Preparing for college can be stressful for both parents and students. As the first person in my family to go to college, I felt the same anxiety, and I know how many of you feel. However, as education professionals, we are committed to working collaboratively to improve student achievement and ensure that every child graduates high school ready for college and a career. This preparation includes providing all of our students with the support and resources necessary to build an academic pathway toward college. In support of this goal, this week, we celebrated College Awareness Day.

Students and families must understand that their dream of college is attainable and need not be compromised by financial considerations, geographical barriers or other obstacles, and this groundwork must be laid early. College readiness is not simply an academic endeavor, but also a social-emotional one. In addition to a high quality education, our students need confidence and drive to carry them toward their goal of attending and graduating from college. 

Through College Awareness Day, we can build a conversation around college and remind families that college preparation can begin as early as pre-kindergarten and that our students’ dreams to enter college are possible. 

On College Awareness Day—and every day—our teachers and school staff are sharing their own educational journeys and the opportunities for college. However, as community members, everyone can join in the conversation. As you talk to students, regardless of their grade, ask them about their interests. Discuss your college experience. Help us transform this critical conversation around college and beyond into colloquial conversation that everyone can be exposed to. 

It is important to celebrate students’ unique interests and strengths to develop self-confidence that will lead them to college. Helping our youngest students see that higher education is possible for them begins with raising greater awareness of what college is and why it matters.

Schools are also encouraged to host financial aid workshops as part of Financial Aid Awareness Month, which extends between January and February. This is a statewide effort to support families in completing FAFSA forms in a timely manner and to bring awareness to options for college financing.

College Awareness Day is just one piece of a large and important puzzle toward our efforts of ensuring an equitable and excellent education for all students. We are starting early by building on our promise of pre-K for all and working toward universal literacy in second grade by 2026. We are supporting strong teachers and a rigorous curriculum in every school that prepares students for college and careers, including successful completion of algebra and universal access to AP and computer science courses. We must meet families and communities where they are, providing high-intensity supports to those who need it most.

Together, whether in our buzzing classrooms on College Awareness Day, around the dining room table or at a community event, let’s work together and start the college conversation today.