Wednesday, September 5, 2018

This Year’s New (School) Year Resolutions for College Counseling

By: Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

Welcome Back, and Happy New Year!  Now that schedule changes are done, let’s look ahead with a mutual commitment to the best year ever.  Start with these three resolutions, all related to college advising:

Resolve not to use college rankings as my guide for building college lists. It continues to amaze me how many counselors continue to use rankings in their work with students.  When things as simple as the number of applications received, and the number of students rejected, can move a college up or down in the rankings, it’s hard to see what any of that has to do with whether a student with a B+ average and an interest in Biology would be happy there.

It’s easy to see why parents are addicted to arbitrary lists, since they so desperately want their children to be happy, they’ll cling to anything that seems to offer some kind of guidance.  But that’s the job of someone who sees the student as a complete person, not of a company who sees them as just another customer.  In the long term, you may need to think about strengthening your parent education program in middle school and early high school, to show them the futility of relying on rankings.  For now, it’s time to set an example, and quit them yourself, cold turkey.

Resolve to learn about 20 colleges I know nothing about.  A couple of counselors have contacted me lately, saying they’re a little burned out with all they have to do.  They’re looking for something to focus on that will give them a new perspective on their work, and rekindle their energy.

Learning about some new colleges will do just that.  I teach a college counseling class online, and students have to research 10 colleges I assign them.  It’s one of the favorite part of the classes, since students learn about some pretty unique schools, like the ones where students take one class at a time, or offer BOGO scholarships for twins, or are free for every student admitted.  Other counselors pick a major that’s popular with their students—say, business—and decide to find out about 20 business schools they’ve never explored. 

It may seem odd to say that the best way to refresh your outlook on work is to do more work—but it works!  Give it a try.

Resolve to confront any counselor who uses “The Phrase.”  I’m sorry to say I continue to run into students who tell me their school counselor discouraged them from thinking about college.  It’s one thing to have a meaningful discussion with a student about options to college, but these students are talking about interactions that were cut painfully short when the counselor told them—in these words—“You aren’t college material.”

This is my 35th year in counseling, and I have never understood what that means.  With thousands of colleges offering millions of courses, does anyone really know enough to say there’s no level of college that can create new opportunities for a student?  I doubt it.

On the other hand, should Every. Single. Counselor. intuitively know the cognitive and affective damage they do to a student when they offer an assessment that’s so blunt, so cruel, and so wrong? They should.

It’s time to retire The Phrase, and, likely, most of the counselors who utter it.  If you find a colleague who still uses The Phrase because “it’s for the student’s own good”, have a chat with them, or email me, and I’ll chat with them for you.  We’re talking about kids here, not sheet metal.

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