The Power of a Question

As the director of the American College Application Campaign, I was delighted to join the 2019 ACT Enrollment Management Summit as one of four “ED” Talkers, based off the popular TED Talk style. The other three speakers were Kat Pastor, counseling department chair at Flagstaff High School and 2016 National School Counselor of the Year, Brent Ramdin, president of NRCCUA, and Anne Wicks, director of education reform at the George W Bush Presidential Center.

It was a new and fun platform to share the work ACAC does across the country with summit attendees. Our ED Talk was focused on the power of a question and the impact each of us can have supporting students through the college-going process.

Did you know that asking someone if they plan to vote in the next presidential election makes it 41 percent more likely that they will? That’s the power of a question.

So imagine what can happen when we employ the power of a question as we talk to students, especially our most vulnerable students, and ask them “Where will you apply to college?” Or “How can I help you apply to college?” and support them in completing the process.

The challenge is clear: in eighth grade, 88 percent of students will tell you they want to go to college. Almost all of them aspire and dream about heading to college after high school. But along the way, we begin to lose some students. Including during senior year when many students do not apply, apply very late in their senior year, or do not apply to colleges that align with their goals and talents. And this disproportionally affects minority students, students from low-income backgrounds, and first generation students.

As folks who work and care about access and success, we know the barriers all too well: students may be unsure of the process, they may not have someone at home who knows how to help them research colleges or complete a college application, they may think college is out of reach financially and be unaware of the FAFSA or how to complete it. Students may question whether they are “college material” and they may not have anyone talking to them about education beyond high school and what their postsecondary options are.

But you and I can change this narrative for students who face these challenges. Through the American College Application Campaign, a national initiative of ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning, high schools across the country are hosting college application completion events making sure 100 percent of the senior class get the opportunity to apply to college. ACAC believes college is for EVERYONE and the thousands of high schools we engage annually believe this too. That there is a postsecondary pathway for all students, they may just need some support on their journey there.

One thing we know for sure is a student can’t go to college if they don’t apply. Our host sites help students complete this critical and necessary step in the college-going process.

We partner with all 50 states and the District of Columbia to coordinate state-level strategies that are implemented as school-day events supporting students through the college application process to help remove many of the barriers students face on their pathway to postsecondary education.

And the result is students applying to college. Last fall, we had close to 7,200 high schools help more than 592,000 students submit more than 872,000 college applications. And, as one of our school volunteers said, you see on students’ faces “the absolute joy…of knowing I just did something that I may not have ever thought I was ever going to do.”

Suddenly, another pathway emerges for our students. They’ve submitted their application and believe that they are college material.

We expect more than 8,000 partner high schools to host events this fall from September through December. Every school schedules events based on what works for their building. And there are several ways you can partner with ACAC to change the narrative for the students we all aim to serve.

First, if you work with a school that serves 12th graders, encourage them to register to host a college application event. ACAC is hosting several upcoming webinars to support schools in planning and implementing a college application event.

Second, to kick off the college application season and to inspire students across the country to apply, join us virtually for our third annual #WhyApply Day on September 20. Before we engage with students at school-level events, let’s turn the power of a question on ourselves and ask “Why Apply?” Reflect back to your college application and college-going experiences. What would you tell your younger self? What would you tell a young person you’re sitting next to as they’re researching or applying to college? We ask you to answer the question “Why apply to college?” and help us kick-off the college application season by sharing your answer on social media to remind all students they are college material and that college is for everyone.

And, finally, we encourage you to get engaged with a local high school’s event as a volunteer. Connect with your ACAC state coordinator to find out how you can support college application events in your community. Share your college journey. Inspire a young person to pursue their dreams and help clear the postsecondary pathway for all students. Will you join us?