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California High School Rolls Out the Red Carpet for College Applicants

By: Lisa King, director, American College Application Campaign

For many high school seniors, the college application process can be a daunting task. ACT’s American College Application Campaign (ACAC) aims to make it easier with the support of school counselors, educators, and community partners by coordinating college application events across the country that meet students where they are. This year, more high schools than ever before participated, helping more than 467,000 seniors submit at least one college application in school, during the school day.

ACAC recognized a record number of 27 exemplary high schools with its School of Excellence awards honoring successes in helping to increase the number of first-generation students and students from low-income backgrounds pursuing a college degree or other higher education credential. In this blog series, leaders from three of those schools, in California, Michigan, and Idaho, share their advice for increasing student engagement.

Ocean View High School, in Huntington Beach, California, has played an integral role in the success and growth of the state's college application campaign. As one of the first campaign participants in the state, Ocean View has demonstrated continued success for the last eight years. In that time, school leaders have come up with new and more effective ways to encourage more students to apply to college – during the 2023 ACAC cycle, seven in 10 seniors submitted at least one college application.

“College is one of many options that students can pursue after high school,” Ocean View Principal Robert Rasmussen said. “Many students don’t have a clear-cut vision for their future, so by applying to college, and creating an education plan, it can help focus their goals for the future.”

At Ocean View, where 80% of students come from racial or ethnic groups that are traditionally underserved, educators have raised money to pay application fees, and worked with local partners to support students with disabilities and English learners in the transition to college. The school has also organized events including “College Wednesdays” and College Signing Day. During College Signing Day, school counselors provide students with folders including their transcripts and individualized notes about their college plans and eligibility. The school also rolls out a red carpet celebrating students as they walk to the library to complete their applications. The excitement extends beyond the senior class; the entire student body is invited to cheer on their peers as they take the first steps on their postsecondary paths.

Dr. Denise Harshman, ACAC state coordinator for California and coordinator of Advanced Learning at the Orange County Department of Education, says the school’s success is due in part to an unwavering commitment to the campaign.

“The College Application Campaign would not thrive in Orange County without the dedication, vision, and execution of Ocean View High School from the very beginning,” Harshman said, “not only taking on a new endeavor but making it an integral part of the school culture and community.”

The success at Ocean View demonstrates the results of continued dedication to student success and creating opportunities for postsecondary pathways. Stay tuned for more college application success stories in the second of this three-part series, featuring Petoskey High School in Petoskey, Michigan.