Tips and Tricks to Ace the Fall ACT

Tips and Tricks to Ace the Fall ACT

As the school year approaches, standardized testing might be the last thing on your mind. You are worried about getting new school supplies, finding your classes for the coming year and hurrying to finish up the rest of your summer reading. You’re probably not thinking too much about how to prepare for the ACT test you’re signed up to take in the fall.

Regardless of your age (if you are an underclassman, a junior or a senior), the fall ACT test is an important milestone for you as you plan for your postsecondary journey. If you are a senior, this is likely the last time you can take the test before you begin sending off your college applications in the late fall and winter. Juniors and underclassmen, the fall is the perfect time to see where you stand in terms of your standardized test score; it gives you an idea of the areas on which you need to focus, and gives you ample time to take the appropriate measures necessary to achieve the score you want prior to the next test.

But we know that sometimes, as much as you prepare for your test beforehand (whether on your own or through some of our College Now afterschool test prep programs), you still get nervous when it’ time to take the test – and that’s okay! Here are some tips and tricks from our impACT team for ways to quickly prepare for the test. impACT is an after-school program that focuses on ACT preparation, which makes them great sources of wisdom for you.

  1. Relax the night before the test. Studying last minute may cloud what you already know.
  2. Remember that the ACT is, on the most basic level, an open-book test: everything you need to know and look for is going to be in your test booklet (English and math seem to be the exceptions though because there are concepts, rules, and equations that must be known. Make sure you start reviewing those now.).
  3. Eat breakfast before the test – it will be hard to concentrate on an empty stomach.
  4. If you’re running out of time to answer questions, we suggest guessing on what can’t be thoughtfully answered. Incorrect answers do not count against you; answers left blank can hurt because it could have been a potential correct answer if guessed.
  5. Write in the test booklet (underline words, draw math equations, draw graphs for science, etc.) to help understand what is being said or written.

Now, each different section of the ACT test has its own specific set of tips and tricks that you should remember when taking the test:

If you want further help in preparing for the ACT, seek out your College Now Advisor or consider joining one of our afterschool or other community based programs. You’ll be surprised how much a few weeks of preparation can help you on the test and, with the tips and tricks above, you’ll be able to walk into your test feeling confident and prepared. Good luck!

Not registered for the fall ACT test? While it’s too late to sign up now, check out the list of upcoming test dates and register for the next test!

AmeriCorps College Guides and Career Coaches Program Currently Recruiting for 2017-2018 School Year – Apply Today!

AmeriCorps College Guides and Career Coaches Program Currently Recruiting for 2017-2018 School Year – Apply Today!

Figuring out how to prepare for and access a postsecondary credential isn’t easy, even for students who have family, friends or school supports in place to do so. For students without those helpful factors, the process is even more daunting – and can seem impossible. At College Now, we have advisors in high schools throughout Northeast Ohio who help high school students with the college-going process. However, these advisors cannot do it alone. Many high schools we serve have more students than our advisors can reach by themselves, which is where our AmeriCorps Ohio College Guides program comes in to play.

In 2009, College Now implemented the AmeriCorps Ohio College Guides program, which places fresh college graduates into middle schools, high schools and community centers to help guide traditionally underserved young people to prepare for, access and complete a postsecondary credential. Not only does College Now place these young professionals into schools within the Cleveland metro area, but also throughout the state of Ohio. Including Cleveland, College Now administrates the program for eight other host sites throughout the state: Canton, Cincinnati, Columbus, Jefferson, Marietta, Oberlin, Youngstown and Zanesville.

College Now is actively recruiting for recent graduates to serve students in these host sites! As an AmeriCorps College Guide, you will be instrumental in the work to ensure that students – especially typically underserved students (first-generation college-going, low-income and minority) – get the information and knowledge they need and deserve to make educated decisions and plans that can positively impact their future.

But the College Guides program doesn’t just help you give back to students – it also gives back to you! As an AmeriCorps College Guide, you will undergo significant training and receive valuable professional development, networking opportunities, guidance and support with career and graduate school goals. You will serve full-time (over 1,700 hours across 11 months), and, in return, receive a modest living allowance, health insurance and an Educational Award upon completion of the full-time commitment.

