Late Stage College PlanningA 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.


In Closing

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.


To read all of the Late Stage Col­lege Plan­ning blog series click here.