The Facts and Feelings of Choosing Your College or University: Tips

Bryan Rutledge, Director of College Counseling, Woodward Academy, College Park, GA

If you are a counselor trying to help students make college decisions this spring (or summer), we hope you will find these tips helpful to share with students!

The waiting is finally over, and you know your admission results. Congratulations on the acceptances you have earned. In addition to meeting all your academic, co-curricular, and family obligations, you have been welcomed to college or university communities and your path to a bright future. Now you get to choose; but how do you go about it? Here are some tips, and of course, remember you can also consult your college or school counselor.

1. Decide about any waitlists and focus on your options.

If you are on a waitlist for admission, follow any directions to reaffirm interest should you wish to pursue it. Then, set the matter aside and focus on making a choice among the available options. If you decline a waitlist offer, you might create an option for someone who would like to have it. You can withdraw your application to any school where you have been wait-listed or admitted and are no longer interested. Think of those who will benefit from your anonymous gift.

2. Be creative about researching colleges and universities.

Not being able to visit colleges and universities in person is a hassle, but there are work-arounds. Some are offering visits by appointment, and others may do so in the near future. Virtual tours and admitted student online events can help as well. Reach out to current college students to get a diversity of opinions. You can contact the administrators and student leaders in identity and affinity groups (sometimes via social media) to learn what campus life is really like and what kind of community resources are available. Some colleges and universities are extending the May 1 enrollment confirmation deadline, creating more time for you to research and weigh your options. Stay in touch with the undergraduate admissions offices via their websites. Most have admission reps designated by territory. Email this person with your questions or concerns. Don’t hesitate to reach out and pose questions to admissions and financial aid counselors and to follow up with them. They want you to enroll and are eager to help.

3. Weigh your options and lean on your wise advisors.

Ask yourself, “What is the current state of my interests and plans, and have they changed, or have I changed, in the past year? What do I think now about the size, cost, diversity and inclusion, distance from home, academic and career opportunities, co-curricular life, virtual or in person learning, and surrounding community of my college or university options? What kind of residential life suits me, and are learning/living communities available? Would more research lead me to a destination that will feel like a second home? Am I choosing based on vague reasons or thoughtful analysis?” Some students organize the pros, cons, and offerings of each college or university on a spreadsheet. Also, now is the time to turn to the wise advisers in your life. Instead of asking them where you ought to enroll, consider asking, “Would you describe my strengths and interests?” You can take it from there.

4. If you’re undecided about your college major or college life, reach out directly to professors, administrators, or college students.

Many students are undecided about their major or career, and that’s fine. At the same time, you’ve probably narrowed it down or have combinations in mind, and that’s all you need to launch your college major research. But how do you get started? Email your admission counselor or just email the academic department(s) at your prospective school. Ask if you can communicate with a professor in your preferred field of study or an upper-level student majoring in that field. These conversations could be game-changers.

5. Check in with the Career Planning Office.

One of your most vital resources is the career planning office. Call or email them as well, tell them the majors/minors that most interest you, and ask what they can do to guide and assist students with your particular interests. What are their services for internships, alumni networks, popular companies that interview, summer jobs, interest surveys, resume and interview services, and career/professional school placement? Estimate all the time and money you and your family will invest in your undergraduate experience. After you have caught your breath, ask yourself whether your outcome in four short years is worth some college major and career planning. You should build a working relationship with your school’s career planning department no later than your first semester.

6. Consider how you’ll finance college.

Let’s introduce the elephant in the room: Money. Money isn’t everything, but it’s very important. Choices you make now will profoundly affect your future financial life. Low interest college loans can enable futures that would otherwise be out of reach. At the same time, consider that, in 2019, the average debt for Georgia college graduates was more than $28,000. Consider the impact of debt on your early career and what it will mean for your lifestyle, freedom, and graduate or professional school choices. Ensure that you thoroughly understand the details of any financial awards; if you’re not sure, reach out to the financial aid office. If you have been invited to a school’s honors program, contact the program director to learn about all the enrichment it provides. If you haven’t been invited, find out how you might earn your way in after enrollment if that looks appealing.

