Who Teaches Students about College and What Do They Tell Them?

Who is responsible for helping students navigate the road to college? When students get to high school, most assume the responsibilities of college advising falls on the lap of the School Counselor. While School Counselors do provide the structure for college advising, students often fail to utilize provided resources and instead rely on others, including teachers, family, and peers for guidance.

In a 2015 national student survey of over 55,000 high school students, YouthTruth found that less than 30% of students sought the help of their School Counselor for college admission requirements, how to apply to college, and how to pay for college.

% of Students who participated in school counseling services
Counseling About Future Career Possibilities
Counseling About Admission Requirements
Counseling About How to Apply for College
Counseling About How to Pay for College

If students are not utilizing school counseling services, then where are they getting their information? A 2012 study by Martinez and Cervera analyzed the college information sources for nearly 12,000 underrepresented minority students and concluded that over half of the students sought help from multiple sources including high school staff, family members, and friends.

African American
Sought Information from Friends
Sought Information from Family Members
Sought Information from High School Staff (includes Counselor, Teacher, Coach)
source: Cervera, Yesenia Lucia & Martinez, Sylvia (2012). Fulfilling Educational Aspirations: Latino Students’ College Information Seeking Patterns. Journal of Hispanic Education, 11(4), 388-402. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1538192711435560

While these mentioned sources may have the best of intentions and think they are helping, quite frequently the information teachers, parents, and peers are passing along is out of date, incorrect, or not appropriate for that individual student’s situation.

Generally, most teachers, parents, and peers are good sources for motivation on WHY to go to college, but lack training and information on HOW to apply to and select a college to attend. Additionally, they are severely ill equipped to provide information to students on how to pay for college.

For example, the media, both traditional and social, have inundated our culture with the idea that college is completely unaffordable for low income students and the only way they can get a college degree is to take on massive debt. This is simply not true if you really understand and utilize the financial aid resources available from both state and federal government to make college goals a bit more attainable.

Consider the following example of a student living in South East Los Angeles, CA who has earned admission to California State University Los Angeles. This student is being told by everyone around him that he should just attend the local community college because it is cheaper.

The reason why community college appears to be so much cheaper than CSULA is that over the past 10 years the state of California has diverted funds away from higher education, passing along a large percentage of the cost of college on to the student. This has hit middle class families the hardest, but really has not had much impact on low income students. While the price of college tuition/fees continues to grow, the state aid available to low income students continues to cover the increased price.

Below is a chart comparing the two college’s cost of attendance.

Living at Home / Commuter Student 2019-2020
East Los Angeles College
California State University Los Angeles
Books and Supplies
Room and Board

In the above table, the only invariable cost is Fees/Tuition. All other costs vary based on the individual student situation. At face value, Yes, the cost of community college is less expensive., but when you input the state aid available to low income students the cost difference to pay for Fees/Tuition is only $299 not the nearly $5,000 as shown in the table above.

East Los Angeles College
California State University Los Angeles
Cost Difference to Student
State Grant – California Promise or Cal Grant
Balance Due by Student

Also, there are additional state and federal grants usually available to help cover the costs of books and supplies. This is important for students to understand and factor into their decision. Students need to realize and better understand that the cost of “going to college” is really more under their control based on their ability to manage all of their other variable expenses. Regardless of where a student goes to college – or not – they (or their parents) will need to pay for food, housing, transportation, insurance, entertainment, and a host of other life needs.

Returning to the choice that needs to be made by our student in South East Los Angeles, truly understanding the cost difference can impact the student’s final choice of which college to attend. Rather than simply “going to community college because it’s cheaper” the student can now compare the actual cost difference and make the determination on which college is actually a better fit rather than simply which one appears to be less expensive.

Financial Aid for college is an exceptionally complicated and highly individual process that all K-12 staff should be aware of and be provided training. School Counselors may take the lead on providing information to students, but all staff contribute to the messaging on the school campus and ultimately set the expectations of where their students believe they can go to college.

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The Impact of AB 104 on College Admissions

Over the summer, Governor Newsome signed into law AB-104 Pupil instruction: retention, grade changes, and exemptions*. This law was intended to be a continuation of the hold harmless grading policy most K-12 schools implemented at the beginning of COVID-19 related remote instruction in March 2020. Rather than issue letter grades, schools issued Pass / No Pass status for the Spring 2020 semester. Due to continuing COVID-19 related barriers, most students were still engaged in remote learning for the 2020-2021 school year. Some school continued the P/NP grading system, but many schools reverted to letter grades. The end result was a lot of students failing multiple classes over both semesters. AB104 was passed to allow schools and parents to take action, if needed, to address student low grades.

