College Success Program Overview

Preparing students for success in higher education.

Many, but not all, College Success Program (CSP) students are the first in their family to attend college and do not have the financial means to attend without significant support.

The four programs available in FCPS are:

  • Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID)
  • The Early Identification Program (EIP)
  • The College Partnership Program (CPP)
  • Pathway to the Baccalaureate

These programs prepare students for the academic rigor of college course work, help students with the college application process, and provide enrichment experiences to build the resilience that is so often needed to successfully graduate.

Together, the programs offer a variety of services that include:

  • Assistance with the college application process
  • Field trips to college campuses
  • Goal setting and career exploration
  • Monitoring of academic performance
  • Tutoring

On Tuesday, May 26, 2020 College Success Program (CSP) families experienced a bilingual presentation with Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and George Mason University (GMU). The families learned about ADVANCE and the Pathway to the Baccalaureate programs. Below is a recording of the session along with a transcript from the question and answer period that followed.

NOVA and GMU Partnerships Q and A

Transcript of Q&A Chat Session

  • Monica Gomez, Counselor, Northern Virginia Community College Pathway to the Baccalaureate Program 
  • Adriana Latham, Assistant Director of Admissions, ADVANCE George Mason University 

Q: Can students who are very uncertain what they want to study still apply to the ADVANCE program? Or can they apply after a semester or two when they figure it out?

Adriana Latham: Yes. They can apply and declare ADVANCE - we would like to have someone who can or know what major they want to take at Mason. But again, if we can help a student to continue their education and finish their associates degree at NOVA, we’d be happy to do so. They can be in the ADVANCE program and then we have another curriculum pathway that comes along through the time that the student is in the program and if they’d like to switch, we can do that as well.

Monica Gomez: I tell my students who are really undecided about whether or not Mason is the right fit for them or that’s the right school for them - I tell them to take a semester of classes at NOVA and kind of get your bearings as far as what you may want to pursue and if Mason is the right fit because as long as you’re within the first 30 credits, you can still declare for ADVANCE. So sometimes that can be reassuring for students so I tend to really encourage them if they seem like they’re a little bit lost or just not really sure because that tends to calm them a little. That way, they don’t have to make the decision during their senior year right now because they always have so much going on during their senior year, as we know. So that does help as well.

Q: Does the SDV 1 credit course count toward the 30 credit hour limit?

Adriana Latham: No. We don’t take that 1 credit SDV into consideration when we are counting the 30 credits for ADVANCE.

Q. Can students be in AVID and in Pathway to the Baccalaureate their senior year?

Monica Gomez: Yes, they can participate in both. We actually really collaborate with AVID if it is available at the schools where we are working because AVID tends to encourage students to apply to four-year schools, which we are also encouraging of students, if that is their goal. But there are some students who know that NOVA is going to be the best start for them. So yes, we will then encourage students to consider Pathway to the Baccalaureate.

Q. Do the AP credit courses count toward the 30 credit limit?

Adiana Latham: No, they do not count but we will take that class into consideration. One thing I’d like to add for the advanced program, the latest that you declare the path for the program your senior year, the better because remember, we will require a high school diploma or GED.

Q. What exactly is the 30 credit limit?

Adiana Latham: Let’s say that the student is taking dual enrollment classes or they finished their senior year and go to their first semester at NOVA, and they’re taking classes; so students will decide to declare or apply for ADVANCE, they cannot exceed the 30-credit limit. The reason for this is because we don’t want the student to take classes that won’t be transferable to Mason. That’s basically what we are trying to accomplish when we put the limit of 30 credits.

Q: Where do students access the Pathway to Baccalaureate application?

Monica Gomez: Since we went to an online application this past year (this is our first year), it was a little bit more controlled so what we did is we offered help sessions and information sessions for both the Pathway application process as well as the NOVA application. We needed students to apply to NOVA first so they had a student ID number and would be able to then access the Pathway application. The students who came to those sessions got the Pathway application link from me [Monica Gomez]. I also gave it to the Career Center Specialists, who are my right arm and help me out so much - I know they do the same with my colleagues at the other schools. So they also have the link to the Pathway application to help students when we are not in the schools because we only go one day per week. So they are also a piece of the puzzle to the application process, in particular this year because it was our first year doing an online application. 

