From the Illinois Student Assistance Commission: 


While students are struggling nationwide with remote education and college plans seem to be more up in the air than ever, there is some good news in Illinois: Illinois closed out the year ranking the #1 state for completions of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), the form most students use to apply for federal and state financial aid for postsecondary education. 

Helping to ensure that more Illinois students have the funds to follow a path to education after high school has become increasingly difficult in the midst of a pandemic that is challenging every aspect of our daily lives. To address some of the pandemic-related challenges facing high schools and graduating seniors in completing financial aid applications for next fall, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) is adding new initiatives to its college outreach programs. From targeted outreach and one-on-one assistance to students and families, to online financial aid modules that teachers can use with their students, the state’s college access and financial aid agency is committed to providing free statewide supports for students and schools.

“With many students and families facing illness and loss of loved ones, financial distress, and all the challenges of remote learning, it can be hard to handle the now, much less consider the future,” said Eric Zarnikow, executive director of ISAC. “But as we look to better days ahead for next fall, we want to make sure our high school seniors and adult students have applied for and can receive the financial aid for which they are eligible. Knowing what funding you have available for postsecondary education is an important milestone in making that education happen.”

Indeed, ensuring that students have this important information drove passage of the state’s FAFSA Mandate. This new law, which took effect with the 2020-2021 school year, requires public high school seniors to complete the FAFSA or, if eligible, the Alternative Application for Illinois Financial Aid, as a prerequisite to receiving a high school diploma. (A waiver provision allows a parent, guardian, or the student – if 18 or emancipated – to opt out of the requirement.) Information about FAFSA Mandate training and support for school counselors and other professionals is available at https://www.isac.org/pd/fafsa-mandate.html.

Making completion of a financial aid application part of an expectation for high school graduation can increase the number of students who are aware of the resources available to help them afford education or training after high school. This information can also help some students decide to attempt college when they might not otherwise have done so, and it may help some students limit student loan debt and take a fuller course load to more quickly complete a degree or credential.

While ISAC already provides free college planning and financial aid workshops and one-on-one assistance for students during the annual College Changes Everything® (CCE) fall campaign and throughout the year, the agency is extending its outreach and supports to help address the many obstacles for students created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to meet the state’s new FAFSA Mandate. ISAC has hosted over 750 online financial aid workshops with school partners, as well as 13 statewide virtual financial aid completion workshops since September 2020, with more scheduled in 2021. As high schools focus their efforts on remote learning and keeping connected with students, ISAC is reaching out directly to schools that previously participated in the CCE campaign and is offering the following free supports statewide:

• Online financial aid completion workshops for students and parents. See studentportal.isac.org/events for statewide virtual events.
• Individual assistance to students and parents in completing financial aid applications, via web conferencing, phone, text, or email. Contact your local ISACorps member for free assistance: studentportal.isac.org/isacorps. Sign up for ISAC’s free text messaging app to get college/financial aid questions answered via text: isac.org/collegeqa.
• ISAC’s FAFSA Completion Initiative and direct outreach to students. ISAC’s FAFSA Completion Initiative offers Illinois school districts a way to identify students who have not submitted either a FAFSA or Alternative Application. The application completion information – updated on a weekly basis – can be used by district counselors to help reach students who may need assistance or encouragement to complete an application. To support busy school counselors and with school permission, ISAC can directly reach out to and assist students who have not completed a FAFSA. Find out more at https://www.isac.org/home/fafsa/index.html 
• Financial Aid Online Learning Module for classrooms. ISAC is developing an online learning module for schools to use as part of their remote learning curriculum, which includes a video and a learning packet.
• QR code for outreach to students and families. To improve outreach to students and families during the pandemic, ISAC will be introducing a QR code that links to simple and accessible information for students and families about how to get free assistance with financial aid applications. ISAC is partnering with several schools to pilot a program that will affix stickers with this QR code to free and reduced meal boxes and printed learning materials. Students and families will be able to scan the QR code with their phones to access the information.

“We want to make sure every high school senior and adult student in Illinois knows that completing a financial aid application is a critical step for their future,” said Jacqueline Moreno, ISAC’s director of College Access and Outreach. “We can help make the application process fairly quick and easy for most students.”

ISACorps members are available throughout the state offering free assistance to help students and families complete and submit an application. Find your ISACorps member at studentportal.isac.org/isacorps.

D211 Post: 5th Annual First-Generation College Symposium Set for Sept. 26

            Township High School District 211 will hold their 5th Annual First-Generation College Symposium September 26th at Palatine High School from 6:30-8:30 p.m.  Child care will be available for attendees from 6:15 until 8:45 p.m.  The symposium is designed to help parents whose students will be the first in their family to attend college, but is open to all District 211 families. 

            Like previous years’ symposiums, parents and students will have the opportunity to explore differences in attending various styles of colleges with representatives from schools including Harper College, Elmhurst College, National Louis University, and University of Illinois Chicago in attendance.  Representatives from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission will return to discuss financial aid options and sessions will again be hosted in both English and Spanish.

            One change for this year will be the elimination of the final session.  Palatine High School Student Services Secretary said this was done to expand the other three sessions.

            “At the end of the financial aid session last year, we didn’t have enough time to answer all of the questions,” she said.  “By expanding the sessions, we can focus on answering more questions and better preparing our first-generation students.”