Once you have enrolled and gravitate toward your academic major(s), speak with professors about departmental funds that could enhance your learning. Perhaps you could become a tutor or research/technical assistant. (What a terrific way to network with faculty!) After your first year, student jobs may open in the residence life office. Be creative: If you can construct a website, whip up tasty pastries, or bench press a car, you can make money. Also, consider the potential earning power of your college major. If you are planning a major in the humanities, social sciences, or fine arts, that’s great; yet it might be a good idea to consider adding a minor or double-major in something like computer science, business, natural science, or communications. The good news is that colleges and universities are more flexible than ever at helping you tailor your undergraduate experience to your particular needs and plans.

7. Keep going, and keep your sense of humor.

While these tips are a good starting place, there is so much guidance available, including recommended reading.


General guides:

The Truth About College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together by Brennan Bernard and Rick Clark; There Is Life After College by Jeffrey Selingo; Frank Bruni’s Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be; and Colleges Worth Your Money by Belasco, Bergman, and Trivetto.

Remember, these simple words will see you through many challenges: Own your education, keep up, and keep a sense of humor!

My History with SACAC with Briana Duncan

Briana Duncan, M.Ed (she/her/hers), College Advisor, Maynard Holbrook Jackson High School (GA)

Tell us about your journey in the field of education and as an admissions/counseling professional. What are you most proud of accomplishing?

Like many other admissions professionals, I began my career as a University Ambassador while completing my undergraduate degree. I realized my passion as students nationwide walked the campus and visualized themselves opening doors to their future through higher education. Getting my foot in the door as a front desk Admissions Office attendant at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, and slowly working my way up to autonomous territory management, I desired a more in-depth knowledge of theory, student development, and policy. While leading an out-of-state recruitment team at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA (amidst a consolidation), checking in and out of Hilton properties recruiting students along the East Coast and Midwest, I started my Masters of Higher Education Administration degree. Yes, being the first in my family to complete a master’s degree was a fantastic accomplishment, and I am truly blessed, but that is not what I am most proud of achieving. My most crowning triumph was the journey itself: a millennial, black woman working full-time in a majority-white space, completing graduate coursework while managing a team of other young women of color in a small country town five hours from home, leading and practicing resilience during the 2016 presidential election – y’all. We begin careers in higher education to transform the lives of others. Still, so many times along the way, our dedication to the students and the students themselves end up changing us.

As a professional and individual, have there been moments when you felt challenged or unsupported?

COVID-19 has turned so many things upside down and changed our lives forever, but for me, it was an unexpected shift in career and a switch to the other side of the desk. As the only person of color in the Office of Admissions at a small, private institution, I was left feeling unfulfilled, misrepresented, and disrespected. Microaggressions assume many shapes and forms, and though often white and white-facing colleagues don’t mean to offend or oppress, it happens more times than not. We all know how small our region can feel. Everyone knows everyone, and word travels quickly. For the first time in my professional career, I was ready to give up and abandon all that I had worked to achieve. Unfortunately, that also meant leaving behind the students that ultimately keep all of us employed. Though feeling unsupported for a short time, it felt amplified while on lockdown and isolated from family and friends. Unmotivated and lost, I leaned on faith and my SACAC network. I am grateful for all of the fellowship and connections I have made and honestly advise others to find a small group of motivators and uplifters to keep you going. Lord knows I am grateful for mine.

We realize this has been a trying year for us all, particularly those of us who are members of the BIPOC community. What continues to affirm your passion for your work and the students you serve? 

In the public school environment with an inner-city district, it amazes me that so many white and white-facing educators still look to BIPOC for ways to connect with students of color. Whether it be trying to garner attendance to virtual class in general or participation in programs and events, there are still many people within our industry who simply do not know or understand the obstacles that people of color face. I remain affirmed each time I reach a student through shared experience and empathy. Our students need our motivation and positivity now more than ever, and the resiliency we display will have long-lasting effects on their perception of education in the future. I do not want them ever to feel unheard, unseen, or forgotten. They matter, and their education matters, and if my presence and representation alone can do that, I will serve with a smile.

What would you like SACAC members to know about ways in which they can better serve their students and support their colleagues?

Only one piece of advice comes to mind, but if we all used this simple tip, we would be better off. SLOW DOWN. When you have an opportunity to connect with a student or colleague, those mounting emails can wait. When you find time to volunteer while traveling and recruiting students, take it and make a difference; when you need a break and feel run down, take time for yourself and your health. These institutions and offices will be there. The recruitment goals and strategic plans aren’t going away. We will also have deadlines and timelines. We know and understand their importance. You can best support your students and colleagues by being your real, rested, and refreshed self. Enjoy the ups and downs, but never take it too seriously. We owe it to each other to slow it down and show up as our best selves.

