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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 02/ 2/2011

Obstacles to better school counseling -- and what to do about it

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Patrick O’Connor, past president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling and author of "College is Yours in 600 Words or Less."

By Patrick O'Connor
Parents and students don’t realize that most school counselors would not only understand their frustration; we would agree with it. We know we can’t be there for all of the students in crisis; we know there aren’t enough programs to talk about building strong college and career plans; we know when student-parent relationships are strained; and we know we're usually unable to help.

The obstacles to better counseling are well known. There aren’t enough counselors (the average caseload is over 450 students), many tasks assigned to counselors have nothing to do with counseling (like a last-minute sub for a chemistry class), and most counselors start their careers with absolutely no training in how to be good college advisers.

The problem is that we can’t change the status quo alone. School counselors are the only people advocating for school counselors, and in the political mathematics of education, the only problems that get solved are those where students and parents are part of the equation.

This takes us to National School Counseling Week, which will be celebrated from Feb. 7-11.

Instead of cake and streamers, bring one or two other parents and an open mind to the counseling office, and ask your school counselor what they need to make their job easier. They may need a minute to recover from the shock of being asked, but wait it out—they know their list of needs by heart.

Your next stop is the principal’s office, where it’s time for a frank, fair discussion about the school’s counseling services. A balanced presentation of the frustrations you’ve experienced and the realization that the counselor is hamstrung will do more to improve a school counselor’s week than any party could.

Your meeting with the principal is over only after there is an agreement to a policy review, a town hall meeting, or a parent-led task force to study the problem and publicize solutions. Hiring more counselors may be too expensive, but a policy requiring new counselors to have a graduate class in college advising is free, and there are other ways to prepare standardized test materials than having counselors do it.

Who knows what other answers you might find once you get started?

These solutions aren’t comprehensive, but they thaw a frozen status quo, and they give school counselors reason to hope for a better future—a hope they will pass along to their clients, your children.

Counselors can help students and families tackle the challenges of the 21st century by advocating for their rights and seeing what’s possible in them. In turn, students and families must do the same for counselors, and National School Counseling Week is a great time to start.


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By Valerie Strauss  | February 2, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Mental health, Student Life  | Tags:  counselors, national school counselors week, school counselors  
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The real problem is communications, not necessarily counseling. Many times counselors are overwhelmed with standard questions. Why are those submitted to every household at the beginning of the year? My parents never received a word from the high school save a report card. Never a question for absense, never a question for consult, never a request to appear for any reason.

Many questions such as rules and regulations are standard, although they can change from year to year. Contact numbers are available to each teacher, but rarely the teacher information is supplied to the parents.

Conferences, meetings, and opportunities for advisory even if only one night a month, would pay dividends for students and parents.

A little innovation on the counselors part would save many headaches. Just MHO.

Posted by: jbeeler | February 2, 2011 7:47 AM | Report abuse

Another problem is bad counseling advice.

Posted by: ericpollock | February 2, 2011 10:54 AM | Report abuse

The 450:1 student to counselor ratio is stunning. It is overwhelming to imagine a guidance counselor being able to give all the one-on-one attention a student might require to put together a great application.

Here's some advice about when to consider getting additional resources to apply to college:

Posted by: AristotleCircle | February 2, 2011 12:31 PM | Report abuse

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