaware high schools participate.

“The best take away from student surveys and conversations was that they would not have applied if not for College Application Week,” said Moreland. “It made it worthwhile to us.”

This year, each participating school deemed a site coordinator to be the point person for the program. IPA is helping to recruit, train and coordinate volunteers who will spend anywhere from several days up to a week in each school helping students apply.

The project team from IPA includes faculty and professional staff, like Moreland's co-principal investigator, Kelly Sherretz, and IPA Director Jerome Lewis, as well as several graduate and undergraduate students.

Because high school students are often busy after school with extracurricular activities and part-time jobs, the volunteers work with the students during their computer classes.

Some students have already started the application process and continue to fill out their forms and write their essays during the event. Others begin exploring college for the first time.

Last year, IPA recruited 52 volunteers. This year, they hope to have 429 volunteers reaching more than 5,500 students. As of the first week of November, Payne said volunteer slots in 13 of the 20 schools were already filled.

“It's a big jump to go from two to 20 and have all the processes to ensure every school gets the support they need,” Payne said. “We wouldn't have been able to do it without the additional support from IPA.”

Volunteers come from the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Wilmington University, Delaware STEM Council, YMCA Black Achievers, Nemours Health and Prevention Services and many more educational and social organizations throughout the state.

Moreland said they will also go a step further and help the students set their PIN to apply for federal financial aid.

This spring, the DOE is working on a series of lectures designed to help students work out the logistics of paying for college once they have been accepted.

“The whole procedure can be daunting,” Moreland said.

The American Council on Education worked with IPA to put together a volunteer curriculum, a training webinar, a handbook and school-specific reference guides. The institute also created a survey to help Delaware DOE – administering the survey – understand more about the state’s students.

The University may be used as a model for the ACE's national efforts, Moreland said.

The state is hoping to learn more about what underlies decisions not to apply to college, said Payne. It's part of the state's short-term strategy to help more students pursue higher education. 

Ultimately, Delaware DOE wants to increase the number of students who enter 12th grade college-ready.

Among the data being collected are the number of seniors in the graduating class, the number of students who apply during College Application Month, the number of students reporting they would not otherwise apply and the numbers and names of the colleges to which students apply.

College Application Month is about more than just getting more students to apply. It's about helping Delaware's students prepare for jobs and educating Delaware's future workforce.

A report recently published by the Delaware DOE shows 59 percent of the First State's jobs will require a post-secondary degree by 2018. Meanwhile, only 37 percent of Delaware adults have a degree beyond a high school diploma.

For some students, the month-long event starts a dialogue between students and their parents or guardians, school staff or their peers.

For Moreland, the work is so much more than just helping students apply. It's also encouraging and helping students who may not otherwise get the support they need.

“Sometimes they don't know they would succeed,” she said. “It takes nudging someone and saying, ‘You would succeed, there is a college out there for you.’”

Article by Kelly April Tyrrell

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