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FAFSA, the First Lady, and AmeriCorps

by Sandy Scott

AmeriCorps member Margaret Montague is used to having a steady stream of students come to see her for college advice in her office at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA, just outside the nation's capital.

AmeriCorps member Margaret Montague is shown in her office at the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria where she provides college advice to hundreds of students at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA.Since starting AmeriCorps last fall, she has already had more than 450 one-on-one meetings with students, including many first-generation Americans at this highly diverse school where more than 100 languages are spoken.

Margaret expects even more students to stop by after a visit today by First Lady Michelle Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to highlight the importance of pursuing higher education and the recent release of the 2014 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The First Lady spoke to students about the importance of completing the FAFSA as a pivotal step toward finishing their education beyond high school. 

The White House also released a video message from the First Lady in which she talks about being the first in her family to attend college. In the video, part of the “I’m First” storytelling project, the First Lady says, “no matter where you come from or how much money your family has, I want you to know that you can succeed in college, and get your degree, and then go on to build an incredible life for yourself.”

That’s the same message that Margaret Montague has delivered to hundreds of students at T.C. Williams.  As an AmeriCorps member with the Virginia College Advising Corps, Michelle is a “near-peer” mentor who helps students select courses, prepare college applications, apply for financial aid, and take other steps to pursue their dream of a college education.

“I am so happy to come to T.C. Williams every day. I love working with students. It makes my day to help a student figure out what they want to do in life, and what college education they need to pursue their career goals.”

Margaret Montague, an AmeriCorps member with the Virginia College Advising Corps, works with a T.C. Williams High School student in Alexandria, VA, during a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) workshop.Margaret is one of 13 AmeriCorps members who serve throughout the state in the Virginia College Advising Corps. Now in its eighth year, AmeriCorps members have served more than 85,000 high school students, helping them plan their futures and achieve their dreams of a college education.  She is one of hundreds of AmeriCorps members across the country who promote access to college through the National College Advising Corps, Admission Possible, and other programs.

In his remarks to the students today, Secretary Duncan spoke about the importance of applying for federal student aid, and how the process has become easier with a simplified FAFSA form. He thanked the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria and other organizations for their key role in helping students make the journey to college. And he recognized T.C. Williams college counselors and advisors, including Margaret, telling the crowd, “I am a huge fan of AmeriCorps.” 

While a student at the University of Virginia, Margaret volunteered as a mentor to teen girls.  After graduating in 2012, she spent a year at a consulting firm, but missed working with young people.  She knew about AmeriCorps from her sister, who served in AmeriCorps VISTA.  She jumped at the chance to become a college advisor, and knows she is making a difference for the students she serves, many who will be the first in their family to attend college.

Margaret is excited that the First Lady has made college access such a priority, and hopes her visit will spur more students at T.C. Williams and across the country to achieve their dreams.

The Corporation for National and Community Service is celebrating the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps. For more information about AmeriCorps’ 20th Anniversary celebration, visit the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary portal

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