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Advice for college applicants

November 20, 2017

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The following article is from Suffolk News-Herald.

Saturday marks the end of another Virginia College Application Week, but the work for most students is far from over.

Paula Craw, vice president of student success and outreach for ECMC, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that focuses on student success in higher education, said November is "crunch time" for students.

"Students are busy and hopefully getting their ducks in a row before the holidays," Craw said. One of the biggest hurdles for a high school student in the college application process is preparing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, Craw said.

"It seems overwhelming, but it's a very important part of the college application process," she said. "The majority of families today need some sort of financial aid in order for their students to attend college."

Adrienne Miller, Access College Foundation advisor for King's Fork High School, said she typically assists with at least 200 FAFSAs each year. This allows students more scholarship opportunities, even if the student is financially sound, she said.

"I don't want (them) missing out on any free money," she said.

Miller explains to freshmen that they need to get serious with college applications as soon as possible. She reiterates this in their sophomore years.

"The earlier you do it, the better you'll feel," she said. "There's a step each time, and each time you do the step, everything is going to fall in and you'll be fine."

Upperclassmen should be ready with resumes that detail any relevant extracurricular activities and job experiences to make their applications more competitive, Craw said. "The list of ways students can differentiate themselves is long," she said.

For references, students should speak with teachers in core subjects that pertain to each student's prospective studies, Miller said.

Also, if there's an essay option, take it, said Shawn Foster, advisor for Lakeland and Nansemond River High Schools.

"If it says optional, it really means to do the essay," she said. "It's going to show that you took the initiative to do the extra work."

Along with keeping track of application deadlines, completing SATs and ACTs, and applying for all available scholarships, students need to make time to visit to their potential college campuses, Miller said.

"It's good to go during the week, because you're able to see the students walking from class to class," she said. "Sometimes you aren't able to get that full picture of a college visit on the weekends."

Above all, she said, students and their families need to be patient during this stressful time.

"I always tell them trust the process," she said. "If you do the foundation (work), then I'm going to do everything I can to help you make this decision, and so far that hasn't let me down yet."

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Cool offices: ECMC increases connectivity in new downtown space

November 7, 2017

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The following article is from Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

By moving from the eastern suburbs to a modern six-floor space in downtown Minneapolis, Educational Credit Management Corp. was able to create a more flexible work environment.

"We wanted a space that would allow us to expand or retract more easily than our previous space," said Chip McSherry, vice president of corporate services at the nonprofit that assists with higher education finance.

The office, in the 111 Washington building, is constructed with movable partitions instead of dry wall, meaning spaces can be easily expanded by taking down sections and redoing them, said Scott Hierlinger from Nelson, the architecture firm that designed the space.

There also was a reduction in space from ECMC's previous offices in Oakdale — 75 percent less space to be exact, Hierlinger said.

All office sizes were standardized for ultimate flexibility. "A recent trend is to move away from a closed office design and to get people out in the open," McSherry said.

In order to retain its employee base after the move, ECMC made its new 124,000-square-foot space amenity-rich. There is a large break room with views of downtown; fresh food is available for employees; and there is a heated outdoor deck on the 15th floor with grills and a fire pit. Designed to be protected from the wind, this outdoor deck can be used nine to 10 months out of the year, Hierlinger said.

McSherry said that ECMC plans to use the deck as much as possible, whether it be with hats and mittens on around the fire when it's snowing, or for a barbecue in the warmer summer months.

A challenge of the new space is the way it's spread out vertically over six floors. Nelson solved this problem by installing connecting stairs on all six floors on both sides of the floor plate, allowing employees to connect to any of the floors at any time.

"We tried to build in connectivity within the space rather than hoping people would traverse floors," Hierlinger said.>

Being downtown not only gives ECMC employees a fun energy, with a "plethora of food choices" in the skyway and the buzz of the city, but allows the company to be more visible, McSherry said.

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Free online workbook walks students through college prep, financial aid

November 7, 2017

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The following article is from Consumer Affairs.

High school students planning to attend college now have access to a free workbook to help them prepare.

Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) has published the 2017-2018 Opportunities book, and online resource that walks students and their parents through the process of choosing a college, applying and obtaining financial aid.

Paula Craw, vice president of Student Success and Outreach for ECMC says the process starts with picking the right school. She says the choice isn't just about the cost of tuition.

"I think the fit for the student is really key," Craw told ConsumerAffairs. "Considerations include the size of the campus, the size of the classrooms, even the neighborhood. Its distance from home can also be a big consideration."

Importance of financial aid
Financial aid is critical to today's high school students, as college costs have risen dramatically in recent years. USA Today found college tuition has increased at roughly double the rate of inflation over the last decade.

