New Cloud-Based Tool for Helping Guidance Counselors Manage College Application Process

Recently, we sat down with Danielle Scaramellino, a systems developer working with our network of public district schools, to talk about the College Application and Acceptance Tracker, and how this cloud-based system will help college counselors and advisors manage the application process for their students.

 

What is the challenge that this tool is meant to address?

In most public high schools in New Visions’ network, there may be only one or two college counselors helping a cohort of 100 to 125 students manage the college application process. The complexity of this process--with its thousands of details, deadlines, and administrative tasks--presents a set of communication and data management challenges for schools. In order to help schools manage this process more efficiently, New Visions developed a set of systems using Google Apps, including Google Forms, Sheets, Sites and Apps Script.

Can you tell us a bit about how the College Application Tracker tool works?

The College Application and Acceptance Tracker is a spreadsheet based system that we’re currently piloting in 10 schools. It’s designed to support college counselors and school leaders in monitoring the college application and admissions process from soup to nuts. The goal is to organize critical information in a way that supports the school in making decisions about how to strengthen this process in their building.  A second goal is to make the information transparent to all of the various stakeholders (teachers, parents, administrators), and to build a school culture where all adults share the responsibility for supporting students through the college application process.

What are the key components of the tool?

The tool is centered around tracking three core pieces of information: the first is the application process itself and all of its details. Has the student completed his CUNY, SUNY and Common Applications?  Has he submitted all of the key components, paid his application fees?

The second key component is organizing student performance data in a way that helps the school counselor see which student might need additional support. For instance, students who might be on cusp of meeting college-readiness benchmarks. The tool organizes college-readiness data including both New York State Regents exam scores and high school credits, as well as PSAT and SAT scores.

The third key component is around FAFSA, and making sure that every student who is applying to college has completed a FAFSA. Traditionally, this has been an area where a lot of schools struggle because it requires a high level of coordination to manage all of the parent outreach that has to happen in order for the FAFSA to be completed.

How do Google Apps help to make this tool unique?  What role do they play?

With Google Apps, we’re leveraging the collaboration and automation features of cloud-based spreadsheets. The college application process is incredibly complex, and a spreadsheet is a really simple utility that helps to organize large amounts of information.  What makes a Google spreadsheet different from its offline counterpart is that information in a Google spreadsheet can be shared with a click of a button, and can be edited online collaboratively by multiple contributors to keep information seamlessly updated. These features minimize opportunities for error and confusion, saving counselors time and allowing them focus on what's important. 

At New Visions, we're also leveraging Google Apps Script to automate routine processes and workflows in ways that make information more actionable and stengthen core systems within schools.  New Visions has been at the forefront of Google Apps Script development and has built a considerable amount of in-house expertise that supports educators.  For example, formMule, an email merge utility that comes pre-installed on the College Tracker spreadsheet, can automate emails to students, targeting those who haven’t paid their CUNY application fee, or haven’t completed the Common Application by a certain deadline or who haven't submitted their families’ updated taxes for FAFSA.  It can also automate that same outreach to parents, or to an advisor, with a status report for each of their kids. 

Similarly, Autocrat, another New Visions' Apps Script, produces a customizable college readiness report for every student, merging into each document any piece of information that lives in the College Tracker.  These reports are something that schools can begin to use as early as the first administration of the PSAT, to support conversations with students that help them understand the improvements they need to make around PSAT or SAT exam scores, or GPA.  This report really clarifies for students the key things colleges are looking for, and helps them set realistic goals.


Above, an illustration of how the tool works (click to see full-size)

What do you think are some of the long-term benefits of using this tool?

By its design, the college tracker encourages a higher level of coordination among key stakeholders in the college application process.  By making the data visible and transparent, school leaders and counselors can take action in time to actually make a difference.  For example, if a school leader sees that there are a large number of students who are just below scoring a 75 on the NY State Regents English exam (the college-ready benchmark), they can immediately design an intervention to address the needs of that specific student group.

The tool also provides a comprehensive view of the school's college access data from year to year--where students are applying, where have they been accepted or rejected, how many FAFSAs were completed, how many students did not pay their CUNY application fee.  These data are critical to answering higher order questions like--have more of our students completed the FAFSA process from last year to this year, are more of our students applying to four year colleges with higher retention rates, have our intervention programs had an impact on more of our students graduating college ready.  The answer to these questions are critical to understanding if and where a school is making progress, and for supporting schools in rethinking and reorganizing the work from year to year in ways that strengthen this process over time. 

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