Celebrating HBCU Excellence!

Jameia Tennie (pronouns: she/her), Director, Office of Undergraduate Admissions, North Carolina A&T State University

The pursuit of post-secondary education continues to open the door to endless possibilities for students across the globe.  Each year, SACAC professionals are privileged to support students as they make these important collegiate decisions.  Choosing to attend a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) is one of the best decisions that I have made!  That decision for myself and so many other HBCU alumni has charted the path for us to display our greatness across multiple industries.  As a two-time HBCU graduate (Hampton University & North Carolina A&T State University), I am proud to champion the celebration and continued success of HBCUs.

Since the 19th century, HBCUs have been established to provide education and training for students primarily of African descent. Eighty-nine percent of HBCUs are located in the southern region of the United States, providing service to student populations ranging from 300 to over 12,000.  These diverse classified institutions provide academic excellence in STEM, agriculture, business, education, law and liberal arts.  The family atmosphere, legacy significance and school spirit shape each institution in a unique way.  Through internships, academic engagement and service opportunities, HBCU students gain a multi-faceted educational experience that prepares them for the global workforce.  These experiences allow graduates to go on to blaze trails in their respective industries.  They journey on to become app inventors, astronauts, CEOs of fortune 500 companies, doctors, educators, engineers, lawyers, or even the first Black and South Asian woman to serve the United States of America as Vice President.  HBCUs continue their commitment to developing the next generation of leaders.

Keep shining HBCU family!


Please make sure to register for the next webinar in our Spring Series, “Highlighting the Impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” which will occur, Thursday, February 18th @ 11:30 AM CT/12:30 PM ET.

Historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, are a beacon of hope in Black and Brown communities. Whether it be their illustrious history, cutting-edge majors and programs, or notable alumni, HBCUs transcend cultural divides to unite communities through education and access. Join us as we celebrate Black History Month to learn about their impact on higher education and our society at large, what differentiates them from predominantly white institutions or PWIs, and how to educate your students and staff on their efficacy.


Bryan Cooper – Associate Director of Admission, Xavier University of Louisiana
Jarred Honora – Dean of Alumni Relations, Crescent City Schools
Sydney Dowd-Smith – Associate Director of Admission, North Carolina A&T State University
Sandria Mason – Admissions Recruiter, Savannah State University
TJ Snowden, Ed. D. – Director of Admissions & Recruitment, Morehouse College

Register for the webinar


Member Spotlight

Jahleese Hadley, Director of College Access, GLOW Academy, Wilmington, NC

Who/What first inspired you to work in education? Or What motivates you to wake up and go to work?

I am a product of a small, all-girls college preparatory school in the heart of Spanish Harlem in New York City. I went to that school at a pivotal moment in the history of public single-gender education in the United States. Admittedly, I was not aware of this until I graduated from college and became a working adult. I realized that while I had been  a motivated student, there were some specific and intentional mechanisms that my school and college counselor put in place to increase my chances of access to and persistence through college. I wanted to understand what those mechanisms were and the social scientist in me wanted to understand why they were needed. I have stayed in education because now that I understand why those mechanisms are still needed, I want to be a part of making sure they get implemented and that students who historically have been underrepresented in post-secondary vocational and academic spaces have the opportunities they desire.

Tell us about GLOW Academy and your college advising program:

At the Girls Leadership Academy Of Wilmington (GLOW) we prepare students for successful college admission, college graduation and citizenship through life. Our 6th through 12th grade, single-gender school is designed for first-generation college students. Its “whole girl” focus offers a learning environment that nurtures the emotional, physical and academic facets of each student, developing a strong and supportive culture among its faculty, students, their families and the broader community.

An affiliate of the Young Women’s Leadership Network, a group of groundbreaking and successful single-gender schools founded in New York in 1996, GLOW is guided by a proven educational model.  Here, young women are encouraged to dream big and then given the structure and support to make their dreams come true. Our focus on academic rigor, personal responsibility and college preparedness requires our students to deliver their very best, in the classroom and out. The result is a school that works hard to close the opportunity and achievement gap among families with fewer available resources.

For the majority of my students, the obstacles to a college education are real.  Many will be the first in their families to attend college.  We are committed to getting students to and through college. Our College Bound team works with each student and her family to build college awareness, visit college campuses, provide one-on-one application help, secure financial aid, and support enrollment.

