Rural College Equity Toolkit

Helping rural students equitably attend college

July 25, 2023 |

The #RuralCollegeEquity campaign was created by Lisa Kennedy, a student at Georgetown University, originally from Rhinelander, WI. Through her involvement with Georgetown’s Laidlaw Undergraduate Leadership and Research Program, Lisa was given the opportunity to conduct independent research surrounding rural postsecondary access and a corresponding leadership-in-action project in collaboration with the Rural Schools Collaborative. Her work is part of a broader effort among Georgetown’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions to better understand the barriers impacting rural students’ college access and how they may be addressed.

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About the Project

Despite similar graduation rates, rural students attend college at a much lower rate than their urban and suburban counterparts (AASA Rural Equity Report, 2017; Flora & Flora, 2013). In some states, this gap in postsecondary enrollment reaches as high as 20% (Pierson & Hanson, 2015). This issue appears to have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the number of rural students filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) decreased by a whopping 18% from 2019 to 2020 (FSA, 2019-2020). These patterns are especially prevalent in highly competitive postsecondary programs (Byun, Irvin, and Meece 2015; Koricich et al. 2018). The purpose of this campaign is to raise awareness around this disparity, as well as direct rural counselors, teachers, and students to relevant resources that may aid them in their postsecondary journey.

The campaign will run from July 31st through August 4th, coinciding with the release of the Common Application. The Common Application serves as a gateway for rural students to streamline their college application process, removing barriers and increasing their chances of accessing postsecondary education, thereby promoting educational equity.


As a rural college access advocate, you are invited to join the Rural Schools Collaborative in their one-week social media campaign beginning July 31st, 2023 and ending August 4th, 2023. This week marks the opening of the 2023-2024 Common Application (on August 1st) and the period in which many rural students begin to finalize their postsecondary plans.

Download the PDF toolkit here!

Using the Toolkit

Throughout the document, there will be live links to tweet out images and information regarding rural college access. Join the social media campaign from July 31st-August 4th, 2023 to raise awareness!

Spread the Word

Use the following image on social media to let others know how to get involved! Remember to share the link to this article in your post.

Resources for Teachers and Counselors

NACAC Rural and Small Town Special Interest Group (Rural SIG)
The NACAC Rural and Small Town Special Interest Group (SIG) is a subgroup within the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). The SIG aims to provide a platform for professionals working in these areas to network, share best practices, and advocate for equitable access to higher education opportunities for students in rural and small town settings. They recognize that students from these communities often face distinct barriers, such as limited resources, geographic isolation, and lack of access to college preparation and support services.

Indiana Higher Education Commission’s Education Value Movement Training for Teachers
The Indiana Higher Education Commission's Education Value Movement Training for Teachers is a resource designed to provide training and support to educators in Indiana. The goal of the training is to help teachers understand and promote the value of education among their students and communities. The goal is to create a culture of educational attainment within schools and communities, ultimately leading to increased college enrollment and completion rates among Indiana students – but its approach is generalizable to a wide range of rural communities.

Institute for Higher Education Policy: Innovative Strategies to Close Postsecondary Attainment Gaps
The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) has developed a resource titled "Innovative Strategies to Close Postsecondary Attainment Gaps." This resource focuses on identifying and promoting innovative approaches to address the disparities in postsecondary education attainment among different student populations.The IHEP recognizes that certain groups, such as low-income students, students of color, and first-generation college students, often face significant barriers to accessing and completing higher education.

University of Pennsylvania’s Educator Toolkit for Teaching Personal Statement Writing
The University of Pennsylvania has developed an Educator Toolkit for Teaching Personal Statement Writing, which provides resources and guidance for educators to assist students in crafting effective personal statements for college applications.The toolkit recognizes the significance of personal statements in the college admissions process, as they offer students an opportunity to showcase their unique qualities, experiences, and aspirations. The resource offers a variety of teaching materials, including lesson plans, handouts, and sample personal statements.

College Board: Tips for Writing Student Recommendations
The College Board provides a resource called "Tips for Writing Student Recommendations: teachers," which offers guidance to educators on writing effective recommendation letters for students applying to college. Recognizing the importance of recommendation letters in the college admissions process, this resource aims to assist teachers in providing strong, meaningful, and personalized recommendations.

QuestBridge Recommender Resources
The QuestBridge Recommender Resources is a set of tools and guidelines provided by QuestBridge, a nonprofit organization that connects talented, low-income students with educational and scholarship opportunities. These resources are designed to assist recommenders, such as teachers and counselors, in writing strong and supportive recommendation letters for QuestBridge applicants. The resource provides comprehensive guidance on how to effectively convey a student's academic abilities, personal qualities, and potential for success in higher education.

Resources for Students

Khan Academy
Khan Academy provides test preparation materials, college application guidance, academic support, virtual mentoring, and college/career exploration resources for rural students, with the goal of empowering them, increasing access to higher education, and supporting their journey to college success.

QuestBridge National College Match
QuestBridge's National College Match program offers personalized resources, including college preparation materials, mentorship, application support, and financial aid assistance, to empower high-achieving, low-income students in their college application journey. Deadline for application is usually in late September.

RootEd Alliance
RootEd Alliance is an organization dedicated to empowering and supporting rural students on their educational journey. They focus on providing comprehensive college and career readiness programs tailored specifically for rural communities. Their initiatives include mentorship programs, college access workshops, and resources for students and families to navigate the college application process. RootEd Alliance also collaborates with schools, community organizations, and businesses to create partnerships and opportunities that benefit rural students. Through their work, RootEd Alliance aims to bridge the educational opportunity gap and help rural students reach their full potential in pursuing higher education and successful careers.

MyinTuition provides students with a user-friendly college cost calculator and additional resources for financial aid applications, college search guidance, and loan repayment information, empowering them to make informed decisions about higher education affordability.

University of Chicago’s “Guide to College”
The University of Chicago has created an in-depth toolkit for high school students, including: a checklist for each year of high school; a guide to college application materials; deadlines; and financial aid.

Coalition for College Access
The Coalition for College Access offers tools and guidance to help students explore colleges, prepare for the application process, and navigate financial aid. The Coalition's online platform allows students to create a digital portfolio, showcasing their achievements and personal development. It also provides access to application fee waivers and offers a college search feature that includes information on member institutions. Additionally, the Coalition's website offers valuable resources on college essays, financial aid, and the admissions process, empowering students with information and support to pursue higher education successfully.

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