The College Guides is a program that is suitable for recent graduates from a variety of fields of study and with various career goals; it is a corps of driven and highly-qualified professionals getting their start in education. These are people to whom students can relate, confide in and eventually emulate as they plan for their futures and take constructive steps toward postsecondary education.

By working alongside our Advisors, the AmeriCorps College Guides allow College Now to bring services to a wider group of students and to ensure that all students who need support are receiving it. College Guides also help with afterschool programs for students to bring additional services to those who need them most.

College Now also recently implemented a new AmeriCorps program in Cleveland schools, the AmeriCorps Career Coaches program. Like College Guides, Career Coaches work with College Now advisors to ensure that students are receiving the proper support and guidance in determining their postsecondary pathway. The Career Coaches, however, have a more focused approach with the students they serve. Career Coaches are placed in five Cleveland Metropolitan School District career academies and ensure that freshmen and sophomore students specifically are introduced to postsecondary educational paths that will lead them to the region’s in-demand careers early in high school. As the early high school years are pivotal for student success, it is imperative that students receive the extra guidance and support necessary to facilitate a smooth transition.

Just like the College Guides, Career Coaches receive a modest living allowance, health insurance and an Educational Award upon completion of the full-time commitment (over 1,700 hours worked across 11 months), as well as undergo significant training and receive valuable professional development, networking, guidance and support with career and graduate school goals.

If you are interested in becoming either an AmeriCorps College Guide, in Cleveland or one of the other eight locations in Ohio, or AmeriCorps Career Coach, visit our website at https://www.collegenowgc.org/get-involved/ and click either “AmeriCorps College Guides” or “AmeriCorps Career Coaches” at the bottom of the page. Scroll down and click the “Apply Now” link for instructions on applying. If you have any questions, you can contact Bridget McFadden at bmcfadden@collegenowgc.org.

Some of our AmeriCorps members have blogged about their experiences in the program, giving a valuable first-hand account of the responsibilities, challenges, benefits and rewarding nature of being in the Corps.

Cleveland Takes Next Steps to Be Considered for Say Yes to Education

Cleveland Takes Next Steps to Be Considered for Say Yes to Education

College Now is proud to be part of the exploratory group working to bring Say Yes to Cleveland.

The bold promise of Say Yes is to bring together an entire community to ensure each of its children has the opportunity – and the support – to go to college. Using last-in-dollar scholarships as a catalyst, Say Yes partners with communities to create systems intended to help every child progress along the pathway to post-secondary success.

Partners from the public, philanthropic, non-profit and private sectors are working together over the next 12 to 18 months on the complex path required for consideration by Say Yes.

We’re also glad for the ongoing support and encouragement from the Say Yes team.  As Say Yes COO Eugene Chasin says, “It’s clear to the senior leadership of Say Yes that Cleveland is a community with a fierce desire to give its young people access to higher education, armed with the support to succeed in obtaining a college degree or other postsecondary credential.”

At College Now, we believe that Say Yes would be a game-changer for many of the students we serve, freeing them from much of the worry about how their families will finance the gap between the cost of postsecondary education and what they can afford to pay for it. Additionally, the wraparound services that Say Yes would provide for students will allow them to focus more on academics and give them the tools they need to persist to high school and postsecondary completion.

In the coming months, our work includes:

If Say Yes ultimately approves Cleveland’s application, the organization would commit to invest $15 million in the community over six years, as various milestones are achieved. Those funds are not intended to be used to pay for scholarships. Rather, they would help to finance the scaffolding of a communitywide governance structure to manage the local Say Yes partnership and to seed student and family supports that, in other Say Yes communities, have included school-based social work; mental and physical health services; legal services; college and career counseling; tutoring, and robust after-school and summer enrichment programs.

College Now is a member of the Cleveland exploratory group along with the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Cleveland Foundation, and United Way of Greater Cleveland.

 

Be Someone Who Matters to Someone Who Matters: Mentor!

Be Someone Who Matters to Someone Who Matters: Mentor!

Imagine you are back in your senior year of high school, getting ready to go off to college for the first time. Regardless of where you grew up or where you were going to college, chances are you were pretty nervous, right?