Biggest “win” in your school/program history? Explain what it was, how it came about, and what it meant to your team.

A big “win” for our school was securing a partnership with Cape Fear Community College to offer academically advanced and motivated students at GLOW the opportunity to earn a Business Administration Certificate beginning in the 9th grade. Our “Early Risers” program is a unique opportunity, and our students are able to begin gaining transferable college credit as early as 9th grade. As a smaller, still growing school with a public school budget, we can’t offer all the same traditional experiences that students envision in high school like sports just yet. This program helps some of our students build an even stronger resume while we continue to grow our other programming.

What are you excited about in the near future for your program (or school)?

I joined the GLOW school community in its founding year. I am so very excited to support our first graduating class through their junior year and actually begin their long-awaited college search, match and application process!

What has been your favorite project so far?

My favorite project so far was taking my 8th grade students on their first overnight college trip to Washington D.C. Some of my students had never been outside of North Carolina, so to watch them navigate college campuses like Howard University and the University of Richmond with burgeoning confidence was inspiring.

What would you do for a career if you weren’t doing this?

If I were not working in college access, I believe I would still be doing some sort of education program development that serves students. Learners are the foundation of our society, and I have always felt driven to support them in some form. When I retire, though, I would most definitely like to open a custom dessert bakery. I’ve been making custom confections for 10 years now and it is a passion of mine. Plus, who doesn’t love frosting?!

What chore do you absolutely hate doing? Cleaning the bathroom is gross.

What are your quarantine hacks? CDC guidelines haven’t steered me wrong yet 😉

What music is on your iPhone/Android phone? From about November to February of every year, it’s a steady stream of Holiday music. Otherwise I am a true eclectic. I will listen to anything.

If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would you meet? I would love to meet Ida B. Wells. She was full of guts and conviction and those kinds of people are always great to talk to and learn from.

What’s your favorite indoor/outdoor activity? I always have a book with me. I will read anywhere.

What is the first concert you attended? I don’t like crowds so that’s a NO for me. But I would have faced my fears to see *NSYNC in concert.

(Interview by SACAC North Carolina Communication Liaison Justine Worthington)


The Potential of a Promise

Andrew Colson, Admissions Counselor & Program Manager of the UAB Birmingham Promise, The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)

What is the Birmingham Promise and why does it matter?

When the Birmingham Promise Scholarship was first announced by the city of Birmingham, Alabama, in the fall of 2019, I was equally surprised and excited.  My surprise was due to the generosity of the scholarship: up to 4 years of tuition fully covered (after accounting for grants/merit-scholarships), applicable to any public 2- or 4-year college or university in Alabama, transferable between community colleges and universities.

My excitement stemmed from the realization of how many doors would now be open to graduates of the Birmingham City School system.  One of the key factors that contributes to any student’s college decision when determining best fit is affordability.  As we all know, the average tuition cost of an undergraduate degree program has gone up consistently in the past few decades, while the need for an undergraduate degree within our economy has increased along a similar pace.  The Birmingham City School system serves over 23,000 students, many of whom come from lower-middle class and impoverished households.  For many of these students, the cost of college is the primary barrier between them and obtaining an undergraduate degree.  With the introduction of the Birmingham Promise Scholarship, that financial barrier was greatly reduced and many of these students now have access to higher education opportunities that may otherwise be unattainable.

Taking it one step further — The UAB Birmingham Promise

In early 2020, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) became the first official academic partner school of the Birmingham Promise Scholarship, pledging a one-to-one match of the tuition scholarship for each student. However, UAB decided that its contributions to this cohort of students would not stop at the financial support.  Even before the pandemic became our reality, it was clear that the Promise cohort would be best invested in not only with monetary resources, but with additional student life and academic support. UAB specifically designed support that would ease students into the transition to college to help them feel supported and successful as they completed each semester at UAB. This idea resulted in the creation of the UAB Birmingham Promise, a series of programs and staff that are solely dedicated to this specific cohort of students’ success, support, and retention.

In terms of staff, I personally have had the honor of being the program manager for the UAB Birmingham Promise since its inception in early 2020.  As the program manager, I serve as a consistent point of contact for students from the time they are recruited to their graduation from UAB. I am able to offer assistance with student admission and financial aid, networking support with university and community partners, coordination of workshops and events, and serve as an instructor for their required First Year Experience (FYE) course.  This consistent point of contact offers students a sense of familiarity when dealing with a larger institution such as UAB by helping them feel more secure as they advance through the application process and their enrollment.