AB104 allows for many actions, but the following three will have the most impact on college admission for the next few years.

  • The ability of parents/guardians and adult students to request that high school grades earned during the 20-21 school year be changed from a letter grade to Pass or No Pass.
  • There is no limit to the number of courses to which a grade change request may be made.
  • Although the bill requires that the Cal State University system not penalize students for Pass/No Pass grades for admission purposes, there is no corresponding requirement for the University of California or any other public or private institutions.

While changing failed grades to No Pass may look better on a transcript than F’s, admission officers will now be looking at college applications for the Class of 2022 with possibly ONLY ONE SEMESTER OF ACTUAL GRADES. Remember, both the UC & CSU only look at grades from A-G courses taken in 10th and 11th grades. This year’s graduating class was in the second semester of 10th grade when COVID hit. Most, if not all, applicants will have only one semester of letter grades, and three semesters of P/NP.

In college admission GPA calculation, marks of P/NP do no impact either way. There is no grade, hence no grade points. So if a student only has one semester of grades from first semester of 10th grade, that is what the college has to work with. That is going to make for a very difficult and challenging upcoming college admission cycle.

While this is not a Counselor’s problem to fix, it does mean that Counselors may be vital in helping students prepare other parts of their applications to help explain their academic success and/or failures. It is vital that counselors examine their Class of 2022 academic records early and prepare a plan to assist students.

Admission Decision Appeals

Admission Decision Appeals

College admission decisions are rolling in every day now, brining both tears of joy and tears of sorrow.

College admission denials can be painful, even if expected. Many students (and parents!) are very distraught after receiving an admission rejection and feel the need to submit an appeal to the college. If a student decides to move forward with the appeal process, they should be aware of what the college is looking for in a request.

The first step towards an appeal is to review the campus appeal process. Most colleges have very clear appeal directions posted on their website. DO NOT CALL THE ADMISSIONS OFFICE. Many students (and parents!) are tempted to call the college to ask why the student was denied admission in hopes of addressing this point head on in their appeal request. Do not ask this question because colleges can or will not give a direct answer. Most colleges will not be able to point to one solitary item which caused the admission denial.

When reviewing an appeal request, colleges are looking for “new and compelling evidence not previously included on the initial application” and/or a “situation beyond the student’s control.” Below are examples of both items.

Examples of items that are NOT new and compelling:

  • Improving one or more grades in Fall or Spring semester of senior year
  • Correcting errors on the application (i.e., AP courses were not input correctly, grades were input incorrectly, any academic information that was not included in the original application)
  • Increased extracurricular activity in senior year
  • Winning an award or distinction since time of application
  • Student was admitted to X College so they should be admitted to Y College (i.e., student was admitted to UCLA but not UCSD).
  • The student really-really-really wants to go to that college !

Examples of new and compelling evidence not within student control: (NOTE – these situations DO NOT guarantee an appeal overturn, these are simply examples of the types of situations that colleges may be flexible with)

  • New or worsening medical condition that will require the student to remain living at home (student must attend local college)
  • Death of an immediate family member which results in student being required to take on leadership role in family, necessitating student to live in a particular geographic region
  • Recently established extraordinary financial hardship (student needs to attend an affordable college option)

Appeal Process Overview:

  • Be sure to follow the campus directions precisely. Most colleges have very clear appeal directions posted on their website.
  • Most college have very short windows to apply (usually within 15 days of the admission decision).
  • Most colleges will only review requests submitted in writing (no phone calls or in person visits).
  • Most colleges will require documentation to verify new and compelling situation.
  • Colleges do their best to respond quickly but the process may take a few to several weeks for the student to receive an answer.
  • Once answered, appeal decisions are final. The student cannot appeal the appeal.

What to expect:

Every appeal submitted is reviewed, but traditionally the number of appeal requests resulting in a change of admission decision are extremely low. For example, several UC’s receive 150 to 200 appeal requests and will approve less than 10. Due to COVID-19, this year may be different.


Financial Aid Appeals

Financial Aid Appeals

While families are still dealing with the impacts of COVID-19, Financial Aid Appeals will likely be a needed step in helping students from our communities access the aid they need to attend college. As you prepare to assist students in navigating the appeals process, it’s vital first to understand who’s likely to need an appeal:   

  1. Students who have approved exceptional circumstances (see below) will need to undergo a dependency override. For more information about Dependency Override, please refer to our blog on that topic.  
  2. Students whose family’s financial situation has drastically changed since the time of FAFSA / CADAA submission.    
  3. Students whose family’s financial situation has drastically changed due to COVID-19.   