Many of our College Now scholarship recipients feel the same way about going to college. For some, it may be their first time away from home. For all, it’s a new environment – academically, socially and emotionally – that they have not experienced before. And, for many of our scholarship recipients, they are the first ones in their families to pursue postsecondary education.

For a student graduating from high school and going to college without a parent, guardian, sibling or other relative to turn to for advice, the undertaking can be especially daunting. With this in mind, College Now launched a Mentoring Program in 2011 pairing our scholarship recipients with a professional mentor from the community who will stick with that student throughout their college career. In the first two years of the relationship, mentors provide crucial college-going advice to students. As students become upperclassmen and begin looking at life beyond college, mentors also provide professional connections and assistance to help students transition into the working world.

Growing from a small cohort of 50 pairs to now matching all College Now scholarship recipients (about 350 per year) with a mentor, the College Now Mentoring Program has quickly become a hallmark of our work. Currently, 1,200 community members volunteer as mentors for our scholarship recipients – but we still need more.

As another school year ends, we need to recruit 100 more mentors to match with our incoming class of scholarship recipients. The Mentoring Program will match mentors with students based on the postsecondary degree or program the student is pursuing, hobbies and interests and high schools and colleges attended.

Mentoring a college student for four years sounds like a big time commitment. However, College Now recognizes that both mentors and mentees have other obligations and, as such, has developed a robust online platform to help eliminate common mentoring concerns, such as time and physical location. Mentors and mentees are required to communicate on the online platform, Chronus, once a month at minimum, and are only required to meet in person three times a year – conveniently, College Now hosts mentoring program events throughout the year that bring mentors and mentees together, helping pairs meet that in-person time commitment. Of course, many of our mentor/mentee pairs go above and beyond this communication requirement, calling or texting on a more regular basis and meeting in-person more frequently.

The impact of the Mentoring Program is evident – in our first three years of mentoring, first- to second-year retention rates improved to 94 percent! This is an outstanding retention rate, and it puts College Now’s scholarship recipients on a path to 80 percent completion, the rate at which students from the highest income quartile complete college. This is a testament to the dedication of our mentors.

And, while statistics are impressive, it’s the stories of the program’s impact that truly show why mentoring is such a vital aspect of our students’ successes:

“Megan’s and my relationship is going great! She is so mature and responsible for her age and has a very bright future ahead of her. I’m proud of all of her accomplishments thus far. I find our relationship to be mutually beneficial and I hope she’s learning as much from me as I am from her.  I know I’ve enjoyed my time interacting with her and getting to know her.”  -Kelly (Mentor)

“Courtney is so supportive in everything I do and tries to offer me the best advice that she can. I believe it was a great match for the both of us, especially since we share the passion of art, and a passion for OSU.”  –Taenyshia (Mentee)

“College Now has given me the opportunity to make a professional connection with someone in my field of study. This organization has allowed me to get more insight into what I want to do and I’m eternally grateful.”  -Charles (Mentee)

“Devonna is great – such a bright and enthusiastic woman…..During our most recent exchange she did mention that she thinks we are a perfect match, with which I wholeheartedly agree! There are several similarities in how we think about our impact on the world and how we go about creating this impact which makes our mentor/mentee relationship a great deal of fun and even more meaningful.” -Charity (Mentor)

If you are interested in becoming a mentor with College Now, please visit our website. You can contact Madeline Rife, Mentoring Program Manager, with any questions or concerns at 216.635.1063 or mrife@collegenowgc.org.

Be someone who matters to someone who matters. Become part of the College Now Mentoring Program today.

Examining the Need for Wraparound Services 

Examining the Need for Wraparound Services

The old adage claims that it takes a village to raise a child. At College Now, we also believe that it takes a village to educate a child, and that village includes people as well as wraparound services that remove obstacles to student success.

The students with whom we work at College Now are often saddled with a number of barriers to success, stemming from family, health and/or economic challenges. Facing any number of these obstacles makes academic success a challenge, as students may find themselves sidetracked during their studies, unable to find the time to meet all their responsibilities or they might be unable to physically make it to school at all. Providing wraparound services for students at their school buildings provides a higher level of support that helps them succeed academically and personally.