But perhaps the most exciting aspect of the UAB Birmingham Promise is its peer mentoring program. UAB partnered with the Birmingham Education Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that specifically works with Birmingham City School students and graduates in workforce and educational development. With the help of the Birmingham Education Foundation, we were able to recruit and hire 10 current UAB students who are also alumni of the BCS system to create the Promise Mentor Team. This team consists of students from varied backgrounds, majors, and campus organizations. The team is comprised of sophomores, juniors, and seniors who have demonstrated interest in giving back to the Birmingham community and supporting this cohort of their fellow BCS alumni.

The Promise Mentors for the 2020-2021 school year began their outreach to the incoming freshman cohort on June 1, 2020.  During the summer, Mentors would rotate to a new group of 5-7 Mentees each week so that each mentor could get to know each mentee by the start of the Fall semester.  Every 2-3 weeks, we would have larger cohort-wide meetings to play games and discuss topics related to the transition to college, encouraging the entire cohort to build a sense of community with each other.  While COVID-19 limited some of our initial plans for in-person meetings, our Mentors prevailed in making sure each student was involved and felt seen during an (for lack of a less-tired word) “unprecedented” summer vacation.

The Promise Mentor Team’s summer outreach culminated in the Virtual UAB Birmingham Promise Welcome Weekend in early August.  During this 4-day program that was developed by UAB and Birmingham Education Foundation staff, Promise Scholars and their parents met with UAB Faculty, advisors, support staff, student organizations, community partners, and the mayor of Birmingham to prepare them for what to expect as they began college. We also wanted to ensure students were familiar with not only the academic and student life resources available, but also with those specific people on campus they could turn to for support both on and off campus.  For their part, Promise Mentors led workshops that focused on character building, maximizing one’s student experience, and tips for avoiding academic and social pitfalls common to college freshmen.  It was an incredibly edifying experience for both the Promise Mentors and the Promise Scholars and set the tone for what the Fall semester would entail.

What the UAB Birmingham Promise has meant during the COVID-19 era

Promise Mentors were officially assigned their permanent Mentee pairing upon completion of the Welcome Weekend. These pairings were based on Mentor and Mentee feedback on their interactions over the summer. Mentors are required to meet with each of their assigned Mentees for a minimum of 1.5 hours each week. That communication can take place through any medium that either Mentor or Mentee prefers. They tend to enjoy texting, doing group video meetings, and socially distanced activities. What’s been remarkable about the mentor team is their ability to go beyond these expectations and enter in their own personal dynamic and interactions with each student in addition to the group as a whole. From a student engagement aspect, the Promise Mentor relationship has been successful as well. Mentors have completed game nights with their students, connecting them with organizations they are already involved with such as Greek life or Anime Club. Some have even gone long-boarding on campus, which is becoming more of a fad each year. From an academic aspect, Mentors took the liberty of creating group study times for the entire cohort every few weeks, especially as we drew closer to midterms and finals. The most amazing thing about this semester has been, even in the face of COVID-19 and the restrictions it places upon us, the energy of the mentors and their mentees’ engagement has not waned. The Mentors have been great advocates for their Mentees, often bringing to light barriers or issues that may not otherwise have been captured outside of this mentoring program. The COVID-19 pandemic has been an additional source of stress for already anxious first-year college students. I believe that without these Mentors, and without the Birmingham Promise, this specific cohort would be in far more dire straits and would be much less engaged.

The Birmingham Promise has great potential to change the face of education in the city of Birmingham and how UAB engages with its local community. But its lasting impact will come from the individual stories from both Promise Mentors and Promise Scholars engaged in the program. Each student has benefitted from connecting with one another whether they be Mentor or Mentee. As this program grows, I am personally excited to see scholars become Mentors, Mentors become leaders, and those leaders investing further into the Birmingham Promise to create the continuum of care that our local community and the global community need to succeed. The Birmingham Promise has done a wonderful job making college more accessible to students who traditionally experience financial barriers. However, it is the personal touches such as the Promise Mentor team, that will truly determine a student’s success and happiness while enrolled at their college. If we can continue to invest in these financial and personal supports, I am hopeful that we will see not only increased retention year to year for this cohort but also a higher level of engagement in the university and in the surrounding community.


