Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Best of 2016, and Predictions for 2017

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

There are two great parts to the last day of school before December Break. The first one is the student who has the poise to wear fake reindeer antlers to school. It doesn’t matter what grade you teach— somewhere in your building, a kid is showing off his best Blitzen. Seek them out, and assure them they will be going to college.

The second great part is that the last day almost always gives three minutes to us, to look back on what went well this year, and to think about what lies ahead. Many people seem to be ready to let go of 2016, but the teachings of Eric Erikson remind us of the importance of choosing Integrity over Despair at the end of a life cycle. Since that’s what a year is, let’s take a look at the good in college admission:

FAFSA Filing Changes instituted this year made it possible for students to find out what a college would actually cost them well before they had to choose which college to attend, making it more like the purchase of, say, everything else. There are still some bumps in the system, but this emerges as the game changer of 2016.

For-Profit Clean-Up It wasn’t very pretty, but actions were taken this year to make sure for-profit colleges were delivering on their promises, and those that didn’t were dealt with and closed. As a result, the world of choice becomes a world of better choice.

States Rediscover Counselors The end of the year finds several states finding and devoting resources to improving school counselor training and ratios, including a report from Colorado showing a modest investment in counselors has already saved the state $300 million. Now that ESSA gives more flexibility to the states, will 2017 be The Year of the Counselor?

College Testing’s Value Questioned Bleak reports of overseas security issues with college tests, combined with incredibly late submission of test results to colleges, put both SAT and ACT on school counselor’s naughty lists. The good came when more colleges used the opportunity to reevaluate the importance of testing in the admissions process, choosing to make reporting of test scores optional for most students.

Given these changes, what can we expect to see in 2017?

Obama Farewell Unless John Harvard had been elected our next president, we all knew 2017 would be a change in the way The White House was going to support college access. Reach Higher efforts will continue with Better Make Room, but the coming year will find fewer messages of “Yes, You Too” from the First Couple. Here’s hoping someone picks up the slack.

College Control and the States Changes in federal law will give more authority and funding autonomy in education to the states. The plus here is that states can now tailor programs to better meet local needs; the potential minus is the lack of federal standards when evaluating value and success. Stay tuned.

Counselors are Ambassadors, Too The federal government has long given teachers the chance to shape education policy directly through the School Ambassador Program. Counselors will be allowed to participate in this program for the first time in 2017, and now is the time to apply.

College Isn’t Just Four Years The Great Recession somehow hoodwinked most people into believing four years of college was the only way to a great job. Data, common sense, and the efforts of many organizations are waking society from that dream, creating more options for The Class of 2017. Expect this trend to grow.

Now, go rest.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ring in the New, But Don’t be Wrung Out by the New

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

School counselors know this isn’t always the merriest and happiest of times for some students.  From students living in homes in crisis, to those living with families in transition, to the uncertainties some experience when graduating high school, counselors know that the holidays can bring some mighty challenges to overcome.

We’re used to helping others work through these issues—but what do we do when we’re the ones needing help through a transition? While 2016 brought many events that required us to reflect on our personal values, more than a few moments challenged our professional beliefs—and it’s likely we’ll begin the new year with some additional opportunities to review, reconsider, and clarify.  Consider these:

·         Significant changes are expected at the national level of education leadership.  Some of these were already in place with the passage of the new Elementary and Secondary Schools Act, where much of the decision-making was shifted back to the states.  These changes may be magnified further with the election and appointment of officials who believe education is much more a state issue than a national issue, a position that has been used in the past to create distinct educational climates in each state that have led to different levels of college and career readiness.

·         These changes are likely to be heightened by the absence of a First Family whose support of counselors and counseling services is unprecedented.  From hosting the ASCA Counselor of the Year ceremony in the White House to engaging students to ReachHigher, counselors and college access are on the radar screens of millions of students who once saw themselves as beyond hope, and beyond repair—until the Obamas personalized the college journey, and students realized there was room for them after all.
As a result of these two changes, we now have some idea what it’s like for a student whose favorite teacher retires in the middle of the year, and is replaced by someone who has a different vision of how a classroom should operate.  That difference isn’t good or bad; the mere fact it isn’t the same as what used to be is enough to cause concern.