Wraparound services can include anything from health and wellness care to mental health services, parent and family programs to legal and economic supports. By offering these services in school buildings, challenges to accessing such services, like physical distance, are eliminated. Wraparound services bridge gaps between parents and schools, creating a stronger relationship between families and their children’s education, which is critical to student success.

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District partnered with United Way of Greater Cleveland in 2013 to identify Investment schools within the district, designating a Lead Agency to coordinate wraparound services within each school. These Investment schools would create a framework for providing direct and comprehensive services to address the needs of students, families and community members. College Now was chosen to be the Lead Agency tasked with implementing robust wraparound services in John Adams High School. Since then, through the work of College Now’s Wraparound Site Coordinator, we have strengthened existing programs and developed strategies for new programming to meet the academic, physical, social and emotional needs of those at John Adams and in the community.  John Adams offers enrichment programs for students after school and during the summer; guidance to parents about staying involved in their students’ academic lives; adult education and career support; medical, dental, mental health and social services; early childhood support; and community and economic development services.

At John Adams, the overarching goal of the wraparound services offered is to ensure that students complete high school with a plan for their postsecondary education and career choices. The strategy is focused by four core principles: comprehensiveness, coordination, coherence and commitment. This means that staff at John Adams aim to respond as comprehensively as possible to the needs of students and parents; coordinate the involvement of all stakeholders; ensure that supports and services are coherent and aligned to the instructional program at John Adams; and commit to these wraparound strategies as long-term and not just a one-off program or project. You can read more about John Adams’ wraparound strategies and their goals on the school’s website.

As College Now has seen at John Adams High School, wraparound services are an important part of creating a supportive academic environment. When students are struggling for any reason, be they sick, hungry or faced with legal concerns, they are less likely to put their focus into their schoolwork. When parents and families are unsure how to interact with school administrators and teachers, their concerns are left unaddressed and issues may not be resolved. Implementing wraparound strategies in high schools provides the supports necessary for academic and personal success and also demonstrates the commitment a school and organization has to students, families and the broader community.

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Getting Students on a Postsecondary Path Must Start Early!

Getting Students on a Postsecondary Path Must Start Early!

Reaching students early in the college-going process has always been a priority for College Now. However, in recent years, College Now has strengthened its early awareness work in an effort to reach students earlier than ever and begin the discussion about their secondary and postsecondary goals – often reaching students as early as eighth grade.

Eighth grade?! But why do students need to be thinking about college so early?

Well, we’re not asking students to make major life decisions or fill out their college applications starting in eighth grade. What we mean by early awareness is that we want students to start thinking about their futures from an early age. The foundation for postsecondary success must be laid early, giving students a game plan and outline for their high school years.

Working with students in eighth grade, before they have entered high school, gives advisors and students a chance to discuss the often-challenging and stressful transition between middle and high school. According to the National Education Association, “ninth grade course failure and retention are strong predictors of dropping out of high school,” meaning that helping students successfully transition from middle to high school is imperative to helping them complete their high school programs. Reaching students early helps them navigate this tricky point in their schooling, and start high school on the path to success and graduation.

College Now has instituted a summer bridge academy called “Rebel Up” at John Adams High School to work on this exact issue, meeting with a cohort of eighth grade students during the summer before they begin their freshman year of high school. During this time, advisors help the students get acquainted with their new high school and discuss high school expectations. The 22 students in the initial Rebel Up cohort who continued their high school educations at John Adams showed a 90 percent attendance rate in 2016 – a very promising statistic for these ninth graders, as ninth grade attendance has been shown to be a strong indicator of high school graduation, and can also better predict if a student will fail a course than their test scores!

Even once they transition to high school, many students do not even begin to think about their plans for after high school until they are upperclassmen, which is too late. This can pose a number of problems. First, students may have struggled academically early in high school – even up until they started to think about college – leaving them with a low GPA and, possibly, insufficient classes to meet the requirements of their postsecondary programs of choice. Additionally, students may not have taken the necessary standardized tests to apply to their preferred schools. Even if they have taken the necessary tests (the ACT and/or SAT), a lack of focus during their early high school years may mean that students haven’t prepped for the test, or haven’t given themselves enough time to take it more than once; students may be stuck with lower scores than they would like or need, without the opportunity for improvement.

