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Boot Camp Gives a Head Start on College

By Tonni Grant and Anita Perry | January 2019

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With more than 86,000 students in 83 elementary schools, 29 middle schools and sixth-grade centers, and 24 high schools, Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) enjoys a diverse student population and strong community partnerships. For the past three years, FWISD has conducted a College Application Boot Camp (CABC) on a local college campus for rising seniors – students who have completed their junior year and are entering their senior year in the fall semester.

Lasting a day and a half, CABC is an intensive summer workshop experience designed to provide support for postsecondary readiness, application preparation and an overview of the responsibilities students can expect to encounter their senior year. Sessions cover a series of broad topics including college admissions application support, scholarship essay writing, senior year timelines and college success. Students also work on selecting a best-fit college based on career and academic interests, goals, and personal preference inventories.

Participant Recruitment and Logistics
The ideal student for CABC has been previously identified as an at-risk and/or a “middle-of-the-road” student in need of additional assistance. High school counselors and campus-based college readiness professionals (college and career readiness coaches) identify at least 35 students at each high school campus to participate in this program. Students complete a pre-registration form and are then placed into the available program spots. For the summer of 2018, the program received 530 applications and 224 students participated in the program on both days.

Students who attend College Application Boot Camp receive free transportation from their high school campus to the college campus and breakfast and lunch each day. They also receive t-shirts, backpacks, and a College Application Boot Camp handbook to use as a post-secondary readiness guide throughout their senior year.

On day one, participants are divided into groups based on the preregistration information. The students rotate in their groups through the following hands-on, workshop-style sessions:
  • College / Scholarship Applications / ApplyTX
  • College Entrance Essays
  • Financial Aid and FAFSA / FSA IDs
  • Senior Year Timelines
  • College Success 101
  • Selection of a Best Fit College.
During CABC, the student handbook is used to help facilitate discussion and session activities such as monthly senior timelines, SAT/ACT/AP testing dates, dates to remember, admissions process, financial aid and FAFSA helpful information, survival skills, NCAA information, college/university contact information, schools that automatically accept top 25%/top 50%, college majors for texas schools, and a community service log.

On day two, students participate in the CABC College Fair. This gives students the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations with college recruiters, financial aid advisors and scholarship selection committee members. Students are required to complete a bingo card showing they have visited various tables to be eligible for some of the scholarship and fee waiver programs offered by universities and colleges participating in the event.
Program Evaluation and Opportunities for Improvement
Students complete a brief evaluation and satisfaction survey after each session, which allows program staff to make necessary adjustments based on students’ prior exposure to session topics and their understanding of the information presented during the event. Based on the students’ feedback on the 2018 surveys, the College Application Boot Camp was a success: overall, 100% of students were either “satisfied” (22.8%) or “very satisfied” (77.2%) with CABC. From qualitative responses, we learned that students particularly From qualitative responses, we learned that students particularly valued:
  • being able to ask questions directly to college recruitment staff – “the people who will read their essays and review their applications”
  • practical examples such as samples of good and bad essays and sample applications
  • the various checklists within the College Application Boot Camp Handbook
Our lessons learned have included:
  • leverage big-ticket items first with educational partners
  • document partnership agreements in writing to ensure everyone is on the same page
  • utilize electronic evaluations when available
  • have students to pre-register electronically
  • have a nurse available during the event
  • set higher target number of pre-registered students to allow for fluctuations in attendance
  • have multiple ways to contact students when they are out of school prior to the event
Higher Education Collaboration & Partnerships
The College Application Boot Camp would not have been possible without the ongoing support of our multiple higher education partners: The University of Texas at Arlington, Texas Christian University, University of North Texas, Texas A&M University and Texas Wesleyan University. They assisted in planning the boot camp and sponsored components of the event such as locations, lunch, t-shirts, presenters, scholarships, snacks, tour guides and door prizes. Working together with higher education partners on this event has given our students a great head start on their college future.
Tonni Grant is coordinator of the Academic Advisement Department of Fort Worth Independent School District. Anita Perry is Director of the Academic Advisement Department for FWISD. They presented on this topic at the 2018 ASCA Annual Conference.