College Awareness

Promote College Readiness: 10 Ways to Get Students Excited About College

Jenn Liu

“I’m not going to college,” Sandy, true to form, blurted out (no raised hand, no “excuse me, Miss”) in class one day in the middle of my infamous “Education Pays” seventh grade AVID class lecture.

“Steve Jobs dropped out of college and he became successful,” she continued without any prompting.

“That’s great, but he’s an exception,” I almost retorted, but instead said, “That’s a good point, Sandy” and continued with my presentation.

That was back in 2012, my first year teaching an AVID college readiness class, and when Steve Jobs had recently become a cultural icon.

It never fails. First it was Steve Jobs, later millionaire YouTuber and college dropout PewDiePie, and next it’ll be “But, Miss, you went to college and you always tell us you don’t make a lot of money.”

Oops. True story.

Some of us might have a quick comeback when students bring up these brilliant points, but many of us might also feel unsure how to respond. 

After all, we want to be open-minded and not push our beliefs on students, right?

It’s tempting to counter with “You’re thinking in exceptions rather than rules,” but that might be taken as a bit condescending depending on your relationship with the student.

Don’t fret–you don’t need to have a quick answer; instead, you can give a lesson on this topic and tell that student: “I’m glad you’re thinking about your future–but before you decide, how about I go over all the options after high school with the whole class?”

Many high school language arts teachers will also have their students write an argumentative essay on the pros and cons of a college education. But students who take a stance against college may end up finding more reasons to strengthen their position.

Obviously, this assignment alone might not be the best idea.

What else can teachers do to make sure their students aim high and choose the best path?

Here are some ideas (read to the end for the best tip):

  1. Review with your students all their options after high school, including a gap year, the workforce, the military, apprenticeship programs, trade schools, and college. When discussing these options, remain objective and go over the pros and cons of each. When talking about college, make sure your students know the different types of degrees they could get as well as the different types of colleges there are. 
  1. Have your students research the pros and cons of attending college and getting a college degree. Encourage your students to look for both tangible (see idea number three below) and intangible benefits of college, such as improved critical thinking and so much more (read this paper It’s Not Just the Money: The Benefits of College Education to Individuals and to Society for more benefits; skip to the conclusion if you’re short on time). Then allow your students the time to share and discuss their findings in small groups and whole class discussions (e.g., through a Socratic Seminar or debate). 

  1. If your students didn’t already share the following, be sure to also mention that research shows, when compared to non-college graduates, college grads overall: 

-Get more jobs.

-Have more job satisfaction.

-Make more money over their lifetime*.

-Live in poverty less.

-Have better work retirement plans.

*If you teach in a low-income school, the third benefit is especially important for disadvantaged students to know. One study showed that while students were driven to succeed in college by their intrinsic desire for autonomy, this was more true for students with higher socioeconomic status. However, low-income students were more motivated by the chance to improve their financial situation.

It’s likely you’ll have students (or maybe that same student again) point out how their uncle makes $300 an hour as a plumber. Don’t worry–no need to argue with your students (and possibly cause them to never share again for fear of being countered by their teacher).

First, wait and see if another student says something about how that’s an exception and not the rule according to what the research shows. If no one says anything, do what any good teacher does: ask a question (in your most neutral, non-sarcastic tone, of course), such as: “Do you think it’s better to look at exceptions or overall averages?”

  1. Encourage your students to take AP classes and early college/dual credit classes because they’ll be more likely to attend college after having had success in these classes.
  1. Conduct lessons that require your students to create goals and an action plan. This will give them the chance to see how getting a college degree can help them achieve their goals, especially if you encourage them to dream big. Including regular motivational lessons (e.g., motivational TED Talk videos followed by discussion) will also help.
  1. Create a college-going culture in your class and on your campus. Bring in college and career speakers, take field trips to local colleges or do virtual tours, and post helpful information and inspirational words or pictures around your classroom.
  1. Show your students how they are progressing if you have their test scores or other such data so they can see how their abilities have improved. This will give them more confidence. Be sure to point out their strengths because when students feel they’re good at something and experience success, research shows they’re more likely to have higher expectations for themselves.
  1. Teach your students how to get into college (i.e., how to increase their chances of acceptance), how to choose a college, how to apply to college, and how to meet NCAA requirements if they’re athletes. Besides giving presentations on these topics or bringing in speakers to do so, you can have students do their own research, share what they learn with each other, and even assign creative products and activities for sharing (e.g., posters, display boards, gallery walks, video infomercials or public service announcements, etc.). This is a great way to get student-designed posters to put up in your class!
  1. Talk about how to pay for college. Oftentimes, students don’t consider college because they don’t think they can afford it. Teach your students about financial aid, the cost of college, and how they can afford it. Bringing in speakers can also help with this.
  2. Hold several parent meetings and workshops addressing the importance of parental involvement and college and career readiness, including options after high school, college planning, and financial aid and completing the FAFSA. Again, you can bring in college counselors and community speakers to help you with this. Parents have a very strong influence over their children, so this might just be the most important step you can take to promote a college-going mindset!

    Yes, it can be hard to get parents to come to meetings and workshops, but it’ll be worth the effort. Collaborate with other teachers, counselors, bilingual school-home assistants your district office can provide, your parent-teacher association, and administrators when organizing these meetings. It might take some creativity, including finding funding, providing dinner, and enticing door prizes!

While some kids might have their minds made up that college is for them, most, especially those who could be the first in their family to go to college, are still trying to figure out the best path to take. It’s rare one lesson or guest speaker will be enough to help a student decide college is for them. Instead, it’ll more likely take all of the above actions.

If you’d like NO-PREP lessons to help you create a college-going culture in your class and get your students college-ready, but you don’t have the time or resources, check out this College and Career Readiness High School Curriculum with done-for-you, interactive Google Slides, digital worksheets, rubrics, checklists, projects, and more!

If you found this article helpful, share it with your teacher friends and colleagues!

Is college worth it?

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