You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Shannon Grimsley (left), Outreach Program Director, Get2College/Woodward Hines Education Foundation

Brandi Lyndall (right), Director of GEAR UP Outreach, Get2College/Woodward Hines Education Foundation

When students across Mississippi were sent home from high schools and colleges due to COVID-19 in March 2020, our world, and theirs, changed. Get2College responded professionally in the way many of us reacted personally – we called our friends! We immediately realized the best way to reach students would require us to work even more closely with Mississippi colleges and universities if we are to succeed in meeting the needs of the students we all serve.

Get2College is a program of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation, and we serve students, families, and educators, helping students in Mississippi get to and through college. Although this has been an unusually difficult and unpredictable time for all of us, we want to share what we have learned thus far. 

We need partners more than ever. Every two years, Get2College hosts an Admissions Counselor Summit. This event is designed to provide college admissions colleagues with information on issues of college access: entry, financial aid, and college planning. In August 2020, we shifted to a two-hour virtual event, and 95 admissions professionals representing 23 institutions across Mississippi joined us. To maintain the highly interactive nature of this training (even with the shift to virtual), the agenda included three sessions of round-robin, small group (3-4 people) networking, KAHOOT! trivia game covering colleges access hot topics, and a guest presenter on implicit bias from the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation that facilitated small group (2-3) discussion.  

During the summit, two small groups were formed to address inequities in the college search process for rural and adult students. These groups will reconvene in January to share what they discovered and discuss with one another. In true SACAC spirit, we connected with our college and university friends and fostered relationships that will help us all serve Mississippi students, families, and high schools despite the difficulties we are all facing. We found this is the perfect time for testing new strategies. Get creative and try different approaches to reach your students. More than ever, this is an opportunity to “fail in service of learning,” a quote from one of our favorite consultants. Reach out to your partners and work together to meet today’s challenges. Together we can help students overcome the additional barriers COVID-19 has put in their way. 

Admissions Counselor Summit participants were asked to complete a post-event survey. Many of the participants completed the survey providing feedback about the virtual event. Below are some of the responses to the questions: 

Since Attending this Get2College Admissions Counselor Summit, what will you do differently? 

“Our institution is looking at new ways to recruit with the limitations in place because of COVID-19. Virtual admission events tailored to certain programs is one way we are approaching this recruitment season.” 

“I will do my best to incorporate more interactive activities into my virtual sessions.” 

“Since the summit, I will try to work more collaboratively with others to maximize this time despite the lack of face-to-face options we have with students. I will also work to meet my students, guidance counselors, and families where they are at by checking any of my bias at the door and understanding that one size does not fit all. Lastly, I will do more outreach with my network of ACs to see if we can bounce ideas off of each other for recruitment efforts this year.” 

“Not shy away from difficult conversations about race.” 

I will be mindful of my virtual presence, as well as work on strategies to reach students in rural areas.” 

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about the Admissions Counselor Summit? 

“Since the first time I attended in 2018 I have always come away with some added knowledge that I can use in my position. Thank you.” 

“Enjoyed the breakout session and sharing knowledge regarding COVID-19.” 

“You guys always do a great job!” 

“It was very engaging, helpful, and it held a lot of knowledge and tools to use during this uncertain time.” 

“Overall great event.” 

This one small endeavor seemed to have informed and motivated many of our partners and inspired Get2College to continue thinking creatively. Connecting virtually, through social media and snail mail is less than ideal, but with all of us working together we can see this through and help our students get to and through college.

During this season of Thanksgiving, Get2College continues to be grateful for our SACAC friends and Mississippi partners. 

The Higher Education Act of 1965

Bill Pruden, Ravenscroft School, Raleigh, NC

November 8, 2020 marks the 55th anniversary of the enactment of the Higher Education Act of 1965, a milestone piece of legislation that altered the relationship between the government and the higher education community and whose influence continues to be deeply felt to this day.

The Act, which has been reauthorized at regular four-year and six-year intervals since 1965, was a centerpiece of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. When it was first passed, the law provided new college opportunities for millions of low- and middle-income American students for whom a college education had long been little more than a dream. Between the creation of work-study opportunities, need-based financial aid programs, and guaranteed low cost federal loans, the Act has, over the course of the last half century, effectively opened the door to college for millions of American students. In making higher education a realistic option for a host of students for which it had previously been an impossibility, the Act has allowed the American democratic experiment to cut across socioeconomic lines. As a result, higher education has become a vehicle for the social and economic advancement of countless students who had once been all but ignored, making ever more real the promise of American democracy.

