In most high schools across the United States, there is one thing primarily on students’ minds — college. Besides teachers and parents, one of their main advocates are supposed to be the guidance counselors.
However, in some public schools, the counseling programs aren’t helping the students to the extent the students may wish.
Katherine Sanford, a high school guidance counselor in Tennessee, has been helping students make decisions for over 15 years.
“Each student has their own individual interests and character. And helping you (the students) learn about yourself and your experience is a pivotal part of our office - not only in terms of helping each student achieve their best self but also being able to present that in your college applications,” Sanford said.
But sometimes, it seems, college counseling can fall short of that.
Hannah Coleman, a freshman in San Francisco said, “I feel like college counseling is really a hit or miss… I think that it depends on where you go and how lucky you are because some [counselors] are just really bad.”
Freshman Aliza Ahmed who attends a private high school in Nashville said, “College counseling plays a really big role in a student's college journey. I feel like it helps a student to be guided through a really unfamiliar process.”
So, yes, college counseling is most definitely an important factor in a college/career journey, but it’s also a flawed system. What are the strengths? What are the weaknesses?
Ahmed added, “The college counselors really try to reach out. Even if an individual doesn’t have the time or interest yet, college counselors will try to get in contact with the student, pull them into their offices, and give them non-judgemental information.”
Ilana Hanai, who attends a public high school in Franklin, Tennessee said that the guidance counseling was the main strength of her school’s program.
“[The counselors] make sure you know that they’re there,” the 15-year-old said.
It does make sense for a private school program to have an easier time engaging with a smaller body of students, especially since they may be more well-funded, but there also seem to be some crucial flaws that might be able to be improved on.
“The most common weakness is the counselors not actually taking the time to get to know a student, which can lead to them exploring incorrect college paths,” Ahmed said.
But she said this could be remedied, “More specifically listening to students and seeing what they want for their future, so the college and career paths recommended are more aligned with that future, rather than the grades or test scores they may be receiving.”
Hannah, from San Francisco, proposed in an on-the-record interview, “It seems that most kids are just really not motivated to do well, which makes our system weaker and makes everyone else have a hard time … (counseling) would be improved if they gave out useful advice about college, how to stand out to colleges more, and provide opportunities for students.”
While guidance counseling is still a work-in-progress, many students are generally happy with their experiences. There are still mistakes, such as lack of engagement from students and lack of outreach and individualized path planning from counselors.
However, there are also a lot of strengths.
To all high school students worried about college, the best solution may be to go up to one of your counselors, tell them about what you want, what you feel you can do and encourage others to do the same.