A high school’s guidance counseling department and the programs they support are critical resources for both the student and their parents in preparing for college. School counselors are highly trained professionals who typically have advanced degrees. While each and every high school is different, the National Office for School Counselor Advocacy has defined 8 essential elements that all guidance counselors should cover when conducting college and career counseling.
1. Career and College Aspirations
As mentioned in a prior blog, one of the first things parents must do is to have the “talk”. Understand your child’s interests, abilities and limitations. Your schools guidance counselor is a key resource when you’re “having the talk”. Many times a student will open up and actually “talk” to someone other than their parent. So, as a parent, getting to know and work with your child’s guidance counselor is in your best interest.
Counselors have a number of tools they can use to assist students in understanding their career interests. For example, self-assessment tools that gauge one’s likes and dislikes of a variety of activities, objects and types of persons on the premise that people in the same career have similar interests. Working through these self-assessment surveys is a good way to hone in on potential career paths so that your child doesn’t waste time and money jumping from one college major to another trying to figure out what they want to do professionally.
Your counselor should also have a pretty firm understanding of workforce trends. I.e., what careers are good long-term choices vs those that are slowly falling out of favor.
2. Academic Planning for Career and College Readiness
A counselor can provide input into the academic planning and preparation that will connect career/college choice with academic performance. This should include discussions on the educational requirements for various career fields. Early in the educational process, a counselor, along with teachers, can provide assistance in developing a career and college plan for students. This plan should be based on your child’s aspirations and have the flexibility to change as your child becomes more focused on a specific career.
Additionally, if your child struggles academically, your school counselor should provide assistance in getting the help they need to overcome obstacles that may exist. This will allow them to stay on track with their plan.
3. Enrichment and Extracurricular Engagement
Counselors can promote exposure to a wide range of extracurricular and enrichment opportunities that build leadership, nurture talents and interests, and increase their engagement with their school. This includes not only participation in school sports but also those “cerebral” programs that require more critical thinking and organization skills. Those types of programs would include school clubs such as the chess and robotic clubs, Boy and Girl Scouts, Future Farmers of America (FFA), etc.
4. College and Career Exploration and Selection Processes
Counselors should ensure families get early and on-going exposure to information necessary to make informed decisions when selecting a career and college that connects with academic preparation and future aspirations. This means the college you choose should have a degree program that matches your child’s career interest AND is cost effective relative to what you can afford and minimize the financial burden on your child.
They also understand the educational requirements for various career fields (i.e. college degree vs technical school or advanced training). Not all students need to go to college. Some may be able to meet their career goals through on-the-job training or attending technical schools.
Finally, counselors should assist in the scheduling and coordination of career days (some school districts do this as early as elementary school), career fairs, college information sessions and, as students refine their career direction, working with the business community to conduct job shadowing days and/or internships. This can include working with local businesses and community organizations to develop jobs, internships, service learning, apprenticeships and volunteer opportunities that will expose students to both traditional and nontraditional careers.
5. College and Career Testing Prep
School counselors can and should assist in the preparation, participation and performance in college and career assessments by all students. This is not the same as the self-assessment tools mentioned earlier. This is referring to the academic tests required by colleges and includes the standard testing preparation for the SAT and/or the ACT. Additional tests include those associated with Advanced Placement (AP) classes, College Level Examination Program (CLEP) testing and other, degree specific testing that may be required.
Preparation should include helping schedule and coordinate workshops that assist students in understanding how the tests are formatted and how to prepare.
6. College Affordability and Admission Planning
This can take several formats. First and foremost, the school counselor can help families make sense of the various financial “processes”; specifically the financial aid process. Colleges vary on how they apply financial aid rules and regulations. A school counselor should be able to help you sift through a particular college’s process so that you get it right the first time. Additionally, they should know what scholarships and grants are available and how they will affect your child’s financial aid.
A counselor can help you understand financial aid, grants, work/study programs, etc, that can save you money, but they are not responsible for determining how you are going to pay for your child’s college expenses. Parents should understand the various options and the pros and cons of each option before they dole out a significant amount of money. Seek out a trusted financial advisor to help you put together a financial plan that works for both you and your child.
It is important to remember that not all school districts adhere to these guidelines. Some do far better jobs of preparing students for college and future careers than others. If your school district does not meet your expectations, you can turn to private college admissions advisors. They can help fill the gap but it will come at a price. Also remember that school guidance counselors have other, very important responsibilities and career and college planning is only of them.