College application season is in full swing. Now, students are receiving a little extra help with applying.

Applications for most colleges in Utah are due in late November and early December for Fall 2019 enrollment. Most high school seniors, however, may not be familiar with the application process nor what it’s like to be a college student or live a college lifestyle before they apply.

Research has shown that although more than 90 percent of Utah’s students plan on attending college, only two-thirds of those students actually wind up attending. In order to close the gap in this statistic, educators have found they can play a positive role in helping students enroll in college.

The Utah System of Higher Education partnered with more than 100 high schools around Utah to help high school seniors to apply and become more educated about college applications. Utah College Application Week is set up in November to encourage seniors to complete a college application during the students’ school days. School counselors, teachers and/or volunteers help these students apply for college by answering any questions they may have during the application process.

USHE Communication Specialist, Genna Erickson, describes the successes of the UCAW. “Utah College Application Week was started in 2013 with just 2,300 students participating in 8 high schools,” she said. “Since then, participation has grown to over 21,000 students last year, with 38,080 college applications submitted. This year, UCAW is in 116 high schools across the state. 95 percent of participating students reported feeling more comfortable with the college application process, 93 percent were more likely to ask for help with applications and 92 percent were more interested in going to college after high school graduation.” 

During college application week, students are generally taken down to a computer lab during their English class where counselors and volunteers will work with a small group of students in order to give them more focused attention and help.

“Volunteers can include: teachers, access groups, college and university representatives, USHE outreach coordinators or others,” shared Erickson. “A few Utah high schools have a Utah College Advising Corp (UCAC) advisor who will also be there to help. We are in the process of expanding that program statewide; by the school year 2021-22 this program will be in every high school in Utah.”

Counselors and volunteers are trained in the form of webinars and a site coordinator manual. There are also state UCAW coordinators at the USHE offices who work closely with counselors to make sure questions are answered and that they have the materials they need to move forward.

This year, about 21,000 students are expected to participate and apply for colleges to match up to last year. In addition, students are able to receive help for FAFSA applications in the fall through the same program.

States Erickson, “Many high schools hold FAFSA Completion Open Houses (which is coordinated through our office) in tandem with these college application events. These events are held in evenings so students and their parents can attend and get help filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Utah has the lowest FAFSA completion rates in the nation. And since the FAFSA is the key to getting federal financial aid to help pay for college (such as grants, work-study, student loans, and some scholarships), low FAFSA completion rates mean a lot of financial aid help is left on the table.”

A list of participating schools can be found at StepUpUtah.com. In addition to participating in school UCAW events, students and parents may find more resources at StepUpUtah.com, including a calendar of Free Application for the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) events, as well as tips to prepare for college, the benefits of a college education and a list of Utah colleges and universities.

c.robles@dailyutahchronicle.com

@Claudiavrobles_

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