According to the most recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics, the average public high school graduation rate for students from limited-income backgrounds was just 81 percent. While a college degree can afford endless opportunity and economic mobility, nearly 2 in 10 students from underresourced communities do not receive the support they need to graduate from high school or attend college.
At College Possible, near-peer AmeriCorps coaches help more than 25,000 students every year, supporting them through every systemic barrier they face on the road to a college degree. In fact, College Possible students are 30 percent more likely to enroll in college the year after high school graduation, and three times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, when compared with their peers from similar backgrounds.
Let’s take an inside look at what College Possible AmeriCorps service as a high school college access coach entails, and why our alumni coaches say their year of service in high schools was a transformative experience.
What is a College Possible AmeriCorps college access coach?
College Possible has two service roles available for AmeriCorps members: college access coaches and college success coaches. College Possible programming starts in a student’s junior year of high school, so college access coaches – AmeriCorps members coaching at the high school level – are often the very first touchpoint students have in their college exploration journey.
“This is a role where you’re going to make a lasting impact,” says Hilleri, a college access coach at College Possible Texas. “You might be offering these students assistance they didn’t even know they needed. You get to meet with them face-to-face and have consistent interaction, and you develop a sense of pride for the students you serve.”
As a college access coach, you’ll work with an assigned group of students at one or more high schools. Your coaching sessions run Monday through Thursday and may include in-person support, tech-connected support, or both. Your school liaison or main school contact, often a guidance counselor or high school college counselor, will introduce you to your student cohort at the beginning of your service year. They’ll also serve as your on-campus support, should the need arise.
“Your caseload is a lot smaller as a college access coach,” says Madeline, a college access coach at College Possible Texas. “You serve 30 to 50 students, compared to college success coaches who serve roughly 200 university students per year. The bond you can create with these students is very special.”
Duties of AmeriCorps members in a high school coach role
Unlike other student support roles you may be familiar with, such as teacher’s aide or student teacher, College Possible’s AmeriCorps college access coaches are unique in that they are employed by College Possible rather than the school. Coaches receive training, basic schedules, and leadership coaching from within the College Possible organization. While you may develop relationships with teachers and staff at your assigned school, they will not be assigning tasks or setting your schedule. “At my school, I had my own room with my own computer and everything,” says DJ, a college access coach at College Possible Milwaukee. “Once I knew which students I’d be supporting, my time was really focused on connecting with them more than the teachers. The one person I talked to was the guidance counselor’s secretary. She would help pull student reports for me when I needed them to track student progress.”
Typically, Monday through Thursday, you’ll manage day-to-day interactions with students while logging student engagement data into Salesforce to track their progress. Time with students is spent helping them navigate key college milestones: college selection, test prep, applications, and financial aid. “I remember how stressed I was during the college application process,” recalls Madeline. “I had so many questions, and was getting very few answers. Having a College Possible coach can be so influential in this very stressful period of time in a high school student’s life.”
On Fridays, all AmeriCorps coaches meet at their assigned site office where they explore networking opportunities and access professional development. “Fridays are an incredibly valuable time for us to connect as a cohort of coaches and national leadership staff. Together, we strengthen our community of practice, we build on their professional development to help them land their next job after service, and we sharpen the tangible skills necessary to serve students to the best of their ability,” says DiLiesha Bryant, national director of AmeriCorps recruitment and engagement at College Possible.
Qualities of a great College Possible high school coach
One crucial aspect of College Possible college access coaches is their near-peer relatability. These coaches offer a unique perspective to high school students, as many also identify as first-generation college graduates who have recently graduated themselves. “There are a lot of qualities that make a coach successful in this role,” explains DJ. “Excelling in relationship building can be super helpful. As long as you’re comfortable with meeting new people, and putting yourself out there to connect with students, you’ll do well.”
College Possible is committed to serving students across an array of identities, experiences, and perspectives. Most students will be from limited-income backgrounds, and some will have diverse documentation barriers. “Someone who’s usually labeled as ‘overly optimistic’ will thrive in this position,” suggests DJ. “There are so many academic barriers that these students face, and sometimes a positive outcome doesn’t seem immediately achievable. But someone who’s overly optimistic will always find a way. These students deserve to have someone in their corner who won’t stop trying.”
Before you can support students with provided lesson plans and learning opportunities, you have to locate them in the busy halls of the high school – one of the trickiest hurdles for college access coaches. “Your day really depends on your initiative, and how willing you are to step outside of your comfort zone,” says Hilleri. “Students aren’t just necessarily going to come visit you during your office hours – sometimes you have to learn to ask the right faculty where to locate students in your cohort so you can connect with them.” While some students take action to plan visits with their coaches during free periods and after-school sessions, others may need a more proactive scheduling approach to ensure the completion of time-sensitive paperwork like FAFSA and scholarship applications.
College access coaches play a crucial role in supporting College Possible’s missions of making college admission and success possible for students from low-income backgrounds. The job requires someone with a scrappy spirit, who’s willing to put themselves out there every day in order to connect with students to help them realize and reach their goals. If you think you might make a great high school coach, please join us at an upcoming information session, or browse our open positions.