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Are High School Counselors Failing Our Kids?

December 30, 2010

Did you know that of the 466 graduate counseling programs in the United States, only 42 degree programs offer a course in college counseling? And that only one program in the nation, Long Island University, makes that course mandatory? I was shocked when I read that. The source of this statistic is Patrick O’Connor, the former president of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, who wrote for Diverse Magazine: Issues in Higher Education (see p. 17 for his op-ed piece, “Inadequate Counsel”).   Lynn O’Shaughnessy, one of my favorite bloggers on college, wrote about this in her latest post on Money Watch using the provocative title “Why High School Counselors Are Failing.”

The library at Vassar College took my breath away during my recent visit.

Defending the High School Guidance Counselor

These two pieces caught my interest because this cuts to the heart of my profession and what I do and I couldn’t help but wonder: Are high school counselors failing our kids? First of all,  I am disappointed that graduate programs do not offer more instruction in college counseling. That should be changed. However, I also will defend the work that current high school counselors do. They handle huge case loads, juggle scheduling, proctor tests, intervene in student crises, listen to and assist with students’ problems, and then – on top of it all – need to meet student and parental expectations for college counseling. Many school based counselors are my friends and I know how hard they work. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Furthermore, a school counselor is based in the school. They rarely are able to leave the building, except to maybe attend a staff meeting somewhere else. Occasionally they can attend a conference – when the budget allows. But they rarely have the freedom to be able to go out and visit campuses during the school year; nor can they possibly spend much time with each individual student. Different schools have different student-counselor ratios, but suffice it to say that it is rare that a counselor can spend hours and hours with any individual student or family.

The Importance of Quality Guidance for all Students

Post secondary guidance is critical to insuring our children’s futures. Not all students are ready for college, or have that as their ambition. Other students have more potential than they give themselves credit for, and with proper guidance, can channel their energy and interests towards a brighter future. Still others need help finding out about their own talents, interests, learning styles, personality, and aptitudes. In an ideal world, this would be funded by public school systems and every student would receive quality guidance. Even in private schools or international schools, this is not always a need that can be met.

Why Use an Independent Educational Consultant?

There is a reason why educational consulting is a rapidly growing profession. Independent Educational Consultants (IECs) fill an important need. Contrary to the impression that media stories often misleadingly present, IECs are not about “getting a kid in” to college. Independent Educational Consultants help students to find direction that will hopefully set them on the right path for the rest of their lives. Additionally, an IEC will also answer the hundreds of questions that come up during the application process. In fact, many consultants are former school counselors and educators who enjoy the freedom of spending more time with students and families than they could when working in the school setting. It’s not “better” work – just different.

Lastly, many of the IECs whom I like, know, and respect have engaged in the professional development that both Patrick O’Connor and Lynn O’Shaughnessy have urged. Many have completed coursework (as I have) in college counseling certificate programs such as offered through UCLA and UC Irvine.

I would love to see a world in which each student had a publicly funded counselor who could work with them individually without time constraints. I bet high school guidance counselors would love to see that, too. Contrary to the title of Lynn O’Shaugnessy’s blog, I don’t think high school counselors have failed our kids at all. The system has. But in private enterprise, people step in to fill needs. If you are considering using an Independent Educational Consultant for your child, you will find it a worthwhile investment in his/her future.

2 Responses to “Are High School Counselors Failing Our Kids?”

  1. Clay Boggess says:

    I agree with you that it’s the system that’s currently failing to meet the needs of high school students not the counselors themselves. Being the husband of a former high school counselor I can speak first hand to the fact that she had to wear many hats and a lot of these hats had little to do with counseling.

    • Administrator says:

      Thank you very much for your comment. With rare exception, every counselor I have ever met is in the field because he/she truly cares about students. But having worked in both private and public schools, sometimes the expectations, demands, and case load numbers can be daunting. I hope that your wife knows how much her work is appreciated.

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