As college decisions start to roll in (monitor how we're doing here), articles tend to reach an annual peak focusing on the competitiveness of it all, minimizing the process, or how little school counselors can do to help students.
Yes, it is competitive. No, where you start isn't as important as where you finish. And yes, school counselors' impact is stunted when we have bloated caseloads or limited training and professional development in college planning.
Most aspiring school counselors pursue the career because they want to help children achieve their goals. Teachers do this, but many of the teachers who seek the role change report doing so in order to develop deeper and non-evaluative relationships with their students.
Once we are in our post-graduate master's programs to learn how to be school counselors, we learn that our roles are to break down barriers to student achievement, and to help students grow in their academic, career, and personal/social development. The typical school counseling masters program requires the following courses:
Introduction to Helping Services
Human Growth & Development
Use of Assessments
Intro to counseling skills
Research & Statistics Methods
Advanced counseling techniques
So here we have a pre-professional or new school counselor who learns how to actively listen to students and implement a data-driven school counseling program that incorporates individual and group counseling to address students' personal, social, career, and academic development, and have solid skills in relationship-building, because we learn from Carl Rogers in our Theories class that clients experience the most growth with unconditional positive regard and the opportunity to arrive at their own conclusions. He or she secures a position in a school by showing through the interview process with knowledge about data-driven decision making and an awareness of the process to address students who show risk of self-harm. Then, they get into a school. Thankfully, the internships gave the elementary school counselor the necessary practice to conduct lessons. And a new school counselor hopefully has enough energy to withstand the challenges presented by middle schoolers, keeping those tweens aware that there is a world beyond their school years and to keep working toward hypothetical goals.
However, high school counselors arrive at their new positions and are asked daily by students and parents how to strategically plan coursework to maximize postsecondary options and differentiate the nuances between the several state colleges or flagship and brand name universities in neighboring states. The most competitive students and their parents ask for advice in navigating the ivy-league and highly selective college labyrinth. And here is where the bad press comes from. We are taught to close gaps for the lowest-performing students and provide services to as many students as possible, but many of us don't learn until about three or four years (or longer, if we "loop" with student cohorts) about trends and tendencies with college admissions with enough acuity to help the highest-achieving and most-motivated students, the ones who end up writing articles about what a poor job their guidance counselor did.
So let's talk about what school counselors do know. School counselors know how to interpret data. We use Naviance to help students search for colleges and we also use it for transcripts. The college to which we send most of our transcripts is Towson University, which makes that the "mode" college if we were think about colleges in terms of data. The average GPA for the current seniors is about 2.6 and the average SAT score for the seniors is currently about 490 on each test. So let's look at how an "average" senior stacks up against his or her peers who applied to the most popular college in the area:
Before we had Naviance, we kept track of student admission trends using our own spreadsheets, and could have had the same student ask "what colleges do you think I should look into?" We would have used our spreadsheet, sorted by QPA, and recommended Stevenson, Morgan State, Frostburg, and U of Baltimore, because they are where students with a similar academic background have had recent success.
However, what this process lacks is imagination. Without intensive training that gets school counselors exposed to the thousands of colleges that our students overlook, or without funding to provide professional development or trips to support our own exploration of underexplored colleges, school counselors will continue to keep students in the well-traveled path. If school counselors can be provided more intensive relationships with the enrollment management professionals, we would know about the myriad special programs and admissions programs to help students get into their reach schools.
Here is what we at Pikesville do to combat this reputation so that the fewest possible graduates leave us with such a negative perception:
- The #PHSfit messaging in general
- The #PHSfit colleges of the day, through twitter and the morning announcements last year, and next year will also be posted on the blog
- 30-minute meetings with each junior to listen and help them develop college decision making plans
- increased classroom presence
- greater visibility and accessibility for individual appointments than students experienced in previous years
What do you think? If you would like suggest more to help us do a better job providing students post-secondary planning support, please email Mr. Goldman so that you can be on our advisory council next year.