Additionally, when students do not consider their postsecondary options until late in high school, they miss out on the opportunity to pursue a high school curriculum that sets them up for success in a particular field. Identifying possible programs or areas of interest early on enables students to shape a high school pathway that can lead to the successful transition into postsecondary studies

College Now works with students on career pathway maps, helping them focus as eighth, ninth and tenth graders on their skills and interests, and where those may be needed in the workforce. With workforce needs changing, we help students identify career fields that will have a growing need for workers, ensuring that their postsecondary choice will fit into the current economy. This saves students time and money in their postsecondary studies, as they leave high school with a guided pathway and vision as to what they need to do to complete their higher education.

If you are an early high school student, the parent of a student or a community member who works with younger high school students, take time to think about life after high school. Although it may seem early, the sooner you start discussing their plans, the better.

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The Importance of the Pell Grant to Educational Attainment

The Importance of the Pell Grant to Educational Attainment

At College Now, we say it all the time: educational attainment is one of the most critical issues facing us as a community. In its 2005 report Altered States: A Perspective on 75 Years of State Income Growth, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland found that, over time, two levers that are directly correlated to regional economic health are the number of patents and the number of degrees in a particular region. It is no surprise, then, why Ohio struggles economically when you consider that it ranks 38th in the nation in educational attainment. The Ohio Department of Higher Education estimates that 64 percent of Ohio’s jobs will require a postsecondary credential or degree by 2020, and with only 37 percent of Ohio adults holding an associate’s degree or higher, it is easy to see that we have a lot of ground to cover in order to meet the future demand for skilled workers.

A major obstacle preventing more Ohioans from pursuing higher education is the cost. A 2016 study by the Penn Graduate School of Education and Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College found that Ohio is the 45th least affordable state in which to go to college. Yes, you read that right. There are only five states in the entire country where postsecondary education is a more expensive undertaking than it is in Ohio. This is due, in large part, to many years of decreased state funding for higher education. Ohio colleges and universities, in response to receiving less money from the state, annually increased tuition and fees to cover their costs, making it increasingly difficult for students from low-income backgrounds to make up the difference.

Despite the lack of state funding for higher education, since 1972, low-income students could rely on financial support from the Federal Pell Grant. The Pell Grant is an important piece of the financial aid puzzle for low-income students, often making the difference between a student being able to enroll in a postsecondary program, or not. Here are some interesting facts about the Pell Grant:

For low-income students, the Pell Grant is the glue that holds higher education financial aid together, even though it covers less of the cost of attendance (by a lot) than it did 40 years ago. Despite its importance as a tool for increasing college access among low-income students, the Pell Grant is an endangered species. As Congress works to balance the budget, the Pell Grant finds itself on the chopping block year after year, putting 8 million students at risk of losing financial aid.

How can you help? This week, NCAN is implementing its #Thankful4Pell campaign, aimed at letting our Congressional leaders know just how important the Pell Grant is and the impact it makes. You can make your voice heard – as an individual or as an organization – by clicking the campaign link above and contacting your representatives in Congress. They make it easy for you – all you have to do is choose from their email or social media templates – or write your own – and put in your contact information. Their system automatically finds your reps and sends them your messages.

If you or someone you know is #Thankful4Pell, like we are at College Now, please support this campaign to ensure its future.

A Pre-Thanksgiving Checklist for High School Seniors

A Pre-Thanksgiving Checklist for High School Seniors

It’s the beginning of November, and if you’re a high school senior, you’re busy with school, extracurricular activities, oh, and figuring out what you’re going to do next year. No big deal, right? For many high school seniors, Fall is an overwhelming time, full of items that need to be crossed off of lists and boxes that need to be checked before graduation in the spring.

We’re here to simplify things for you with a quick checklist of “must do before Thanksgiving” items.

