Janet Harrington is a senior counselor at Arlington Heights High School. (Kristen Barton | Fort Worth Report)

In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Janet Harrington, a senior counselor at Arlington Heights High School, discusses key steps to getting students ready for college. 

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For an unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.

A conversation with Janet Harrington

Kristen Barton: I am here today to spend a few minutes chatting with Janet Harrington, who is one of the senior counselors at Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth ISD. And we’re going to talk a little bit about preparing for college. 

So, let’s say I’m a parent, and I have a junior in high school. When do I need to start preparing for college? 

Harrington: Well, they can start applying for college anytime once they become a senior really. And then, once they put in the applications, they need to request transcripts from the high school and then they’ll need to get some resumes in to their counselor, their teachers if they need to write letters of recommendation for them. They need to apply for scholarships as often as possible. We put out monthly reports from Fort Worth ISD as well as probably each school has their own set of scholarships that we award. So usually those come in a lot senior year, but with the Fort Worth ISD they do have them for freshman, sophomore, junior and senior (year). But those are more global instead of just here in the Fort Worth ISD area and you know, it’s a lot easier to get those than the ones that are national.

Barton: How early is too early and how late is too late when it comes to scholarships and college applications?

Harrington: Well, most of the scholarships have deadlines, so they just need to make sure that they get it in on time. A lot of times they’re used to things being given an extra day or something and scholarships are not that way. Those are usually businesses and entities like that, and so they really want it to be on a deadline. That’s one of their criteria. As far as application, there’s early decision so they need to decide if they want to decide early to go. Usually early decision has to be made, or the application has to be in in time for them and it varies by colleges, but a lot of times it’s Nov. 1. They can’t apply for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is financial aid, until Oct. 1. It is now a requirement for all Texas public school students who are graduating to complete a FAFSA or an opt out form or the Texas Application for State Financial Aid.So to set the new requirement as of this year.

Barton: I’ve never heard of TASFA, I don’t think that was a thing when I was applying for colleges or it was, and I just didn’t know so what is that? 

Harrington: That is for undocumented students. 

Barton: That’s something that I feel like some people don’t know. They might just assume if they’re undocumented that they’re not able to apply. So is TASFA the same process or does it just require different paperwork?

Harrington: It is actual paperwork. It is on paper whereas the other is digital. 

Barton: Can people get access to those documents at their high school?

Harrington: You can go online, either way. 

Barton: Let’s talk a little bit about college readiness. What does that mean?

Harrington: Getting a student ready for college, whatever we can do to help them be better prepared to be successful in college, make them feel at ease and prepared. And since we were kind of talking about TASFA and FAFSA that kind of goes hand-in-hand with the GO Center. They have been a godsend for us for coming through and helping us get these kids with their FAFSA and their TASFA. Our GO Center is just one of the supports that we have here in our school system.

Every Fort Worth ISD has a GO center and those are just to help students with their college and career readiness. So like I said, they push for college admission awareness. They have a decision day — it’s not a party, but it’s like, everybody gets out together. We either go to the gym or maybe the football field and they get to have a celebration for the college that they’re gonna go to. And with that they also start talking junior year about the T3 pledge which is the Tarrant County To & Through so that they’re trying to get kids to sign this pledge saying that they’re going to graduate from Fort Worth ISD. They’re going to complete their financial aid.

They’re going to attend a three T3 scholar orientation. They complete eight hours of community service. They meet the Texas Success Initiative which is the TSI and they apply to the T3 partner college or university and they aren’t made where they have to do that, but they do have to apply. All these colleges that have partnered with T3 and so these kids can apply to any of these colleges once their FAFSA kicks in. It picks up the rest of the tuition. They call it the last dollar tuition again, so these kids are able to go to these colleges basically free with their financial aid. Now there are some eligibility requirements With the household family income, So it depends on how many residents you have in the house and the total earning. But that kind of goes hand-in-hand to help with that.

Also, there’s a lot of really good schools that partner with Tarrant County To & Through, TCC, TCU, Tarleton, Texas Wesleyan, UTA. There’s a lot of them and they hope to get even more all the time. So that’s a nice little deal. They help kids get there so the GO Center helps with both helping us with getting the FASFA done. They are phenomenal with doing that. And also with making sure that our kids do the T3 pledge. They also help us with scholarships. And so they are a wonderful addition to our campuses.

Barto: If you could make your top tip for people trying to navigate the college process, what would you say that might be?

Harrington: Well, it’s always nice to have a little experience ahead of time. If they enroll in dual credit, they either stay here and they are in a dual credit class here on campus or they go to TCC and that is a nice transition for them because they get a little taste of college before they actually go and understand about deadlines and you know, attendance and things like that. 

They also have OnRamps courses here, that is with the University of Texas. They take the class here on campus, they get two grades, and they basically have two different instructors. One is our instructor on campus and they get a grade for Fort Worth ISD and you know, that’ll have daily assignments and stuff like that, but otherwise they have the college tests and so they have a college grade and they can either accept or decline that college grade. 

I think being prepared; that really helps you be prepared. But if you’re not ready to do that, we also have AVID as a program that’s prepping them for college. It’s a class here; we started actually in the middle school, but we have it for ninth- through 12th-graders here. And it just sets them up, they do scholarships, they do resumes, they do all sorts of things to prepare themselves. Fill out applications they make them do all of that in the class, so that’s part of their classwork.

Of course we have Advanced Placement classes, which are more collegiate level, if they score three, four or five on those tests and they can get college credit depending on what college they go to.

We give the SAT and the ACT to juniors for free every year which is a wonderful opportunity. And along with both of those then we have some test prep classes. We have Khan Academy that helps with the SAT and then we have an ACT Academy that’s free. That helps with the ACT. So those are all just programs that we have in probably every school and Fort Worth ISD is gracious enough to pay for our AP testing and the OnRamps right now and they also take care of the most of the dual credit and they do a great job SAT, ACT It’s just a great opportunity for our students.

Barton: That can get really expensive, especially when you consider the cost to even just apply to college. So all of those costs add up.

Harrington: We do have another thing that the GO Center does help us do is with those application fee waivers for college. If they apply for free and reduced lunch and qualify for free and reduced lunch, they get a fee waiver and so they can apply to a lot more colleges with the fee waiver then. 

Barton: Well, is there anything else about this topic that you really want people to know about? 

Harrington: I think another way that Fort Worth ISD gets students ready for college is with our career tech classes. It kind of prepares the kids to see if they really want to do that as a job. And then there’s some internships that go along with that. It’s always a nice way to see if you really like doing that, because it always sounds good to do it, but then when you actually get your feet wet and start doing that it’s a little bit different than what you anticipated. We do have some really good programs of choice and career tech on our campuses.

Barton: Thank you again, Janet, for your time and for helping the readers. And if any of you have a certain topic that you would like to hear a conversation with someone in Fort Worth about, then you can feel free to email us at the Fort Worth Report, any of our reporters, or you can contact us via any of our social media channels.

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. 

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Kristen Barton

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...