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### Navigating the Complex College Application Process: How High School Counselors Offer Support

Written by Halima Moore

Having served as a seasoned high school counselor for more than twenty years in New Jersey public schools catering predominantly to first-generation, low-income Black and Latino students, I am deeply concerned about the recent changes in the college admissions landscape that pose new challenges for my students.

The introduction of the new FAFSA program, the reinstatement of SAT requirements by prestigious colleges, and the prohibition of affirmative action are causing some students to question the feasibility of pursuing higher education.

Recent data indicates a nationwide decline in the number of high school seniors completing college applications, plummeting from 1.5 million applicants in late January 2023 to just 700,000 applicants during the same period the following year. This decline underscores the growing skepticism among students and families regarding the college application process.

To effectively support historically marginalized students and ensure their chances of acceptance and affordability in four-year colleges, counselors working with vulnerable student groups must have access to an expanded range of resources to address these challenges. It is essential to anticipate the evolving landscape while remaining adaptable to changes, ensuring that students receive the best guidance and assistance.

While the obstacles posed by the FAFSA program may seem insurmountable, counselors can take proactive measures to make a difference. Encouraging students and parents to act early and educate themselves about their rights is crucial. This is particularly significant for immigrant families who may face difficulties contributing to their child’s ongoing FAFSA application process.

It is imperative to establish comprehensive support systems to help students and families navigate the FAFSA process more efficiently. This includes offering workshops and personalized assistance to ensure the timely and accurate submission of all required documents.

The resurgence of SAT requirements by prestigious colleges presents another hurdle, especially for low-income students of color. These standardized tests can act as a barrier to entry, exacerbating existing disparities in the admissions process. Shockingly, only 11% of Black students took the SAT in 2023, in stark contrast to the 40% of white students who did. Moreover, a mere 8% of students from the lowest family income bracket participated, while 50% from the highest bracket did so.

In addition to the challenges posed by the reinstatement of the SAT, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn affirmative action policies further restricts opportunities for students of color in the admissions process. This ruling perpetuates systemic obstacles and underscores the necessity for targeted support and advocacy for underrepresented students. For many counselors working with students of color, this decision has influenced how we guide our students in various aspects, from crafting college essays to selecting suitable schools. Like the SAT reinstatement and the FAFSA delays, it demands a nuanced and individualized approach.

At Plainfield, our school’s mission is to prepare our students for admission to top-tier colleges and universities. We mandate that students enroll in a minimum of three AP classes before graduation, and our college readiness programs commence as soon as they enter high school.

This approach fosters meaningful connections between counselors and students, nurturing a college-bound environment where every student believes in their potential to pursue higher education. We offer an array of resources such as FAFSA assistance, early and ongoing college essay guidance, college fairs, and regular campus visits. These strategies have led to our students gaining acceptance to prestigious institutions like Princeton, Harvard, Penn, and NYU.

Counselors at schools dedicated to supporting vulnerable students are at the forefront, guiding students through the process of shaping their futures. It is our responsibility to advocate for them and empower them to overcome the obstacles in their path. We have witnessed firsthand that with adequate support, students can rise to the occasion.

By implementing a personalized, holistic approach to college guidance for first-generation, low-income families, we can ensure that every student receives the assistance needed to fulfill their aspirations of higher education and beyond.

Halima Moore serves as the Director of Counseling at College Achieve Central High School in Plainfield.

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