It’s not uncommon to hear parents ask why high school counselors aren’t able to do some of the things that a private college advisor or a college admissions coach does. While it might seem like a natural extension of their responsibilities, it actually isn’t.
High school counselors are amazing people. They spend incredible hours dealing with a wide range of issues that most of us never know about. And it never fails that just as they’ve set aside an hour to finally chip away at the mountain of paperwork that has built up or respond to the backlog of emails, a student comes in with an immediate problem that has to be addressed.
Counselors handle RTI, ARD and 504 meetings. They work on planning schedules and schedule changes. They monitor grades and make sure students are on the path to graduation. They put in long hours outside of the regular work day at the expense of their own families. The fact that they get as much done as they do is amazing when you . . .
Look at the calendar
In most places, counselors have a slightly longer yearly contract than teachers. In Texas where contracts are usually 187, 200 or 220 days, counselors are typically on a 200-day contract. They come back in August a little before the teachers and stay a little longer. August and the start of September are spent getting the school year started and schedules sorted out. February through April are spent getting next year’s schedules done. May starts off with AP exams and ends with a mad rush to make sure graduation is ready and that all seniors who can graduate do. That leaves October through January for doing any actual counseling. 4 months of the school year where they might possibly be available to work with students except when you . . .
Look at the numbers
According to the American School Counselor Association, schools have an average of 482 students per counselor nationally, but the range of those ratios is staggering. It goes from Wyoming’s best of 224:1 to Arizona’s abyssmal 880:1, followed closely by California at 826:1. California, the most populous state in the country, has counselors working with over 800 students on average. No wonder students are slipping through the cracks.
The recommended average is 250:1. Only three states (Wyoming, Vermont, and New Hampshire) meet that standard. After that, the next closest is Hawaii with 294:1. New England seems to be doing pretty well with Maine coming in at 320:1, until Massachusetts blows the average with 428:1.
And remember, counselors have about 4 months out of the year where their priority isn’t on just making sure they’re within the law. Even during those months they’re having to deal with special education requirements like RTI, ARD, and 504 meetings that are guaranteed to take up an hour each, often before or after school. If we use Texas’s 469:1 ratio as a standard, they need to see about 13 students every week all year long just to see every student once.
Counselors are up against the calendar and they’re up against the ratio. What happens when we . . .
Look at their responsibilities
The most important thing a high school counselor does is make sure that a student is meeting the requirements the state sets out for students to graduate. They have to comb through hundreds transcripts to make sure that students are on track to graduate on time. Have they passed all the required tests? Are they making the right grades? What other support do they need?
Now throw in some actual counseling responsibilities. They might be asked to help teachers with classroom management ideas or even help the administration with certain interventions. At the very least they’re going to have to sit in on every ARD, 504 or RTI meeting for any student they work with. Even if that’s just 20% of their students (and it’s never just 20%), they’ll be looking at around 100 of those meetings during a school year, somewhere around 3 per week.
Is it any wonder that programs like Naviance have become so popular for counselors? It’s impossible to expect them to have perfect recall of over 400 student situations. They’ll do pretty well with the ends, the over achievers and those who need extra attention, but if a student is in the middle 70-80% of students, the counselor is going to need a place to reference information. The online programs give counselor a repository to store the information they need in order to help the hundreds of students they’re responsible for. It also gives parents and students access to information they need without having to wait on a counselor to respond.
And that’s the difference
Private college advisors focus on something very specific, namely admission to college. They coach parents and students through the college admissions process. They help students discover interests and best fits as well as helping them to put together a well-crafted, organized admissions portfolio. Usually they work with a much smaller number of clients so that they are able to be focused and responsive when their clients need them. Maybe the best part is that you can fire them if you don’t think they’re doing the job you want. You don’t have that option with a high school counselor.
You also don’t have the level of access or the specialized knowledge that a private college advisor can offer you. Please contact me if you’d like to find out more about what a private college advisor can do for you. I’d love to be your student’s college readiness coach.