Thursday, June 5, 2014

Three Easy, Essential Improvements to Your College Counseling Program

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

This is the time of year you love and hate.  You love it because at least one student will thank you for something you don’t remember doing, a parent of a senior will send a quick e-mail letting you know how much you’ve done for their child, or a colleague will thank you for helping them make it through a tough time. These moments make it all worthwhile.

We hate this time of year because someone, somewhere, is going to ask you about your goals for next year.  This doesn’t mean you’re opposed to growth—after all, you’re a counselor—but since June is one of the last remaining times our work allows us to catch our breath and see the big picture, continuous improvement can seem more of a nuisance than a necessity right now.

If the paperwork gods are demanding a June sacrifice, appease them by offering these program innovations that will both satisfy them and make a tremendous difference in your college counseling program, all without a great deal of effort:

College Application Week  This national program invites high schools to spend time in the fall focusing on the value of college.  Volunteers help every senior apply to at least one college, community groups offer special events and prizes to support college awareness programs for all students, and teachers wear their college gear and talk about their college experiences, all in the name of making college more real—and possible—for all students.  For more information on how one state embraces College Application Week, see

FAFSA Completion Project  Most data in education doesn’t tell us all that much, but this statistic creates an Aha moment we can all build on—a student is more likely to go to college if they complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  This is especially true for students who don’t see themselves as “college material” (another goal-- obliterate that phrase); it may seem backwards, but many of these students will only take an interest in college once they know it’s affordable.

This is why schools devote counseling and community resources to help families complete the FAFSA.  Slated for January and February, the FAFSA Completion Project inspires high schools to open computer labs on nights and weekends so parents can complete the forms.  Invite the local college’s financial aid director to answer questions, and the process is inspiring and reassuring, since privacy-aware parents don’t have to share financial information with a school counselor or their children.  Engaging your local accountants and tax preparers is another key step, where they offer to help clients, friends, and neighbors complete the FAFSA in the privacy of their offices at no charge.

Stop Summer Melt  Despite your best efforts, there’s always a few seniors you worry about after graduation.  Will they really schedule a college orientation session?  Will they follow up on their college plans? Combined with a few summer surprises, some of your graduates just won’t get to college without some extra support.

Enter the Summer Melt project.  Studies show these students are more likely to go to college if someone they know reaches out to them over the summer. Since most counselors work summer days anyway, now is the time to get your principal to release you from office time in June to spend an hour or two each week contacting students from home with the help of e-mail, Remind 101 (texting) and a disposable cell phone.  This simple effort can make a world of difference, and it lets you start your summer sooner—there’s a great summer melt overview at

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