Adiana Latham: To add, when you declare to apply for ADVANCE, you don’t have to pay an application fee.

 Q: Does a student have to apply to GMU when they declare to ADVANCE?

Adiana Latham: No. They do not need to apply to Mason when they declare ADVANCE. When they finish their Associates degree at NOVA, they do not need to transfer and they don’t need to fill out a transfer application. They transition to Mason and the success coaches will be the people who will be able to help them with that transition as well. There will be a few curriculum pathways where they will need to do a transfer application - one of them will be nursing and the other is performance arts.

Q: I still don’t understand the 30 credit limit. Can you explain again? 30 credits is only 1 year, but isn’t an associates degree more than 30 credits?

Adiana Latham: ADVANCE has two steps. One is when you get into the program and that’s when we do the declaration. At the time you declare the program, one of the requirements is you cannot have more than 30 credits. After you’re part of the program, you need to finish your Associate’s degree at NOVA as part of your milestones. So that is two different things. 

On Thursday, May 28, 2020 CSP families experienced a College Admissions and COVID-19 panel discussion. CSP invited representatives from three of Virginia’s top public universities (George Mason, James Madison, and Virginia Tech) to discuss the impact of COIV-19 on college admissions. Below is a recording of the panel’s discussion, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), and a transcript of the question and answer period in both English and Spanish.

FAQ College Admissions and COVID 19 Panel

College Admissions and COVID-19 Panel
Thursday May 28, 2020
Notes/ FAQ 

On Thursday, May 28, 2020; the College Success Program engaged in a discussion with admissions representatives from three top Virginia Public Universities.  The panel was moderated by Rashida Williams, Manager of the College Success Program. 

Welcome and Panel Introductions:

  • Rachel Cleaver, Senior Associate Director, K-12 Partnerships at George Mason University Admissions
  • Jamie Didawich, Regional Admissions Counselor, James Madison University Office of Admissions
  • Kayla St. Clair, Senior Assistant Director, Office of Undergraduate Admissions Virginia Tech

Q: Do you anticipate continuing online instruction in the fall?  If so, what are some of the ways you are supporting students with the transition?  How are students able to engage socially?  

Rachel at GMU: Four possibilities. Trying to go with an option that brings part of the student population back to campus. Likely going to be running classes in a different way: all seven days of the week, time in between, budget for PPE, hand sanitizer, and cleaning. No matter what, there will be continued online learning and an increase in online learning. Since online learning isn’t for everyone, there are supports for students. All support services that were in person are now online. Career Services will have resources about jobs/internships online. 

Jamie at JMU: Optimistically hoping to be in-person in the fall with a contingency plan in place. All under the governor's mandate, so we have to follow those guidelines. UREC (University Recreation Center) doing a lot of mindfulness activities and workouts to keep students connected. 

Kayla at VT: Planning optimistically and have several different plans.  Will have a decision made by June 8. Will host a town hall afterwards. 

Q: Can you explain the difference between deferring your admissions for a Gap Year and electing to enroll at a community college and then transfering?  What are the rules and what is the process like at your schools?

Jamie at JMU: Gap year is more of a mental break. JMU will not accept more than 8 credits from another university. Dean wanted to reiterate that if you are planning a gap year, there’s a chance that it might not happen. Have alternative plans, which could include starting at the campus you were planning to attend. Right now our plan is to be very flexible, and can reach out as late as August 20 to defer. JMU will keep the deposit and it will be honored for spring, summer, or fall 2021. 

Kayla at VT: At VT, a gap year would be one where you wouldn’t take coursework at another university.  In light of pandemic, VT will be as flexible as possible. Allowing students to defer and take courses elsewhere for up to two years. When you come in, you’ll still have priority for housing and will get that “first year” experience.

Rachel at GMU: Check with your school about the financial aid package if you want to defer. Some will guarantee, but some won’t. At GMU, you do get to keep your financial aid package. Regardless of your decision, you MUST communicate your intentions with the school.  

Q: We may have some students whose families have been economically impacted by COVID-19. As they weigh their options for next year, what are some ways colleges and universities are providing additional support regarding changes in financial aid status?   