These are the tasks that need to be prioritized for completion by Thanksgiving of your senior year. If you need help with anything on this list, feel free to reach out to the College Now advisor in your school or make an appointment in our Resource Center by calling 216.635.0151 or emailing resourcecenter@collegenowgc.org.

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Does the Early Bird Get the Worm? Breaking Down Early Action and Early Decision

Does the Early Bird Get the Worm? Breaking Down Early Action and Early Decision

We’ve all been told that “the early bird gets the worm,” or been asked “why put off for tomorrow what you can do today?” This is good advice in many areas in life, and for some students, it also can be true of the college application process. There are two ways students can get the work and stress of college application season out of the way early: early decision and early action. In this post, we will define each plan and lay out the pros and cons so you can make the best decision possible.

Both early decision and early action allow students to apply to their first choice schools – and receive admissions decisions from those schools – early in the process. With early decision, students generally apply before Thanksgiving and know whether they’ve been accepted by Christmas. With early action, students also apply by Thanksgiving but do not hear whether or not they’ve been accepted until January or February – still early in the process. The most significant difference between early decision and early action is that if a student applies to a school early decision and is accepted, he or she must enroll in that school and withdraw applications sent to other schools, whereas if the student applies early action, he or she has until May 1 to decide where to enroll.

The Pros of Early Decision:

The Cons of Early Decision:

The Pros of Early Action:

Cons of Early Action:

Now that we’ve defined early decision and early action and examined their pros and cons, let’s discuss which type of students these programs may and may not benefit.

Early decision and early action programs are great for students who:

Early decision and early action programs are NOT great for students who:

Again, not every school offers early decision and early action, and there is not a standard set of requirements among schools that do, so it’s important – just as with every other part of the college-going process – that students research and understand the individual school’s expectations with respect to early admissions programs.

Just as in other areas in life, the early bird often does get the worm with early decision and early action programs, but they have to be really sure it’s the right worm! If you need help navigating the early decision/early action process, call us at 216.241.5587, and we’ll be happy to help.

 

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What You Need to Know about Issue 108

With the election fast approaching, we at College Now would like to share some information with you about an issue that is important to us: Issue 108, the renewal of the 2012 four-year levy for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD).

In 2012, Cleveland voters passed a 15-mill levy that focused on improving high schools in the CMSD, and also began the work of Mayor Jackson’s strategic initiative known as the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools. With the 2012 levy, school and city officials said they sought better results for students, including improved graduation rates, enrollment and academic performance. And while results haven’t been outstanding, we are seeing progress, and school reforms have been working.

Since 2012, the four-year graduation rate in the CMSD has risen 10 percentage points from 56 percent to 66 percent for the class of 2015. Crain’s Cleveland Business reported that District enrollment was 38,555 for the 2014-2015 school year, which is the highest figure in at the least the past 25 years. Academic performance has improved, as well, with 10 percent fewer students needing remediation in math or English upon their matriculation to college; seven percent more students graduating with a 3.0 GPA or higher; and three percent more students obtaining a score of 21 or higher on the ACT.

Recent state reports do not tell the full story. Ohio has changed how it rates its schools, which accounts for Cleveland’s F grades on Ohio’s most recent state report card; the state has adopted tougher standards, which results in lower grades, despite gains being made in some categories. The Plain Dealer’s Patrick O’Donnell found that, in fact, Cleveland’s performance has improved relative to other districts in Ohio. This shows that the initiatives put into place four years ago are working. We are seeing progress.

Additionally, the 2012 levy and the Cleveland Plan launched 18 new high school programs, increased the number of four-year-olds in quality preschools and brought more high quality schools to Cleveland neighborhoods. Investing in reforms has shown the District which schools are improving and which are failing – and it has been acknowledged that some failing schools cannot be saved. The levy and the Cleveland Plan have helped to highlight the strongest schools in the District, and the quality of these schools must continue to improve.

The Cleveland schools are not going to change overnight. The past four years of work, however, show us that progress is possible. Renewing the 2012 levy would serve to continue that progress, to institute new reforms and keep the forward momentum going.

It is important to note that a vote for Issue 108 will not increase taxes for those living in the city of Cleveland. Issue 108 is simply a renewal of a previous increase, so costs will remain the same.

