Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Counseling Students at College Decision Time

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

It’s hard to believe, but early April is nearly here—and with it comes the final college admissions decisions.  Many of these are first decisions from highly selective colleges, but students will also be hearing back from colleges that may have asked for senior grades earlier in the year.

This makes for a great deal of different kinds of news, all coming to different students, who will all handle the news—differently.  Here’s how to help them receive the news in the best possible way, even if you’re swamped with other things to do:

Set the Right Tone  It isn’t too late to shoot out an e-mail or put together a PA announcement reminding everyone in the building—students, parents, teachers, and administrators—that college decisions aren’t character indictments.  Colleges admit students for all kinds of reasons, but they don’t admit students because they are better people.  That message is in every part of your college counseling curriculum, but a clear reminder right now will go a long way tin keeping everyone grounded when decisions come out.

Tell Seniors What to Do  Many colleges now send admissions decisions by text or e-mail, and some have the incredible insensitivity to send this information during the school day.  Colleges may see this as “fun”, but they aren’t in a classroom where only one student was admitted to the college that just denied admission to five other students in the same room.  Seniors may not listen, but tell them anyway— read your college decisions at home, alone.  Once the decision sinks in, you’ll be able to share the news with others in ways that are comfortable for you and them—and that’s the goal.

Ask Teachers for Help  College news spreads fast this time of year, and you just can’t be everywhere.  This is the time to ask teachers to pitch in; ask them to keep an eye out for seniors who just don’t seem their usual selves, and let you know.  It could be the student was turned down at a dream college; it could be they have too many good offers to choose from; it could be that it finally hit them they are leaving high school.  The teacher doesn’t have to sort that out—they just have to let you know, so you can help the students sort it out themselves.  (And please remind the teachers not to announce college decisions in a class; it makes for bad banter, no matter what they think.)

Adjust Your Schedule  With college decisions in, at least 10% of your seniors now have questions, concerns, or confusion—so the paperwork is going to have to wait.  Open your door, and keep it open; if you’re willing, tell the seniors you have open office hours after school, so they can drop by to talk without an appointment.  See if the PTA will provide cookies or soda (OK—or fruit), and you’re all set to handle whoever comes in the door.  This small welcoming gesture can bring in students you would least expect.

Review Your Awards Policy  Communities want to celebrate all the good students have done—so why do some schools only honor what they consider to be the “best” good?  Counselors insist that each student has their own path; make sure your honors convocation reflects that value.  Not every achievement is the same, but every achievement is an achievement.  Your challenge is to make sure everyone understands that, with college decisions, awards, and more.

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