            First-Generation College Symposium is part of a series of events designed to help parents and students navigate the college application and preparation process.  It will continue with the District 211 College Night October 23, at Palatine High School.

District 211 Hosts Spanish Language College Fair (Feria Universitaria del Idioma Español)

Students have the opportunity to meet with representatives from schools in Illinois and surrounding states.

Each year, High School District 211 hosts college night to prepare students and their families for the process of applying to college. These fairs typically showcase different schools and opportunities available for students who are interested in pursuing two- or four-year universities or trade schools.

District 211 hosts an additional Spanish Language College Fair that is specifically targeted to students and their families who primarily speak Spanish. This year, the event is Nov. 1 from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at Palatine High School. College representatives attending will speak Spanish and individuals from neighboring school districts in the area are welcome to attend.

“The larger District College Fair is so valuable, and many parents take advantage of it, but it’s not offered in Spanish,” said Iris Jun, dean of students at Palatine High School and member of the District 211 Spanish Language Fair committee. “This Spanish Language College Fair is smaller and gives families and students an opportunity to speak to representatives in Spanish. The language part is very helpful for our Spanish-speaking population to get information.”

An informational presentation in Spanish will cover topics such as preparing for college, financial aid, and community college vs. four-year institutions. From there, students and parents can speak with representatives of various colleges and universities about specific programs they offer. Typically there are 35 to 40 institutions in attendance at the fair each year. District 211 will also provide bus routes to allow for easy access to Palatine High School the night of the fair.

Jun said this is a great opportunity for parents to gather information about sending their child to college, especially if they have not gone through this process before.

“It’s sometimes intimidating for our non-English speaking parents to come to a large event,” she said, “so the small Spanish language college fair is smaller and more intimate which makes it good draw for our Spanish speaking parents.”

Jun said the fair has grown, and originally started with colleges and universities from Illinois. As of four years ago, the District added colleges and universities from surrounding states.

“We want to make sure the District provides every parent with the bit of information to make the best educational decision for their child,” Jun said. “This is just another way we can do that.”

Jun said the best way to access more information about the Spanish Language College Fair, including information about bus routes and times, is through your child’s individual school website.


Feria Universitaria del Idioma Español (artículo en Español) 

Una presentación informativa en Español cubrirá temas como, preparándose para la universidad/colegio, ayuda financiera, y colegios de la comunidad vs. Instituciones/Escuelas de 4 años.

Cada año las escuelas secundarias del Distrito 211, organiza una noche de universidades/colegios para preparar a los estudiantes y sus familias en el proceso de aplicar para las universidades/colegios.  Estas ferias típicamente presentan diferentes escuelas y oportunidades disponibles para estudiante quienes están interesados en seguir una carrera universitaria ó escuela de comercio por dos ó cuatro años.

El Distrito 211 organiza una Feria Universitaria en Español  la cual es específicamente dirigida hacia los estudiantes y sus familias que principalmente hablan Español.  Este año, el evento tendrá lugar el 1o de Noviembre de 6:30 pm a 8:30 pm en la Escuela Secundaria Palatine.   Los representantes de las universidades/colegios que atenderán hablan Español y las personas de los distritos escolares en los alrededores de la escuela están cordialmente invitadas.

“La feria más grande del Distrito Universitario es muy valiosa,  y muchos padres de familia aprovechan de ella, pero no se ofrece en Español,” así lo comentó Iris Jun, Decana de Estudiantes de la Escuela Secundaria Palatine y miembro del Comité de la Lengua Española del Distrito 211.  “Esta Feria Universitaria del Idioma Español es más pequeña y dará a las familias y a los estudiantes la oportunidad de hablar con un representante en Español.  La parte del lenguaje es muy útil para nuestra población de habla-hispana para poder obtener información.”

Una presentación informativa en Español cubrirá temas como, preparándose para la universidad/colegio, ayuda financiera, y colegios de la comunidad vs. Instituciones/Escuelas de 4 años.  De ahí en adelante, estudiantes y padres pueden conversar con representantes de varios colegios y universidades  sobre los programas específicos que ofrecen.  Típicamente existen de 35 a 40 instituciones que atienden ésta feria cada año.  El Distrito 211 también proveerá rutas de autobuses para  permitir un fácil acceso a la Escuela Secundaria Palatine la noche de ésta feria.

La Sra. Jun comentó que ésta es una gran oportunidad para que los padres de familia obtengan información de la universidad a la cual sus hijos(as) atenderán, especialmente sino han tenido la oportunidad de  hacer este proceso anteriormente.

“A veces es intimidante para nuestros padres que no hablan el idioma Inglés, el atender  a un evento de ésta magnitud,”  ella comentó,  está Feria Universitaria del Idioma Español es más pequeña e íntima lo cual atrae a nuestros padres que hablan Español.”

La Sra. Jun dijo que ésta feria ha crecido, y originalmente comenzó con colegios y universidades de Illinois.  Y hace cuatro años, el Distrito añadió colegios y universidades de estados circunvecinos.

“Queremos asegurarnos que el Distrito proveé a cada padre con algo de información para que así puedan hacer la mejor decisión educacional para sus hijos(as),” dijo la Sra. Jun.  “Este es tan solo otro camino en el cual lo podemos lograr.”

La Sra. Jun indicó que la mejor manera de obtener mas información acerca de la Feria Universitaria del Idioma Español, incluyendo rutas y horarios de autobuses, es a través de la pagina web de la escuela de su hijo(a).