Issue 108 will also allow the District to focus more intensely on upgrades to elementary and middle schools in the CMSD, after investing more resources into high schools over the last four years. At College Now, we know that the earlier students are successful, the more likely they are to persist to a postsecondary education. Investing in schools for younger students will demonstrate to them, and to their families, that education is valued at every level in the CMSD.

The renewal of this levy is vital to the future success of our students. If we want the progress being made in the Cleveland school to continue, we need to ensure that the District has the resources it needs to make these critical improvements. A vote for Issue 108 is a vote for our students, for their futures, for their success. We cannot stall the progress that has already been made, and we cannot deprive our students of this investment.

You can read more about the levy at www.keepgoingcleschools.com and learn about ways to get involved, including volunteering for the campaign, donating and requesting yard signs.

Big Changes Are Coming…to the FAFSA

In 2015, a couple of major changes were announced to the very important Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA. With the changes being implemented next month, we’re going to use this blog post to break down the changes for you. We’re also going to use this space to talk about the implications of these changes for students filing the FAFSA for the first time as well as for student who have previously filed.

First, what’s changed?

Previously, the FAFSA, which is a critical part of the college-going process, as it helps determine how much financial aid a student receives, opened each year on January 1, after many students had completed the college application process. This meant that, in many cases, students would learn about college acceptances well in advance of learning about how much financial aid they would receive, leaving them to make a big life decision without all of the information necessary to make it an informed decision.

As a result, the U.S. Department of Education has changed the start date of the FAFSA from January 1 to October 1 to allow students and families to complete the form at the same time that they complete their college applications and to allow higher ed institutions to make decisions about financial aid at the same time that they make admissions decisions. The intended benefit here is to help students and families make a more informed choice about where to enroll. Whereas previously, many students had to declare where they would enroll before knowing how much financial aid they would receive, moving up the availability of the FAFSA will allow them to have a clearer picture about total cost of attendance and how much financial aid they will receive so they can make a sound financial decision.

Making the FAFSA available earlier presented a challenge, though. The FAFSA is completed using prior-year income tax information. So, students who enrolled in a postsecondary program for the Fall 2016 semester used their families’ 2015 income tax information. But since families will not have their 2016 tax information yet (because 2016 will not yet have ended by the time the FAFSA opens in October), the second big change to the FAFSA is the use of prior-prior-year (PPY) tax information to complete the form. So, students intending to enroll in a postsecondary program for the 2017/2018 academic year will use their 2015 tax information in order to take advantage of the earlier FAFSA and ideally receive admissions and financial aid award information at the same time.

Another benefit to the PPY change is that it makes actually completing the form easier, since nearly everyone who filed their 2015 tax returns can easily transfer that information to the FAFSA form electronically, using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, taking some of the headache out of completing the form.

So what does this mean to you? If you are a first time filer:

Great news! You get to take advantage of the new, improved FAFSA. All you have to do is use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to upload your 2015 tax information to the FAFSA. This will save you time and trouble!

If you have filed the FAFSA before:

The good news is, you also can take advantage of the new, improved FAFSA. The bad news is, you’ve got to make sure the information you shared for the 16-17 FAFSA matches what you will enter for your 17-18 FAFSA.

What does that mean? In some cases, there may be a discrepancy between the 2015 tax information provided by students on the 16-17 FAFSA and the 17-18 FAFSA. A discrepancy could occur if a student provided estimated 2015 income on their 16-17 FAFSA (so they could meet the previous February 15 priority deadline if they hadn’t yet filed their taxes, for example) and did not go back in and adjust the income when they filed their taxes. The 16-17 FAFSA would show the estimate, but the 17-18 FAFSA, using the IRS Data Retrieval tool, will pull the actual 2015 income information. Such a difference can alter a family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which particularly impacts low-income students who could potentially receive the Pell Grant.

The Department of Education is working with higher ed institutions to minimize the impact of potential conflicts that may arise as a result of the use of PPY tax information.