Kayla at VT: This is affecting students disproportionately, and as an institution, VT must work within many different parameters to help students.  Best thing to do is to contact them.  You may be able to appeal your financial aid package if your situation has changed. The institution has emergency funds set aside for extenuating circumstances; there are some emergency grants that they can give out. Call them to get advice on what to do. 
Q: Testing continues to be impacted by the pandemic, what are your thoughts about AP testing?  How will the modified AP exam scores be considered at your schools? 

Rachel at GMU: Trying to take into consideration everything that is happening on a daily basis. No AP scores are considered for admission. AP scores come into effect when looking to test out of certain classes. There’s a whole website with those test-out criteria for AP, IB, dual enrollment. AP scores taken at home will count. But there may be other ways, in the future, to get credit.  For example, possibly looking at how you did in your AP classes as well, in addition to the test score. 

Jamie at JMU:  JMU will maintain its current policy on scores. 

Kayla at VT: Tech will also accept modified AP test scores. 

While the seniors completed a traditional college application/admissions cycle, the class of 2021 is entering uncharted territory.  The next set of questions are geared towards the rising seniors.   

Q: Has COVID-19 changed your admissions process/criteria for the fall of 2020 and if so how? 

Jamie at JMU:  JMU has been test optional for a couple years - don’t need test scores for honors college, for scholarships, etc. Deadlines are not anticipated to change. As of now, Nov. 1 is early action and January 15 is regular decision. “This is not the year to procrastinate.” How grading is reported and what transcripts will look like. Currently in communication with FCPS about what end-of-course grades will look like. Jamie is the rep for FCPS and is aware of what our grades will look like.  JMU wants to emphasize that if you have an option to show a grade versus. doing a pass/fail, show the grade.  Even if that P/F will boost your GPA, you should choose to show your grade. 

Rachel at GMU: Mason is also test optional. When looking at the transcript, we know that this semester will have a “big ole asterisk” next to it - and this is nationwide.  GMU will consider that and everyone will note that.  Like JMU, you should opt for a grade over P/F.

Kayla at VT: Will be test-optional for 2021. This is a pilot. In recent years testing hasn’t been a huge deal with admissions anyway. They know standardized tests are not objective for all students. If you opt for a P/F, they need to know that it’s a C or higher. Especially for dual enrollment courses. If that P could be a D, opt for grades instead. 

Q: With a potentially larger number of students deferring their enrollment or starting at community college then looking to transfer, how might this impact your acceptance rates for the upcoming classes?    

Rachel at GMU: In any given year, GMU has as many transfers as incoming freshmen.  She doesn’t see “acceptance rates” percentage changing based on new statistics. If you are going to be successful, they want to accept as many students as possible. No matter what, enrollments will be down in the fall, and they’ll want to make up for that in the following year, so their acceptance numbers may be higher for the next year - current juniors. 

Jamie at JMU: Juniors have gone through a lot, but “it may be your year” for college acceptances.  It’s completely realistic that we will over admit because there are so many changes.  So, don’t see this as a point of stress for juniors. 

Q: Will you continue to look for community service, summer engagement and extracurricular activities as part of a student’s application?  What do you think this will look like during this time of social distancing? 

Rachel at GMU: Will definitely continue to look at that, because prior to this semester you had time to do those things. But, as she mentioned before, there’s a big asterisk.  So, if you have nothing for this semester, they’ll know that it’s because you weren’t able to leave your house.  But, consider what you ARE doing that may count (e.g. teaching younger siblings, still working in a grocery store, etc. - it’s not band or basketball, but it’s something you are doing).

Kayla at VT: Don’t do something that is high-risk just to be able to include it on your college applications. Do something that is right for you, not for your perception on college applications. 

Q: COVID-19 will most likely be the focus of several essays and letters of recommendation.  What is some advice you can offer students and staff as they try to share the impact of this pandemic on their lives and the lives of their students? 

