National College Application Month is upon us! We recently visited KIPP DC College Preparatory’s College Counseling office to get an inside look at all things college. From creating wish lists, to visiting colleges, and submitting applications, our students have college on the brain. Read a short Q&A with college counseling director Ms. Caitlin Domagal to learn all you need to know about college counseling at KCP.
When do you and the College Counseling team at KCP begin working with students around the college process?
Ms. Domagal: We truly begin your first day of 9th grade. However, we encourage students to make a ‘wish list’ for schools they’re interested in during spring semester of their junior year. When they get back in the fall as seniors, they’re solidifying their list, writing personal statements and essays, and they really begin applying and submitting from late September to early October. All our seniors take a College Counseling seminar class. During this course, we assist students with everything from researching schools, scholarships, reviewing essays, and even doing the last check before they hit submit. We meet with juniors about once a month during their advisory time.
You mentioned you work with students as early as junior year, is there a reason for this?
Ms. Domagal: Well, we begin as early as possible because the process can be tricky. We encourage all our students to apply early action (which is a non-binding agreement). Typically, early action students find out decisions earlier and often receive substantial financial aid packages. While final deadlines are in January, we have all students complete and submit applications before they leave for the Thanksgiving holiday. This allows us to double and triple check applications and really focus on scholarships and financial aid in the winter months.
What is the process for acquiring scholarships and financial aid? How do you work with students to ensure they’re able to afford college?
Ms. Domagal: I try to explain it in terms of a pie. The largest piece of the pie, or amount of money that students will get, comes directly from the college or university itself. Having a strong application is the best way to make sure you’re eligible for scholarship money. The second piece is the need-based aid. We push all students to apply for federal aid and have a goal of 100% of FASFA applications completed by January! The last piece is community or private scholarships. We tend to see organizations like fraternities and sororities begin to roll these out somewhere between November and the spring months.
The 6th Annual KIPP DC College Fair recently passed. Each year the event seems to grow larger, with more attendees and college partners. What are the benefits of having the college fair at KCP?
Ms. Domagal: The KIPP DC College Fair is beneficial for so many reasons. First, I really like that we open it up to all of our students, families, and community members, not just KCP students. It’s an excellent way to get students and families exposed and engaged with colleges and universities early. The biggest benefit, of course, is for our seniors. During the college fair, many of them are finalizing their college list and have an idea of which schools they’re applying to. For seniors who have already applied, it’s a good time to personally meet the admissions representative. Believe it or not, for many schools the person who attends the fair is often the person reviewing applications.
We’re approaching Thanksgiving break, how many applications have students submitted so far?
Ms. Domagal: I knew this was coming! As of October 25, we have had about 170 applications completed and submitted – which is on par with previous years. We encourage students to apply to at least nine schools. I anticipate this number increasing significantly during November.
I know you get this often but, what tips do you have for students and families who are preparing to navigate the college process?
Ms. Domagal: I actually don’t get this question enough. The #1 thing students can do is make sure grades and GPAs are high and that they’re taking challenging courses. If your grades weren’t previously high, you should be working to show improvement. Second, would be to give yourself enough time. Spend enough time getting essays and personal stories edited and reviewed. Take time to research schools. This could mean anything from looking online, stopping by a college fair, or even visiting a local college. The process is easier to navigate when you have some direction of where you’d like to attend.
Special thanks to Ms. Domagal and the whole team at KIPP DC College Preparatory for the work they are doing to prepare students for college and careers. Check back this winter to see where the Class of 2018 has been accepted!