Korynn Schooley, vice president of college access at Achieve Atlanta, leads a training session for Atlanta Public Schools counselors on how to use a new computer-based college search tool on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, at Maynard Jackson High School in Atlanta. (Christina Matacotta/crmatacotta@gmail.com)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Does this match? APS launches digital tool to help with college advising

Figuring out where to go to college can be stressful.

There are so many factors to consider: academic reputation, location, cost, and the campus culture for starters.

A new digital tool is designed to help Atlanta high schoolers identify their best options and narrow down which colleges they should apply to.

The district will launch the Match & Fit List Builder on Monday, Feb. 3. The computer program uses a student’s academic data — such as grade point average and SAT and ACT test scores — and combines it with a student’s preferences to create a list of potential colleges and universities.

Students can fine-tune the list by entering information about what they hope to study, how close or far they want to be from home and if they want a small or large campus.

The hope is that by compiling a strong list of potential colleges, students will apply to ones that best suit their needs. And, if they pick the right college, they’ll be more likely to stay and earn a degree.

“Students have a lot of trouble figuring out what’s the right college for them,” said Korynn Schooley, vice president of college access for Achieve Atlanta.

The organization awards scholarships to Atlanta Public Schools graduates and worked with the district to develop the new tool. Funding for the project was part of a $532,470 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The tool is different from other online college search sites because it provides APS-specific context, officials said. Students can see how many other Atlanta graduates enrolled in that college and the percentage of those who made it to their sophomore year.

It highlights each college’s graduation rate, which officials said should be a key consideration when deciding where to go.

Shaketha Blankenship (left), counselor for Atlanta Public Schools, talks with Tina Pellechia (right), counselor for Atlanta Public Schools, during a training session on how to use a new computer-based college search tool on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, at Maynard Jackson High School in Atlanta. (Christina Matacotta/crmatacotta@gmail.com)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The tool also organizes colleges into three categories: “target” colleges, “reach” colleges and “likely” colleges.

Target colleges are ones that admit students with academic credentials similar to the applicant’s. Reach colleges are those with academic profiles that will be harder for the applicant to get into. Likely colleges are those with an academic profile below the applicant’s, meaning a student is likely to be accepted.

Schooley advises students to attend more competitive colleges, in the target or reach categories, because those are the schools that tend to have better financial aid packages and offer support programs that lead to higher graduation rates.

Angela Fortson (left), academic counselor for Atlanta Public Schools, speaks to fellow counselor Erica Sansbury-Clark (right) during a training session on how to use a new computer-based college search tool on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, at Maynard Jackson High School in Atlanta. (Christina Matacotta/crmatacotta@gmail.com)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The tool includes private and public colleges as well as two-year and technical schools. It does not show for-profit colleges. Schooley said it was a deliberate decision to leave out for-profit options because they have, on average, low graduation rates.

Lamar Young, a Grady High School counselor, saw the tool for the first time at a training session last week.

“The transition from high school to college can be tumultuous. And, it’s overwhelming and it induces anxiety because a lot of times there’s so many options, and they don’t know how to pull it all together. So that’s what this tool does,” he said.

Sam Rauschenberg (right), vice president of data strategy at Achieve Atlanta, speaks during a training session for Atlanta Public Schools counselors on how to use a new computer-based college search tool, while Chynna Moore (middle), a volunteer at Atlanta Public Schools, and another attendee listen on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, at Maynard Jackson High School in Atlanta. (Christina Matacotta/crmatacotta@gmail.com)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The tool allows counselors to see which students are interested in the same college. That will help with organizing campus tours and reaching out to college representatives, said Washington High School counselor Erica Clark.

She also said the tool could motivate students to work harder to score higher on the SAT because students can see how a better score expands their college options.

Atlanta juniors will be the first to have access to the new tool. Officials said they plan to eventually make it available to all high schoolers.

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