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How Michigan Students Broke a College Application Record 

By: Lisa King, director, American College Application Campaign

This three-part blog series celebrates American College Application Campaign School of Excellence awardees. Part two details the success of Petoskey High School and how leaders at the school inspired a record number of students to pursue their postsecondary goals. Read part one of the three-part series, featuring Ocean View High School in Ocean View, California, here.

Students at Petoskey High School in Petoskey, Michigan, submitted more college applications than ever before during ACT’s 2023 American College Application Campaign (ACAC) cycle. With the support of teachers, counselors, and the state’s application campaign, these students had the opportunity to shape college-bound futures by participating in events that encouraged them to submit college applications, provided essential preparation information, and generated excitement about the college-going process.

As part of their student engagement initiatives, leaders at Petoskey High School encourage school-wide participation by inviting more than 800 students to engage in college-related activities. Seniors were recognized this year for submitting a record 621 applications during ACAC events – a significant increase from the previous record of 395 in 2022.

“Education is an investment in yourself,” Sarah MacLean, school counselor at Petoskey High School, said. “We are proud of our whole-school involvement, staff participation, and the celebrations throughout our district to celebrate students and their postsecondary goals.”

Petosky school counselors say they increased engagement by incorporating strategies and events, including one-on-one conversations with senior students beginning during the second week of school, Why Apply Day, and Reach Higher Thursdays. The latter includes 12-minute lessons about topics related to college and career readiness, such as options for life after high school, campus information, and types of majors.
“On Thursdays, we encourage all staff to wear college apparel and engage in conversations with students about life after high school,” MacLean said. “This initiative has led to greater exposure to these topics, allows us to highlight our students, engages all students and teachers, and has positively shifted the culture in our building.”

Students participated in other college focused events including "name that fight song" during lunch in the cafeteria, and college visits open to all. In the fall, counselors organized a pumpkin painting party for seniors who submitted at least one application during the month of October. In addition to these initiatives, school counselors worked with teachers to create a focused college and career curriculum to be incorporated in 12th grade English classes.

Kiersten Nolan, ACAC state coordinator for Michigan and strategy assistant at the Michigan College Access Network, says Petoskey’s participation in ACAC has no doubt increased the number of students for whom college is an option.  

“By participating in College Bound Michigan and using the resources awarded through the program, Petoskey continues to grow their college-going culture and support more and more students in applying to and enrolling in college,” Nolan said.  

The success at Petoskey highlights the hard work of a unified team of educators and school counselors encouraging students’ postsecondary endeavors through preparation, education, and important conversations. Stay tuned for more college application success stories in the third of this three-part series, featuring Timberlake High School in Spirit Lake, Idaho.