Jamie at JMU: This is a tough one…it may be the most defining moment for students, but also consider that the admissions officers may get burnt out.  They know grades have probably suffered and mental health has probably suffered.  If you have a story slightly different or about that, talk about that story.  It’s also important to talk about situational things - if you had to drop out of an AP course, we want to know that. Especially if those were things that are outside of your control. Tread lightly and try to talk about other things.

Rachel at GMU: One big thing is to remember that whatever you talk about needs to have directly affected YOU - something that YOU experienced. If you say that something happened to something else, make sure you emphasize the impact it had on you and bring it back to college. How has your perseverance led to overcoming whatever it is you’re writing about, extending that to how it will affect you in college.  Unless there’s a very significant thing that happened, remember that you want to stand out and not be one of the masses.  Unless it’s really significant, I suggest finding a different topic. You can talk about good things - it doesn't have to be a bad thing.  Like the job you had for the last four years.  She remembers an essay a student wrote about eating Popeye’s chicken and it’s the best essay she’s ever read.

Kayla at VT: There are four, 120-word personal statements that are short, sweet and to the point.  VT is really looking for you to answer the question - and to write something original. As far as writing about COVID-19 and the pandemic, your experiences are your experiences.  We want something that’s authentic and real and hear about what YOU experienced. Her favorite thing about working in admissions is to see how resilient high school students are - talk about what you learned, how you changed, the outcome, etc. 

Q: College is a big financial investment, and our current economy has many families unsure about the future.  What steps should students and families take to apply for financial aid and scholarships?    

Kayla at VT:  Start with the FAFSA. Make sure you fill that out. And do it each and every year.  It also informs work-study, which is great because most institutions hire work study students first. FAFSA opens Oct. 1. Make sure you’re filling out any additional paperwork to appeal financial aid decisions, etc. 

Jamie at JMU:  Will take this opportunity to highlight JMU’s Centennial Scholars program - most amazing aid package for high need, high achieving scholars. Have to come to campus for an interview in April (they did them virtually this year).

Rachel at GMU: Most schools have the FAFSA forecaster - it’s an approximation, but it does give a good idea of the different components.  Website called college results can show gaps - like, how much aid money vs. loans.  What’s loan default rate?  You want to see which colleges graduate with the least amount of loans.  Starting junior year, there are some big scholarships you can apply for.  Try College Greenlight - you can put in information and it will spit out scholarships you may qualify for. Scholarships that have essays have lower rates of competition - so do those! 

Chat Q&A College Admissions and COVID 19 Panel

Transcript of Q&A Chat Session

James Madison University - Jamie Didawick
George Mason University - Rachel Cleaver
Virginia Tech University - Kayla St. Clair
FCPS College Success Program - Rashida Williams

Q: Is it too late to apply to scholarships if you are a rising senior (Class of 2021)?

Rachel Cleaver (George Mason): This is the prime time to apply.

Jamie Didawick (James Madison): This is it!

Rashida Williams: I’d like to add that we have scholarships for freshmen. We have scholarships for sophomores. I’ve seen book awards and scholarships for students as young as kindergarten. We had a second grader in Fairfax County that won the Google Doodle so it’s never too early to start applying.

Rachel Cleaver (George Mason): We give a scholarship to an eight grader at this one school every year that is a full tuition scholarship to come to George Mason when they get there.

Q: Are there different admissions requirements for different majors?

Kayla St. Clair (Virginia Tech): We are looking at your major at Virginia Tech so this is something depending on what institutions you are applying to. The biggest piece of advice is that right around when August 1st hits, which is right around that most of our applications go live, check out the websites of the different institutions you’re looking to apply to. We typically list on there what we’re looking for and it gives you an idea of what is looked at in the process. At Virginia Tech - yes, our admissions requirements can be different. We have over 100 different majors so what we’re looking for a student applying to Theater Arts can be very different than a student applying to General Engineering. So we are cognizant of that in our admissions process but every institution is different. 

Jamie Didawick (James Madison): At JMU we do not admit by major. We just say “Come on in, you’re applying to JMU as a whole.” There are some supplemental {materials} for the performing arts - music, theater, and dance require an audition if you are majoring in that. Studio arts and design have a portfolio requirement but the performing arts supplements don’t change the criteria for getting in from a purely admissions standpoint.