As the counselor you may want to help students gather documentation that speaks to their specific needs/context. Below are some guidelines to help you understand which of your students are and are not likely to have a circumstance that will lead to a successful financial aid appeal.    

Non- Approved Circumstances 

While it may be less than ideal, the following situations will not produce a successful appeal. It would be best to encourage students to work with their parents to provide the required information for the FAFSA/CADAA.      

  • Parents refuse to provide information on the financial aid application or for verification  
  • Student reluctant to request income information from parents  
  • Parents do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes  
  • Student demonstrates financial self-sufficiency  
  • Parents unwilling or unable to contribute to student’s education  
  • Parents live in another country  

Approved Circumstances 

Students whose family’s financial situation has drastically changed since FAFSA/CADAA submission will be considered for repackaging of their financial aid award. Financial aid repackaging consideration includes those impacted by COVID-19. The following items are usually approved situations where students may be repackaged:    

  • Parent job loss   
  • Parent divorce   
  • Parent death   
  • Severe medical costs   
  • Other extenuating financial circumstances   

Families Impacted by COVID-19 

Families whose change in financial situation as a direct result COVID-19 (e.g., job loss, decrease in income) still need submit FAFSA/CADAA using the tax year 2019 (submitted in April 2020). Once that report is received and processed by the college, families will then use the job status and income of 2020 (based on W2 info received January 2021) for aid reconsideration.    

The Financial Aid Appeals Process    

The student must first SUBMIT THE FAFSA/CADAA using data asked for within the application. The student should not use updated information because there has been a recent change in income or circumstance. Once a student receives an offer of admission from a college/university, they should contact the financial aid office and, following their specific appeals process, resubmit the FAFSA/CADAA. After getting clear instructions on how to proceed forward, the student should resubmit FAFSA/CADAA with necessary changes so the school can repackage them appropriately. The appeals process must be completed at EACH college the student is considering attending.   

Bridging Tips:   

The appeals process may take serval weeks to process.  The student should follow up consistently (every week) until they get a response. Students also should know that it probably best to email for questions rather than call. 

What’s the Difference between FAFSA, CADAA & DACA?

Difference Between FAFSA CADAA and DACA

Which financial aid application should undocumented students complete? 

For years, undocumented students have received mixed messages about whether they should be submitting the FAFSA, California Dream Act Application (CADAA), or both? In no case should a student submit both a FAFSA and CADAA. Furthermore, undocumented students should not complete the FAFSA, but instead if they meet the non-resident exemption requirements under AB 540 should be submitting the CADAA. In addition to clarification about FAFSA and CADAA, you should be clear on the distinctions between the California Dream Act and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

Important Distinctions between CADAA & DACA:

  • The California Dream Act is a policy for students based on where they attended high school. By attending enough years of high school in California, the student is to be considered AB540 eligible (a state resident). The California Dream Act does not consider U.S. citizenship status.

Abbreviated Dream Act / AB540 qualifications:

  1. Attend a California high school for at least three years or attain the equivalent of credits earned within two years.
  2. Graduation from a California high school or the equivalent
  3. Register or enroll in an accredited and qualifying California college or university.
  4. Submit a signed “Non-Resident Exemption/AB 540 Affidavit” Request
  • DACA is a federal policy to determine, among other things, employment eligibility in the United States. Through DACA, students receive a federal social security number which is limited exclusively to working purposes.

Please note: The CADAA is NOT connected to DACA in any way. While you may have some students, who are “DACAmented”, it is not a requirement to be eligible to submit a CADAA.


Further details outlining student qualifications are provided at https://www.csac.ca.gov/sites/main/files/file-attachments/california_dream_act_faq.pdf?1570034690.

Possible Aid Awarded Undocumented Students

Undocumented students meeting AB540 qualifications are eligible to receive aid through all California state aid programs. Table 1 below outlines the most common aid programs available to undocumented students.

Bridging tip: Undocumented students qualify for the same state aid as their peers; thus, they must apply using the correct application (CADAA). 

Table 1. Aid Programs

Aid Program  Description 
Cal Grant  Pays state fees at CSU & UC (allowance towards Private colleges)
Middle Class Scholarship Tuition Discount 
UC Blue and Gold  Pays state fees
CSU State University Grant  Pays state fees
California College Promise Grant Pays state fees
EOP Offers support services, book/laptop grants and funds for other expenses
DREAM Loan  Student loans for undocumented students
Public/Private Scholarship(s) Varies in what aid is offered