To learn more and to see the way the Act has evolved and grown in its reach and influence, consult the following links:

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

by Rachel Fried, Director, Public School Initiative

Basic cultural comprehension goes a long way.

Often, schools and individuals are unsure where to even begin with Native recruitment and retention. The reality is, simple transformations can have great significance. As college access practitioners, a first step can be to look inward at institutional and individual language, references, and resources through a critical indigenous lens. A few common areas for consideration are below.

A starting point for people in all places

The way we communicate often makes or breaks opportunities to be active accomplices. Whether seasoned indigenous-serving professionals or first-time engagers, starting with how we talk to and about Native and Indigenous people is always the best step one.

Avoid historification

Native people are often referred to in the past tense – “those who used to live on this land”… “the ones who came before us”… – and honestly, it’s creepy. (Side note: It wasn’t until the last 20 years when Native American people were officially moved out of the Museum of Natural History.) The point is, Native people exist today… Check your school and personal verbiage for unintentional historification! It’s a quick way to demonstrate understanding.

Amplify authenticity (know your sources)

Ethnic fraud is rampant. We can all contribute to its end. Rely exclusively on authentic Indigenous and Indigenous-serving sources for knowledge and support. Amplify authentic indigeneity at your institution, elevate authentic indigeneity everywhere.

Recognize (specific) sovereign nations

Understanding Native American identity as a citizenship, nationhood-based status is an essential foundation. In daily practice, asking about, remembering, and recognizing the specific Native nations of individuals is a key starting place for effective culturally-resonant communication.

Acknowledge diversity (of identity and experience)

As with many communities of color, the vast diversity of identity and experience within Native America and the broader global Indigenous community is immense. Start by acknowledging the fact of breadth, and then break down pan-Native assumptions in communications and practices wherever possible.

When in doubt, ask! SACAC provides a knowledge- and experience-rich community for all. Whether you are deeply dialed in with Native and Indigenous communities or you are just beginning your process, let’s learn together.

Modeling Compassion in the Wake of a Natural Disaster










Sammy Stevens – Nashville Regional Representative, the University of Tennessee

Early last week, cities across Tennessee suffered devastating loss as a result of a storm system producing EF-2, EF-3 and EF-4 tornadoes. These tornadoes hit overnight, carving out a 160-mile path from West Tennessee, through Nashville, and on toward the Cumberland Plateau. Students and families across Tennessee have lost homes. Many residents are still without power. Nearly ten schools were damaged, including Tennessee State University, Donelson Christian Academy, and Mount Juliet Christian Academy.

Hundreds of people were transported to the hospital because of their injuries. Twenty-five lives were lost.

While we often talk about the ethical practices in our profession, this event has served as a reminder of all the thoughtfully compassionate ways that we serve our students and communities.

“Look for the Helpers”

Over the past week, schools across Tennessee have stepped up to aid in the recovery efforts. East Nashville Magnet High School served as one of four emergency shelters in Nashville. Nashville Christian School students assisted in cleanup at Donelson Christian Academy. McGavock High School served nearly 500 hot meals to those displaced by the storm. Hume-Fogg students and staff cleaned yards across town. LEAD Academy students and counselors took inventory at donation centers, and then helped displaced families shop for the items they needed. Montgomery Bell Academy students helped families pack and move their belongings from damaged homes. Pearl Cohn Entertainment Magnet opened its doors to serve as a donation hub and resource center. Countless schools have collected food, toiletries, and other items. Colleagues from local CBOs have been “boots on the ground” volunteers for the most vulnerable members of our community.

Colleges and universities have also aided in recovery efforts. Fundraising has happened across the state, from the University of Memphis’ “Tigers help Tigers” fund for Tennessee State University, to the University of Tennessee’s nearly $30,000 for disaster relief efforts in Middle Tennessee. Two members of Tennessee Tech University’s faculty are helping to salvage documents and photos from damaged computers. Nashville State Community College provided bus passes and gas cards for those affected. Belmont University created a fund specifically for the Metro Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) to provide shelter and recovery for impacted families. Vanderbilt University, Lipscomb University, and Trevecca Nazarene University have all offered up their facilities so schools affected can finish out spring sports season.