Given the reality that many students may never attain a college education without help, Craw says the workbook spends a lot of time guiding families through various scholarship options.

"We believe the scholarship piece is critical because we always want students to find free money," she said.

Once accepted at a school, students should fill out the federal student aid form, known in education jargon as the FAFSA form. This form contains financial information about students and their families to determine eligibility for financial aid.

The workbook outlines the required information and directs applicants to this Department of Education worksheet to help organize their information.<

In addition to possible government aid, the FAFSA opens the door to potential scholarships and grants provided by individual colleges and universities. Schools begin accepting these forms each October and Craw says students should file them quickly.

File early
"We recommend that students apply just as early as possible because many of these aid packages from individual colleges are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis," she said.

In addition to the workbook, ECMC also provides a free tool called College Abacus, which helps users quickly determine how much aid they could receive from several different schools.

Craw stresses that students should also have a conversation with someone in the financial aid office of their chosen school because a discussion of an individual student's needs, interests, and background may lead to other sources of student aid.

A report last month revealed just how important it is to investigate every source of financial aid. An analysis by personal finance site NerdWallet found $2.3 billion in federal education grant money went unclaimed last year.

Application prep
In addition to the financial component, the workbook also has sections designed to prepare students for the application process. Craw says it contains fairly general information on exam prep, with links to the individual test sites.

"We also provide a checklist for a student's last two years of high school, detailing when these tests should be taken," Craw said. "We don't go into a lot of detail because we want the students to work closely with their high school counselors to get ready for these tests."

The workbook even includes recommendations on avoiding scholarship scams. Craw says it costs nothing to apply for a scholarship. If an organization tells you it needs a check before you can apply, Craw says that's a good reason "to run the other way."

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Milwaukie HS counselor Roberto Aguilar named best in Oregon

November 1, 2017

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The following article is from Clackamas Review.

Roberto Aguilar of Milwaukie High School recently was named the state's school counselor of the year by the Oregon School Counselor Association.

One of the many reasons Aguilar was selected was because of his work helping to close the achievement gap for MHS's Hispanic students.

Often people erroneously think it is necessary to modify requirements in order to close the achievement gap with students of color. Aguilar recognizes that all students are capable of equal success, and some students may only require a bit more help in reaching achievements.

Oregon's counseling association recognized Aguilar for promoting a pro-graduation and college-going atmosphere at MHS. Aguilar, who is Latino, was a first-generation college student himself.

Aguilar coordinates two programs that have a direct impact on graduation and college-entrance rates for students of color. Most months he attends the Padres Latino Mustangs parent group's regular meetings to share information about GPAs and other requirements for getting into college.

In addition, a diverse group of 10 MHS students each year graduates from a rigorous two-year mentoring program called the Educational Credit Management Corp. (ECMC) Scholars, which allows them to access up to $6,000 in financial aid for college. MHS won its first ECMC Scholars grant in 2007, and Aguilar took over the annual program in 2009.

Students have to apply for the program in their sophomore year. Working with an ECMC Scholars adviser, they spend their junior and senior years building social and study skills to pursue higher education. At the end of the two-year program, 10 students out of the 20-student cohort are selected for $6,000 in scholarships. Since 2008, ECMC has provided $4.74 million to 790 students in Oregon alone — on average, 80 students per year from eight high schools across the state.

Aguilar has organized a signing night for MHS students recently accepted to college and a tour of cap-and-gown graduates marching through local elementary schools. He puts up college posters signed by recent graduates throughout the halls of MHS.

"Before Mrs. Obama, I was believing in that 100 percent," Aguilar said. "I want everyone supporting the decision and commitment to go to college."

MHS's four-year graduation rate went down slightly, from 76.1 to 73.3 between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. Aguilar pointed out that taken together with the large increase in graduation rate at the Milwaukie Academy of the Arts, which is part of the same campus, the total MHS graduation rate remained at about 76 percent. When the 2016-17 numbers come out in January, Aguilar expects that MHS graduation numbers again will increase.

Aguilar is a parent of two children, and his wife also is a school counselor. He was the head MHS boys' soccer coach from 2007-15, during which time, more Spanish-speaking athletes became involved on the team and interested in getting athletic college scholarships.

Aguilar's kids attend schools in the Rex Putnam High School feeder area.

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ECMC is changing its password requirements

October 18, 2017

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On October 19, ECMC is changing its password requirements for minimum password length from eight characters to 12 characters. This change is being made on October 19, but will not take effect until the next time you are prompted to change your password. All other password requirements (e.g., uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters) are still in effect.

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