Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Role of Texting in College Counseling

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

One of the biggest challenges school counselors face is keeping in touch with their students.  This is especially true when it comes to advising students about college plans.  With all of the choices, and all of the steps that have to be taken, and all of the forms that have to be completed, how can counselors help students keep things organized, and make sure they stay on task?

One way many counselors have met this needs is by using a group texting program like Remind.  These programs allow counselors to set up texting groups on a computer, where counselors can invite students to join the group.  Student cell phone numbers are never revealed to the counselor, assuring security, but the counselor is able to reach out to students with timely information on college application deadlines, scholarship information, and more, using the medium most students prefer to use.

The success counselors have realized through texting has been noticed by the White House, which has recently announced a texting program designed to help keep students on track with their college plans. What’s Up Next sends out regular texts for students with tips on all facets of the college selection and application process, and includes tips on paying for college.  This program is free, and students can sign up at Counselors planning on sharing this opportunity with their students are strongly urged to sign up for the service as well, since this is the best way to make sure the messages students are getting from What’s Up Next align with the goals, deadlines, and messages counselors are sending to students about college.

Texting plays a major role in combating one of the biggest challenges in the college selection process, summer melt.  A Harvard report suggests that 10-40% of all students who graduate from high school with plans to attend college end up not attending come fall.  One of the biggest reasons seems to be a breakdown in communication over the summer; students stop reading emails the colleges send that tell students about important deadlines for enrollment and financial aid, and there are no counselors around to remind students that they still have work to do to get ready for college.  As a result, students don’t get enrolled, or worse, they lose their financial support, and they don’t know how to get back into the college track once they’ve fallen out of it.  That’s summer melt.

The best way to avoid summer melt is to make sure counselors play a key role in the lives of students over the summer- - and that means texting.  By using either a texting program or a disposable phone, counselors can reach out to students with 1-2 texts a week with simple messages (“Check your email for college updates?”, “Did you sign up for orientation yet?”) that will lead to students following up or keeping on track. 

Counselors will want to do a little planning ahead of time to line up the texts in an order that moves students toward college in the right sequence, and they’ll likely have to follow up some texts answering emails to students that have specific questions. It’s also a good idea to contact the Student Services department of the colleges attended by many of your students, to see if *they* offer a texting program your students can subscribe to.  This is a great way for colleges to take over the guidance of the students that will soon be on campus.

You’ve worked hard to get your students into college.  A little more work with your thumbs can seal the deal.

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