These lists aren’t exhaustive, either. Over the next few months, Tennesseans will continue to rebuild the communities that have suffered devastating losses, and the spirit of service that has permeated the past week will carry on even after the physical rebuilding process is finished. SACAC members in Tennessee are working to ensure that this event won’t have negative implications for our college-going students, and we will inevitably call on the rest of our membership for assistance in the months to come.

Not Alone

Other communities within SACAC have been affected by natural disasters, and the disparity in coverage and resources is striking. In early January, Puerto Rico sustained even more damage as a magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit the island. There have been daily aftershocks in the months since. These events also serve as a reminder that proximity shouldn’t become a barrier. We are a profession of empathetic, creative, change-makers. We can do better.

Here are five ways colleges can better serve students immediately after disastrous events:

  1. Be proactive versus reactive, but also prepare for obstacles surrounding communication. How do you maintain contact with students who don’t have phones, computers, TVs, or mailboxes?
  2. Plan to address the entirety of the college attainment process. Create policies surrounding deadlines, documentation, financial assistance, and registration. Think of where they are in the process, and what you’ll be asking of them during that time. Can you meet any of those needs?
  3. Identify who needs help, and don’t always assume it’s just the areas you’ve heard about in the news or online. If students are truly individuals in this process, then blanket emails to all students from one school, city, or county won’t suffice.
  4. Be willing to wait, and ready to listen. Ask affected communities what they need, and be prepared to meet those needs. Understand that you may not understand… but listen anyway.
  5. Be ready to provide assistance in the months to come. Flag students who were impacted. Follow-up at important points in the process. Check-in once they’re on campus.

Disruptions caused by natural disasters impact the students, parents and professionals involved in the college search process in uneven and, often, incalculable ways. There’s no one-size-fits-all response to tragedy, and no singular solution to the problems that students will face after disaster strikes. However, maintaining an empathetic and thoughtful approach to our work is certainly a good start to finding those solutions.

Planting Ideas and Packaging Higher Education

Monica Rozman, Clemson University

As an admissions counselor, one of my favorite things to share is how some of my alma mater’s niche programs showcase the university. Landscape architecture is a program that takes advantage of Clemson’s strong agricultural heritage and architecture program. Landscape architects often work closely with architects and city planners to help find creative, plant-based design solutions to a variety of practical and aesthetic challenges faced by both rural and urban areas. Clemson’s program offers students the opportunity to get both a bachelor’s of landscape architecture as well as a master’s of landscape architecture. When I was a Clemson student, I experienced our beautiful campus, botanical gardens, and 17,500 acre experimental forest. Our landscape architecture students can utilize each of these locations as an opportunity to expand their education. Clemson also has a European partnership that allows students to study landscape architecture in Barcelona, Spain, a city with one of the strongest architectural reputations in the world. Home to World Heritage Sites such as Park Güell, students can gain valuable cultural experience while working toward their degree. Recent graduates of Clemson’s landscape architecture program are employed in the public and private sectors worldwide in addition to being enrolled in graduate programs across the country at institutions like the University of Colorado, Johns Hopkins University, and Harvard University.

Another cool major Clemson offers is packaging science, which is offered by very few universities across the United States. It is a program in which students study packaging design, product marketing, and materials science. Clemson offers degrees in packaging science at both bachelor’s and master’s levels, with the opportunity for students who begin their undergraduate degree at Clemson to graduate in five years with their master’s. With the help of corporate partnerships with companies like Sonoco and Fujifilm, the university provides students six labs that cover topics such as food packaging, package design, and package transportation for research. Students have access to many innovative facilities around campus, including Clemson’s eye-tracking lab, where the efficacy of package design and placement can be tested with volunteer subjects from the campus community. It is essentially a true-to-life store setup that the subjects are asked to browse. Companies will come in to test new products and designs, and students can learn from those encounters as well as their own research. Students must complete at least one co-op placement in order to graduate, a requirement that can easily be met through resources such as Clemson’s Michelin Career Center.

Working in admissions at Clemson, I love to use my experiences as an alum to excite prospective students about the possibility of attending not just Clemson, but college in general. Seeing students light up when I share about seeing my friend Emily 4,500 miles away from campus while she studied landscape architecture in Barcelona, and when I represented Clemson at an international Model United Nations competition, is as exciting for me as it is for them. Letting a student know they can combine their passion for STEM, business, and design through a degree like packaging science the way my friend Jenny did makes some students aware of new possibilities. I love that I am in a role to use my experience to help set students up for success—no matter what school they may attend when they start their college journey.