Five College Planning Resources We Love

September 11, 2015

by Liz Glaser - Graduate Research Assistant

Early-awareness for college-going and financial aid access includes a large variety of programming throughout the US. Promoting college-going in middle schools is difficult, but it is critical because sixth grade is when students form habits, further develop their interests, and must begin making choices about their future. For many programs, schools, and counselors, developing resources to present to middle school students can be a challenge. Today’s blog will highlight some of NCAN’s favorite resources that can be used for middle school students to begin thinking about college. In designing your own early awareness materials, these can be great ideas and sources of inspiration for useful tools.

It can be hard to grab a child’s attention with workbooks or long lessons, which is why we like the checklists from I Know I Can, Columbus’s only college access program. The sixth grade checklist is a one-pager that can easily be hung on a bulletin board or distributed in class, and it’s just interactive enough to be approachable without being overwhelming. With bullet points that focus on the need to “read books, magazines, and newspapers regularly,” as well as “talking to people you know who attend college,” this checklist  gives students simple tasks that help them become well-rounded and prepared for college in a variety of ways. Checklists grab student attention and get directly to the point, and they can be a great resource!

For many, discussing college means discussing the cost of college. Because the two often go hand-in-hand, Fastweb has put together a College Power Bulletin that starts with briefly explaining why college matters, highlighting important and famous people that have gone to college, and then ends with an introduction to financial aid. The full bulletin can be distributed to students, or specific pages can be posted or used independently.  Though this does not have a particular targeted age group, it’s written in an easy-to-read style that can welcome middle school students, and its message is clear: college is important and reachable, and if you start planning now, affordable. 

For a more thorough, long-term conversation on planning for college, we recommend checking out the parent’s guide from Montgomery County Public Schools. Entitled “Getting Set,” this handbook is a working document that middle school students can use as they develop their interests and career plans. Page 12 includes the “Seven Keys to College Readiness,” and page 8 includes a usable weekly schedule; both of these elements help the student look forward while also learning how to make choices in their daily life now. The guide explains that “If you use the suggestions listed below, you will be well on your way to “getting set” to succeed in middle school” – not explaining, of course, that it will also be useful for the years beyond. Parents, teachers, counselors, and program leaders alike can pull from this guide to create a usable handbook for their middle school student.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide that has smaller tools to distribute, the National Association for College Admission Counseling can help you out. They’ve created a curriculum for middle school students called Step By Step: College Awareness and Planning   With multiple “lessons,” this is a thorough handbook that guides students through the process of finding out about what college is and why it’s important, to plan future goals, to discover financial aid, and to discover the right fit for college. It has great one-page activities like the “Treasure Map” to college, located on page 29, or the College Knowledge Survey found on page 17. College access programs, teachers, and parents alike can all utilize this entire curriculum or just small sections. Its accessibility for middle school students and comprehensive information make the entire publication worthwhile.

Because FAFSA and federal aid are such an important component of early awareness and college access, it’s only natural that the office of Federal Student Aid would provide an integral resource. Their workbook, My Future, My Way: First Steps Towards College covers everything middle school students need to know. Filled with surveys, quizzes, and writing activities, this workbook asks questions like “When Can I think About College?” and “Who can help me go to college,” which helps students to start thinking about the support and time needed to appropriately plan for college.  It’s a great resource to help middle school students create a basic framework for their college plans.

Most early awareness resources are designed as handbooks that ask for conversation and self-reflection. Though flyers and posters can grab attention, checklists and workbooks allow for students and their support networks to think critically about what college means to them, and how they’ll get there. Asking students to ask themselves tough questions about college is an important step for early-awareness, and these great resources can certainly help.


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