Asset 1ScholarMatch

Virtual College Coach Training Module 1: Expectations & College List

This is Virtual College Coach Training Module 1 of 3.
Estimated time to complete is 60-90 minutes (including mastery assignment).

Background & Context for our Program

Each year, over 50% of high-achieving, low and moderate income students–many of whom live in rural areas, towns, and small cities–fail to apply to a single institution matching their qualifications. Why? Researchers have studied this issue in depth in recent years, and have identified that many high-achieving, low-income students lack 3 crucial supports in the college and financial aid process:

  • Best FitCredible, personalized guidance about which colleges are a good match
  • InformationAccurate, individualized information about the real costs of leading colleges
  • ExamplesModels of other students like themselves who have successfully transitioned to top-performing colleges

Our response is to connect students with one-on-one support and encouragement from a network of virtual volunteer college coaches. For low-income and first-generation college students, this guidance has a life-changing impact.

In partnership with CollegePoint, our program is a collaborative effort involving multiple organizations. Please read more about the structure of this initiative as well as how we find our students in our FAQ Guide. *Note that the FAQ guide is a required read to complete this training and you will be quizzed on the content in a follow-up mastery assignment.

Our Expectations of College Coaches

Now that you understand the significance of your role as a Virtual College Coach, please read the following closely to understand our expectations of your commitment to our students.

  • Committed, not Expert, Engagement
    College coaches are expected to provide consistent support by dedicating 1-3 hours per month for each student. We expect you to be present and responsive, but you are not expected to be the expert on every college or every aspect of this process. For students, being able to count on you is invaluable, and part of the process knowing that together you will ask questions and find answers. ScholarMatch will be providing support for specific objectives along the way, so do not feel as though you are the singular source of information.
  • Communication
    Regular communication is key to building strong relationships. Therefore, we encourage coaches to connect with their students at least twice monthly. Be open to using a variety of methods including but not limited to phone calls, text messaging, FaceTime and Google Hangouts. Please inform us immediately if you are unable to keep your commitment to your student. Additionally, let us know if you are having trouble contacting your student and staff will follow-up with them.
  • Documentation
    In order to evaluate our program’s impact and areas for improvements, ScholarMatch and CollegePoint must regularly collect essential data such as college application list, acceptance outcomes, and frequency of coach-student communication. Coaches will be tasked with reporting this data using communication logs and regular short surveys.
  • Appropriate Content
    At ScholarMatch, our rule of thumb is if you can’t talk about it in front of a student’s grandmother, then you shouldn’t talk about it with your student. Only discuss sensitive topics when it relates directly to the work you two are doing. Additionally, we expect that you will not solicit students for any services you provide privately, such as for-profit college or career consulting.
  • Privacy
    It is important that every ScholarMatch student feels that their privacy is respected. Please do not discuss personal information about our students with anyone else.
  • Safety
    If you ever feel uncomfortable in a situation with a student, reach out to a ScholarMatch staff member immediately.

Student Engagement Throughout the Year

Engagement with your students will likely vary throughout the program year. The chart below illustrates the typical pattern of engagement we have observed in past years:

The College Landscape

First, read our list of Essential College Terminology to understand the variety of admission cycles, application portals, and scholarship partnerships that affect all students regardless of where they apply.

Next, review the following for a high-level overview of the college landscape. In addition to the extensive network of public universities nationwide, each of which often have their own distinct requirements and application portals, the following are some types of colleges you will encounter:

1) Liberal Arts and Science Colleges

  • These colleges aim to impart a broad, general knowledge to develop strong intellectual capacities.
  • There is a stronger emphasis on the interaction between professors and students and receiving more individualized attention.
  • The table below illustrates different kinds of unique curricula that are found at various liberal arts institutions:
Unique Curriculum What is it? Example Colleges
One Class at a Time Student completes one course per quarter or semester. Colorado College, Cornell College, Quest University
“Great Books” Program Students are required to read books considered to be essential foundation to Western Culture Literature; open discussion Saint Mary’s College of CA; St. John’s College
“Jan- Term” Students can study abroad, intern, or take a fun academic class during the month of January Middlebury College; Bennington College; Eckerd College
Social Justice Focus Students learn about social diversity and social inequities University of San Francisco; Seattle University

2) Minority Serving Institutions

  • These colleges are institutions with higher percentages of students and professors of one minority, including Native American, African American (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), Hispanic or Asian identifying people.
  • A student does not have to be a minority to attend these colleges, but some students prefer to attend a school with more ethnic diversity.
  • Examples include Howard University, Fisk University, Northeastern Illinois University, and Shaw University.

3) Single-Sex Colleges

  • There are several institutions which enroll only men or only women.
  • These institutions often offer excellent mentoring opportunities for students.
  • Examples include Barnard College, Bryn Mawr College, Simmons College, and Mount Holyoke College.

4) Religious Colleges and Universities

  • All religious colleges and universities are private institutions that receive no public funding.
  • Different strains of religious colleges exist, and they vary widely with expectations of religious practice. Some are extremely strict, mandating students attend church, take a Christian theology class, etc. whereas others are religious in the global sense, asking students to take religious classes to examine how religion and history/politics/economics are intertwined. Helping students to research student life at schools will give a sense of where the school falls on the spectrum.
  • Examples include Boston College, University of Notre Dame, and DePauw University.

Building the College List

1) Thinking about College MATCH
Our job is to ensure students apply to a range of colleges that match their academic profile in different ways. On each college list, students need Reach, Target, and Likely colleges.

Type Reach Target Likely
What? REACH college is a difficult college to gain admission to. Even if a student has a 4.0 cumulative GPA and solid test scores, colleges like Stanford, Harvard, and Yale are REACH colleges because they admit less than 20% of their applicants. TARGET college is one where a student will probably gain admission if he or she fits the college’s admission academic profile by falling within the middle 50% of GPA & test scores.


LIKELY college is one where a student knows he or she will gain admission. The student falls above the college’s middle 50% of GPA & test scores.


How many to apply to? 3 3-4 2-3

2) Thinking about College FIT
In addition to matching colleges with the academic profile of students, it is also important to think about factors like environment, size, diversity, geographic location, etc. 
All of these factors comprise what we call college “fit.” This is also where understanding the difference in student experience between attending a large, public state university as opposed to a small, private liberal arts college comes into play.

In discerning college “fit,” we often encourage students to research schools by doing the following:

  • Watch college admissions videos to get an interactive feel for the campus environment.
  • Use the ScholarMatcher, our search tool designed specifically for low-income students, to generate a starting list of schools that may be previously unknown to students.

Mastery Check for Understanding

To complete this training module, please do the following:

1. Read the NY Times article Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor by David Leonhardt to deepen your knowledge of this pressing issue. Once you are finished, follow with First-Generation Students Unite by Laura Pappano to learn about the challenges this population of students face if they do enroll in a selective college matching their abilities.

2. Watch the video below from University of Rochester and reflect on how you would engage a student in a conversation regarding the potential fit of this college with their personal preferences. *Feel free to watch only through ~6:00.








3. Find the profile of the college you attended on both the ScholarMatcher and Big Future to complete our College Research Worksheet. If your school is not listed on The ScholarMatcher, please use the profile for The University of San Francisco to answer ScholarMatcher related questions. The purpose of this exercise is not only to practice navigating these online tools, but also to draw your attention to the importance (and difficulty!) of finding what is unique and compelling about individual colleges. *Note that you may also use your college’s website (and your own first-hand knowledge!) to develop your answers.

4. Finished? Submit your answers to the Mastery Assignment here.

*Training Module 1 is considered complete once this assignment is submitted. Training Module 2 can be found here.