It’s November. Near my home in Delaware, the foliage has gotten thinner and the air has become crisper. Around the country, millions of Americans are spending the ever-shorter days exploring their options for college and sitting down to write applications.
November is when the college application process kicks into high gear, and I’m delighted to be partnering with Reach Higher and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina to applaud and support everyone who is seeking a higher education. Over the next several weeks, Reach Higher will be reminding students to identify all of their options by applying to more than one school, working to improve their test scores, and filling out an application for federal student aid.
Applicants’ aspirations ought to be celebrated—both for what they can inspire applicants to achieve and what that means for our society.
When students find the right option for them, they are better positioned for success later in life. The employment rate for young adults who have earned a bachelor’s degree is nearly 20 percent greater than that for those who have only finished high school. Over their lifetimes, these young graduates can expect to earn nearly a million dollars more than those who did not earn that degree.
What’s more, accessing higher education can be a powerful engine for social mobility. For Americans who grow up in the poorest households, a college degree is associated with a 70 percent difference in their likelihood of reaching the middle class and a threefold difference in their likelihood of earning among the country’s highest incomes. In a time of alarming inequalities, we have to expand access to opportunities that can open the American Dream to new generations.
That’s why access to higher education has been one of my top legislative priorities. I was thrilled that my bipartisan American Dream Accounts Act was signed into law as part of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education Act. Once the program is up and running, it will support aspiring career and technical students by offering them online savings accounts, coaching, and other forms of assistance. On a broader level, Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia and I are pushing for the passage of our ASPIRE Act to create incentives for colleges and universities to serve low-income students and provide new supports for those already doing so.
This month, I have been proud to celebrate those of you who are planning for and dreaming about your futures by working with Senator Scott and my other colleagues to adopt a resolution designating November as National College Application Month. The college application process can be extensive and challenging, and we applaud your ambition, perseverance, and dedication.
As you research your options, I especially encourage you to make sure you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA. The majority of American high school graduates are eligible for federal grants averaging almost $4,000 per year—but more than a third of students never complete the application. That means that in the school year that just started, high school students left $2.6 billion of federal aid on the table and never learned what options they might be able to afford. Completing the FAFSA is a key step in figuring out what higher education opportunities might be the best stepping stones to your goals.
It won’t be long before the days begin lengthening and warming up again and letters carrying the rewards of your efforts begin arriving in inboxes and mailboxes around the country. Until then, good luck—and keep it up!
This article originally appeared on Forbes