3 Step Process

Iowa College Aid’s program to help build a college-going culture.

College-Going Culture

The 3 Step Process allows schools to build a college going culture by implementing three steps toward post-secondary enrollment.

3 Step Process

The 3 Step Process is a statewide initiative to help Iowa schools promote post-secondary education. The steps allow schools to help build a college-going culture that encourages students to plan for and become excited about their futures.

GEAR UP Iowa is committed to supporting Iowa College Aid’s 3 Step Process efforts by assisting schools in implementing each step. Previous GEAR UP Iowa participants have reported that College Application Campaign was among the most effective activities for engaging their seniors in the college going process. Therefore, GEAR UP Iowa has expanded the Three-Step Process across all seven years of the grant to develop a college-going culture in all partner districts.

  • College Application Campaign: GEAR UP Iowa students will be exposed to early college experiences through campus visits and mentoring beginning in 7th grade. Additionally, students and families will receive lessons on “college fit” in order for both audiences to gain familiarity with different types of colleges settings. During the cohort’s senior year of high school, they will receive assistance in applying to at least three colleges during College Application events.
  • FAFSA Completion Initiative: Using a broad array of partners GEAR UP Iowa will provide FAFSA workshop opportunities for students and families in an effort to increase the number of FAFSA applications submitted. Additionally, GEAR UP schools will have access to data regarding students who complete the FAFSA. This will allow schools to provide direct follow up with students who have not yet completed an application.
  • College Decision Day: GEAR UP Iowa and partner school districts will celebrate students and their college choice through College Decision Day events. Events may include formal ceremonies for students to announce their college selection, press releases in GEAR UP Iowa communities, social media announcements, and various other celebratory events.

Timeline and Goals for Implementing the 3-Step Process


Year 1:

  • Facilitators will connect with high school counselors to share information about the 3-Step Process and encourage 7th graders to get involved if possible
  • Ideas for GEAR UP student involvement: participate in college fact trivia, school staff wear college apparel, schools host financial savings workshops for families, teachers share their college story
  • Participation Goal: 20% of GEAR UP Iowa high schools signed up (5 out of 23 high schools)

Year 2:

  • Facilitators will spread message to high schools about the 3-Step Process and encourage 8th graders to get involved if possible.
  • Ideas for GEAR UP student involvement: Wear college apparel during College Application Campaign, hold a pep rally for seniors on College Decision Day or around FAFSA Completion Initiative events, have 8th graders write motivation letters to seniors on College Decision Day
  • Participation Goal: 30% of GEAR UP Iowa high schools signed up (7 schools)

Year 3:

  • Facilitators will work with high schools to sign up for 3-Step Process and organize at least one event. Encourage 9th graders to get involved.
  • Ideals for GEAR UP student involvement: pair GEAR UP students with seniors to shadow them during College Decision Day or through online college searches, teachers wear college gear and talk about experiences with GU students
  • Participation Goal: 50% (12 high schools)

Year 4:

  • Facilitators will work with high schools to sign up for 3-Step Process and organize more than one event. Encourage 10th graders to get involved.
  • Ideals for GEAR UP student involvement: hold a mini version of College Decision Day where GEAR UP students make a list of their top 5 colleges, develop a contest they can do on social media
  • Participation Goal: 80% (18 high schools)

Year 5:

  • Facilitators will work with high schools to sign up for 3-Step Process and organize at least one event for each step of the process. Recommend 11th graders to get involved.
  • Ideals for GEAR UP student involvement: GEAR UP students plan one of the events (similar to how juniors plan prom for seniors), write an aspirational letter to middle school students. Involve families by inviting them to events or assisting as volunteers.
  • Participation Goal: 100% (23 high schools)

Year 6:

  • Facilitators will work with high schools to sign up for 3-Step Process and organize at least one event for each step of the process. Require 12th graders to participate.
  • Ideals for GEAR UP student involvement: juniors plan an event for GEAR UP seniors, hold a parent panel where last year’s senior parents give advice to current parents, similar panel for students, contest between districts through Iowa College Aid/GEAR UP Iowa (# of events, # of student applications, FAFSA’s, etc.).
  • Facilitators work with schools to establish a 3-Step Process guide to ensure sustainability after GU cohort leaves district.
  • Participation Goal: 100% (23 high schools)

Year 7:

  • Facilitators will support high schools in continuing the 3-Step Process. Serve as a resource as schools implement the events outlined in year 6.
  • Participation Goal: 80% (18 high schools — drop off anticipated since cohort will no longer be in high school)