You're probably asking yourself right now: “What's a college counselor? That's a thing?”
Yes. In fact, the entire point of high school for most students is to get into the right college. You're not born knowing how to do that. You need to learn from experienced faculty. You need help. Are you getting it?
Five Hundred to One
Shocking, but true that the national average ratio of students to counselors in American high schools is 500:1 according to the American School Counselor Association.
The ASCA recommends a ratio of 250 to one. In 2013, only Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wyoming achieved this ratio, while Arizona and California had a ratio of over 750 to one.
20% of high schools do not have a single counselor.
With education budget cuts trimming away at fringe subjects and support staff, college counseling is feeling the pinch. Not only does each counselor have a great number of students to look after, they all need help at the same time. They all need financial assistance help, letters of recommendation and advice on where to apply simultaneously. Wait for a better time and you'll miss deadlines.
Imagine writing multiple letters of recommendation for five hundred students in addition to all your other responsibilities. Understand how important it is to each individual on your list. For students with marginal grades and SAT scores, this letter could push them over the edge. Yet many counselors only have time to paste together a stock letter. Colleges know this and ignore letters from certain counselors, knowing that they are meaningless forms.
Plus counselors do so much more than deliver college help. They help with family issues, offer career advice, deal with the complex emotional issues of being a teen and pick up other roles at schools who are pressed for staff.
Make Your Needs Known
Your school may have multiple priorities, including sports, security and meeting state standards. If you don't have access to a counselor, make sure to request it. Work together with your parents and other students to make your voices heard.
When proper college counseling is absent, students make certain mistakes.
Sometimes they apply only to local schools they are familiar with. They are unfamiliar with the wide range of options and miss out on the perfect match because they were not told about it.
When students do not fully understand their financial aid picture, they assume they cannot afford more expensive schools. Perhaps they can get scholarships and grants to their dream school, but don't apply because they didn't know.
Many students waste time and money applying to schools that are way out of their league, or take out massive amounts of debt to try to afford a school they aren't a good match for in the first place.
High-performing students in low-income neighborhoods frequently don't apply to the top schools they are eligible for due to fear they won't be accepted or can't afford it. In reality most of the top-ranked private schools in the country offer generous scholarships to qualified students below a certain income threshold.
What Can You Do?
Approach Your School Counselor
You're aware of the problem and that's a good start. Be vocal. Although it's not entirely their fault, let your school know you deserve better. Let them know what you need.
If your school does have a counselor available schedule a meeting with him or her early on in the year. Do research ahead of time and come prepared with a list of questions to take best advantage of the time you have.
Be an active, not passive, player in the game. It's your future. Go out and get the help you need because it won't be given to you. A great place to start is College Factual's Matching tools. The American College Counseling Association, National Association for College Admission Counseling and ASCA have resources for students and parents. Read, research and reach out. Make a friend online who can help you.
Hire a Professional
You can always pay for help. Like anything, you can find a private company to take your money. It may be worth it. That's a decision for your pocket book. Fees start at $1,000 per year and can reach the moon. Be sure you find someone who will deal with you as an individual and craft a personal strategy. The bad private counselors apply the same cookie-cutter approach to everyone.
The lack of counseling in this country won't change today, but if you voice your needs it may change for the next class of students. For now, face the problem and seek out the help you deserve.
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