The process of preparing for college — particularly in the midst of a global pandemic that has already caused many Floridians to alter their postsecondary plans — can be overwhelming.
No student should have to navigate this process alone, which is why more than a dozen education stakeholders throughout Florida partnered for “College 101: What to do, When to do it, and How,” a free online event designed to make the college-going process less daunting and more doable for students.
Finishing Strong Through Collaboration
In late January, FCAN’s College Ready Florida Steering Committee looked at the declines in FAFSA completion this year and brainstormed what they could do together to reach students who had not yet made college plans for the fall. College 101 was born and came together in under five weeks.
“All the partners were in it for the right reasons,” said Kathy McDonald, assistant director for network partnerships. Partners brought their strengths to the weeklong effort to provide students with the 4 basic steps needed to go to college — Explore, Apply, Fund, Go. Partners that shared time and resources to make the event successful include:
- Florida Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (FASFAA)
- Florida College Access Network (FCAN)
- Florida Department of Education – Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA)
- Florida PTA
- Florida School Counselor Association (FSCA)
- Florida TRIO
- School districts of Broward, Osceola and Polk counties
- Take Stock in Children
FloridaShines — a service of the Florida Virtual Campus, a statewide provider of innovative educational services for Florida’s K-20 community — hosted the four-night, virtual event on its platform March 8-11.
“The Florida Virtual Campus has conducted a Virtual College Week in the past, but the College 101 event is a true collaboration of education partners and organizations in the state, which we hoped would enable more students to participate,” said Ashley Thimmes, statewide coordinator for student services at Florida Virtual Campus.
Last week’s “College 101” sessions attracted an average of nearly 700 registrants per night, resulting in hundreds of questions related to career pathways, affordability, applying to college, and much more throughout the four-day event. Addressing questions during each virtual session is one of the ways partner organizations contributed to the event, along with helping spread the word to students and families beforehand.
“We are very happy to lend our support to such great partners and we hope more students will learn about the many opportunities available to them — whether it’s in a community college, a workforce training program, or a four-year program,” Thimmes said.
Each of the four nights during “College 101: What to do, When to do it, and How” was dedicated to a crucial step in the college readiness process:
- Explore (March 8) led by Dr. Amanda Sterk, director of dual enrollment, Florida SouthWestern State College, highlighted the multiple pathways to success — including career/technical programs, 2-year and 4-year degrees — and how students can figure out which is the best match for them.
- Apply (March 9) led by Christine Sylvain, executive director of Path to College, showed students how to put their best foot forward in their college application and how to ace the essay.
- Fund (March 10) led by Daniel Barkowitz, assistant vice president of financial aid and veteran’s affairs, Valencia College and Earl Young, director of operations & systems improvements, Education Foundation of Sarasota County, focused on ways to pay for college, how to maximize the funds they qualify for, and how to earn scholarships.
- Go (March 11) led by Tron Lippett, assistant director of enrollment, Broward College, highlighted what students who had been accepted into the institution of their choice need to do over the summer to be ready for college.
Anthony Cook, coordinator of college and career services for the School District of Osceola County, served as moderator throughout the four-night event. You can listen to each of the recordings by visiting the FloridaShines website.
College 101 also featured recent high school graduates discussing their experience with the college-going process and sharing what life on campus is like during a pandemic.
Christie McMullen, associate area director at AVID, said the student volunteers were eager to share their stories during “College 101” because of the impact student-peers had on their own postsecondary journeys.
“AVID prepares students for college, careers, and beyond,” McMullen said. “That preparation shined brightly in the brilliant near peer students who shared during College 101. Each scholar added relevance and authenticity, and did so with poise and grace.
“They did an incredible job.”
“College 101” is still in session!
The statewide partners who joined forces to host the four-night “College 101: What to do, When to do it, and How” have also collaborated for a pair of upcoming events focused on helping students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
In Florida, 4 out of 5 college students rely on federal, state, and college-based sources to help pay for college and completing the FAFSA gives them access to that aid. By not completing the FAFSA, Florida students leave $100 million on the table every year, free money they would have qualified for.
Register for “College 101: Finishing the FAFSA” to learn step-by-step how to complete the federal form and to get questions answered by financial aid experts. The free online sessions will take place March 22 and March 29, 6-8 p.m. EST.