Now you see them, now you don’t. Ever wonder if your teen’s college counselor is wearing an invisibility cloak? Well, wonder no longer. It’s likely they are buried beneath a mound of administrative paperwork, every now and then peeking through to spend a few precious seconds with one of the five hundred students they are tasked with helping. That’s right, five hundred high-energy, recommendation-letter-seeking public high school students, to one overworked and underpaid college guidance counselor. So it’s time to ask: how can I keep an overtaxed school system from negatively affecting my teen’s higher education aspirations?
First, let’s do a little math together. In this scenario, we will assume 100% of a counselor’s time is devoted to their students (which it’s not, as seen in the graphic here).
Fact 1: College counselors work about 2,080 hours per year. The recommended ratio for college counselor to students is 1:100 (or on average 20 hours per student per year).
Fact 2: Currently, college counselors have an average caseload of 500 students.
The math: 2,080 hours per year devoted to 500 students means time spent with each student is approximately 4 hours per year versus the recommended 20 hours/year.
At first glance, four hours may seem a reasonable time for one administrator to spend with your teen, but we haven’t considered their full workload. The general job description of a college counselor as stated by the National Association for College Admission Counseling is as follows: “…providing information to help nurture and sustain aspirations, guidance on course selection for maximal academic preparation, motivation to achieve, and advice on how to investigate and choose a college.”
In other words, still assuming 100% of their time is spent on meeting individual student needs, college counselors are expected to know your teen almost as well as you do—in just four hours. Of course, this doesn’t account for their other random administrative tasks which can include enforcing school discipline rules, conducting yard duty, scheduling (and rescheduling) classes, test proctoring—the list goes on.
Now that we’ve defined the problem, it’s time to shape a solution. Hint: get pro-active and advocate. Or as one counselor I know suggests, “Squeak, squeak, little wheel!”
In an ideal world, we could all gather together in Time Square and successfully demand the hiring of more college counselors for public high schools across America. Unfortunately, change is slow, and while education reformers race to help our flailing system (please visit www.educationelevation.us for more info on educational reform and how you can help), we as parents must act now in the short four-year timeframe we’ve been given. Here are some helpful tips to ensure your teen has the best chance at reaching their dream college:
- Encourage your teen to politely and respectfully—but persistently—follow up with their guidance counselor if they need help, such as with a recommendation letter.
- Suggest that they take the time to visit with their guidance counselor whenever they can (and as early in their high school career as possible) so their counselor can get to know them as a person, not just a file.
- Help them put together a résumé of activities and accomplishments for their counselor so a quick reference is available for keeping track of school involvement.
- Invest money in a private college counselor. This can be somewhat costly, with one-hour sessions ranging anywhere from $60-$500 depending on the location and expertise of the professional you hire, but it’s oh so worth it. A private college counselor will assess your teen’s skills and goals, provide valuable general and financial aid information on higher education institutions, direct your teen’s academic planning, and ultimately help them navigate college admissions madness so you don’t go crazy or broke.
- If finances pose an obstacle, or you simply want supplemental information, you can turn to free or inexpensive online and printed books. For example, Princeton Review’s books provide general information on college admissions, financial aid, university location, and tuition cost, among other things. Websites like collegeboard.org and www.collegeconfidential.com offer data and insights. For essay help, one website my staff and I recommend is Liz Benedict’s, at www.dontsweattheessay.com.
Something to keep in mind: start using these resources early! Don’t wait until your high school student’s junior or senior year to dive into such a vast ocean of information. The best college fit for them could be a needle in a haystack, so start pulling at that straw freshman year and narrow down the choices. Conversely, if your teen already has a dream school in mind, make sure their four-year class plan satisfies the requirements and help them maintain a GPA within that college’s range (SAT/ACT scores too!). Tutoring services are always available to help your teen get the academic assistance they need. I may be a bit prejudiced, but my own company Valley Prep Tutoring Services in Los Angeles is one of the best around – visit www.valleypreptutoring.com .
With a deficit of college guidance counselors in our public high schools, we as parents can’t wait for appropriate educational reform to be fully realized. Change is slow and high school speeds by, so the time to act is now. Encourage your teen to get to know their guidance counselor and find any supplementary resources you need, whether it’s a helpful book on how to build a strong college application, tutoring for your teen in difficult subject areas, or seeking a private guidance counselor. Keep in mind that these services exist for a range of family incomes, and oftentimes financial accommodations can be made. Pave your teen’s road to college admissions success with knowledge so when your teen finally grabs that meeting with a college counselor, they are equipped to ask informed questions and make wise decisions—as if their future depends on it (which in fact, it partly does).
Encourage them to ASK, for only then shall they receive in today’s race for college admissions success.
This Blog originally appeared on www.CollegeXpress.com and appears here with permission of Carnegie Communications.