Our advice to FAFSA filers:
If you used a 2015 income estimate on your 16-17 FAFSA, MAKE SURE YOU GO BACK IN AND UPDATE IT WITH THE ACTUAL INCOME FROM YOUR 2015 TAX RETURN!
• Stay in constant contact with the schools you are applying to or enrolled in to make sure your FAFSA is moving through the process properly.
• College Now is working hard to stay abreast of the changes and their implications for students, so please make sure to use us as a resource, too! If you have questions, feel free to contact us at 216.241.5587. We will work with you to answer any questions you may have or resolve any conflict that may arise.
We believe that the changes to the FAFSA will positively impact students and families in the long run, but no major change comes without some growing pains!

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The Role of Social Capital in College Access and Completion

Natural ability, intelligence, education and effort only get one so far in life. Beyond that, individuals need to tap into external resources in order to be successful. They need social capital. Sounds like a buzz word, right? It is, and it’s being talked about a lot right now, but the concept of social capital is really quite straightforward. Simply put, social capital is a network of information and resources from which an individual benefits.

Probably the easiest-to-understand application is how social capital is related to one’s professional life. A strong professional network helps individuals achieve their career goals. But the implications of social capital – or the lack thereof – influence individuals long before careers are launched – as early as high school – when students are trying to access information and resources to prepare for postsecondary education.

How are social capital and college access and completion linked?

Social capital and college access are linked in several ways. First, it can be linked to access to information about career possibilities and the educational pathways to those careers. High school students from higher-income, suburban backgrounds see a wide variety of career options and can count on friends and family members to help them explore different careers and answer questions about how to pursue them. For first-generation and low-income students, their exposure is much more limited. They know about doctors and nurses, for example, but they don’t know about other opportunities in health care, like phlebotomy or radiology. This limited exposure often also creates limits for what they think they’re capable of, which influences the postsecondary choices they make.

Second, social capital is linked to access to information and resources about the college process. Again, students from more affluent backgrounds have social capital in that they have friends and family members who have gone to college and gotten a degree – people who understand the cumbersome process and the milestones that must be met in order to enroll in a postsecondary program. These are also people who can advocate on behalf of the student when he or she encounters a problem. First-generation and low-income students often do not have that social capital or support system when they embark on the college-going process. Despite good intentions among friends and family members, the system is set up to support those who already know how to navigate it. College visits, completing admissions applications, applying for financial aid, etc. are things that it is assumed everyone does or knows to do as they prepare for life after high school. But for a low-income student, going on a college visit is often challenging due to lack of transportation. A first-generation student may get through college applications and the financial aid process but might not know the difference between a grant and a loan and could wind up making a poor financial decision as a result. Long story short, having social capital in the form of someone who has been through the process is critical to student success.

College Now’s approach to building social capital

Again, students need a significant amount of support as they begin thinking about life after high school. The process of planning for postsecondary education is challenging for all students – but first-generation and low-income students often lack the social capital necessary to make informed decisions about what comes next and are essentially on their own to find their way through the labyrinth of the processes and deadlines related to the college-going process.

College Now works to help first-generation, low-income students access and build social capital in several ways. First, while students are still in high school, our advisors serve as the adult in a student’s life who has successfully navigated the postsecondary process. With advisors embedded within more than 80 Greater Cleveland schools, College Now becomes the link between students and information, resources and advocacy. Our advisors help them learn about careers and the educational pathways that lead to them; facilitate ACT/SAT prep; walk them through the application and financial aid process; advocate to schools on the students’ behalf; help them determine which educational option is their best fit; and support them through the transition to college.

Once they’re in college, College Now helps its scholarship recipients build social capital through its Mentoring Program. Each student is paired with a professional in the community whose “job” it is to be a completion coach of sorts – basically, to help the mentee overcome any obstacle (big or small) that might interfere with his or her ability to complete a degree. And, in many cases, the mentor helps his or her mentee build a professional network through which the student can find internships and jobs. In a lot of ways, finding a job when you’re fresh out of college is more a matter of who you know, not what you know; and for first-generation and low-income students, having help getting a foot in the door makes all the difference.

From high school to college to that first foray into the professional world and beyond, social capital is an extremely helpful resource. It is not something that everyone is born with, but social capital is something that organizations like College Now are committed to ensuring that all students acquire to enable them to find educational and professional success.