Rachel Cleaver (George Mason): At Mason the arts programs - we also have an audition program or a portfolio that you need to do. The only major that is a teeny bit different is if you want to be an engineering major - not just engineering undeclared but engineering electrical or whatever it is, there is a stronger math requirement than some of our other majors. But it wouldn’t necessarily impact your admission to George Mason, just that particular major.  And you can always come and go into engineering after you’ve done really well your freshman year in math or whatever it is.

Q: How does the school someone attended impact how their application is viewed? More specifically, if you went to an extremely rigorous high school, will colleges be more forgiving of lower grades?

Jamie Didawick (James Madison): What we do is we review students within the context of their high school. So we don’t feel comfortable penalizing a student for going to an ‘easier’ high school or a more ‘rigorous’ high school because most students can’t choose where they go to high school - it’s based on where your parents live. So whether you go to a private school or a public school, we don’t differentiate between that because that’s kind of a discrepancy there - if you can’t afford to attend a private school why should you be punished for that? We are only focusing on you in the context of your specific high school. So on that note, we want you to take advantage of those challenging classes that are offered by your particular high school. But whether it is AP vs. IB, you’re not going to be penalized. So as far as far as grades go, no - the answer to the question that you won’t necessarily be more forgiving of lower grades. I do have TJ (Thomas Jefferson) as one of my schools - I know how extra-rigorous it can be but you are also going through that process and an A somewhere is an A at that school and you know what it takes to get an A.

Rachel Cleaver (George Mason): And when your counselor sends us your transcripts, they also send us what is called the school profile. So that gives us some background such as - what are the courses offered at your particular high school and what are some typical statistics about students at your high school? Those of us who have worked with the same high schools for years and years and years, we know what the different types of criteria are for students - but it is really based upon your particular high school and what is offered. Now I am going to put out there that sometimes students think they should take 50 AP courses and they are not doing well in any of them - that’s not the best move. Maybe pair it down to 10 AP courses and ones that you are super jazzed about and also the ones you can excel in. So I think it’s important to be aware of that, as well. 

Kayla St. Clair (Virginia Tech): Play to your strengths. If you’re a great math and science student, then yes, those upper-level math and science courses are really great for you to look into. If that’s not your thing and you’re not looking to apply to engineering, then that’s okay if you’re in AP Calculus, it’s okay to take Honors Calculus. We want you to find your balance and figure out what works for you. I just want to put it out there that there are school systems that are also rigorous, I know that Fairfax County - we get a lot of students that apply to Virginia Tech from Fairfax County and we have a lot of other great schools across the Commonwealth as well. Even our rural high schools 

Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID)

The mission of AVID is to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society. AVID’s goal is to ensure that students capable of completing a college preparatory path will: succeed in the most rigorous curriculum, actively participate in the school community, enroll in a four-year college, become educated and responsible participants and leaders in a democratic society.

College Partnership Program (CPP)

The College Partnership Program (CPP) assist students who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education (first generation, African-American, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Hispanic, limited English proficient, students with disabilities or economically disadvantaged students), who demonstrate the ability to maintain a minimum GPA of 2.5 (weighted), or who are willing to pursue advanced coursework and demonstrate leadership in school or community activities.

Early Identification Program (EIP)

The Early Identification Program (EIP) aims to provide first generation students with the tools and support needed to become college ready by accepting nominations of seventh grade students who are prospective first-generation college students, and who demonstrate the ability to maintain a minimum GPA of 3.2. Students at these schools may be nominated by a teacher, coach, or mentor:

  • Glasgow Middle School
  • Holmes Middle School
  • Jackson Middle School
  • Lanier Middle School
  • Poe Middle School
  • Sandburg Middle School
  • Whitman Middle School

GMU Contact: 703-993-3120

Pathway to the Baccalaureate

Pathway to the Baccalaureate is a combination of straightforward, common sense elements that form a structured support system for students beginning in high school, continuing through community college, and on to a four-year college and baccalaureate degree. The key to Pathway’s success is its student-centered model, which builds an ongoing relationship between students and their counselors, faculty members, and peers across educational institutions to sustain students throughout their college experience.

Pathway to the Baccalaureate Contact: 703-425-5350

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