What are our keys to making a successful transition?  The same ideas we offer to our students when they sense their scene is shifting, and they don’t know what their new world will look like:

Say goodbye.  The best way to recognize things will be different in some way is to look back on the good you’ve had an express thanks for it.  This helps you appreciate all the good you’ve had in your life, and it helps you identify why it was good.

Set your goals.  Finding the good in the past clarifies what you value, which will help you determine the qualities you’ll want to maintain in times of change.  Those qualities may manifest themselves in new ways, but focusing on their worth to you will make the new forms of those qualities easier to identify and appreciate.

Stand up for yourself.  A new job or a new boss may challenge you to demonstrate flexibility, but that’s different than giving in.  Looking and listening closely will guide you to know the difference between change that is absolute, and change that is negotiable.  Either way, you don’t have to give up your principles.

Celebrate the victories.  If the journey really is the sum of the steps, recognizing the value of each step can be the difference between moving forward and giving up.  Every step may not be perfect, but many will resonate with purpose.  Honor them, and they will become more frequent.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

New Year’s Resolutions Should Include Counselor PD

By:  Patrick O'Conner Ph.D

If any group knows the limits of New Year’s Resolutions, it’s school counselors. Like everyone else, we have friends whose December 31 plans for the perfect life are in tatters by January 2nd. But we also have the students who begin the new school year with plans to become the next Einstein, only to find a few weeks later that their study skills aren’t quite all they need to be.

Given our checkered history with resolutions, you’d think we’d be hesitant to try and use them as a tool for our own personal or professional growth. But since we also know the key elements of effective goal setting, it’s possible to take resolutions to the next level, and use them as a tool of powerful change.

We clearly need to do that, especially in one key area – professional development. Like resolutions, we begin our search for professional development committed to finding the best programs that will help us do even more for our students. But too often, due to either cost, location, or availability, we end up taking the programs that are easy to get to, free, or that fit in our schedule without much conflict, even if they don’t always advance the skills we most need to work with our students. One colleague confided she was just a few hours short of meeting her required PD updates, so she took a course on spreadsheets—even though she had mastered spreadsheets a long time ago.

The best way to realize a goal is to make a plan we can stick to, and that’s just as true for professional development as it is for anything else. Try this framework to develop your PD resolutions for the coming year:

What work do I do with students? There’s nothing like getting back to basics when creating a set of PD goals, and there’s nothing more basic that remembering what you do for a living. Use your calendar to review the programs, meetings, and individual sessions you’ve had with students and parents since the start of the school year. What do they cover? What knowledge do you need to present them? What skills are needed to make sure your clients can apply the information? How do evaluate the success of your work?

When is the last time I received training in… Now that you have your list of skills and information to keep sharp, when is the last time you updated each of them? Be careful here—there’s a difference between the last time you usedinformation, and the last time you trained in it. You may be giving students information all the time about the hottest jobs in your state, but if the last time you looked at an updated career list was 2012, it might be time for an data upgrade. As you put this together, prioritize your needs based on how often you use this information with your clients—if you mostly talk with your students about college, college updates are the place to begin.

Where can I get this training? This is the most time consuming part of goal setting, but it’s also the most essential. If the best place to get a career information update is a two hour drive for a Saturday conference, sign up now, and put the program on your calendar—you’re less inclined to change your mind once it’s in your calendar. Ask colleagues and your professional organizations for help finding quality programs. You’ll see there’s strength in numbers, as you work together to become even stronger student advocates, together.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Crazy Time of a Crazy Year

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

I first heard someone say it at a New Year’s Eve party, many years ago.

“I can’t wait to say goodbye to this year.  It can’t leave soon enough.”

My heart really went out to that person.  It’s tough going through any challenging experience, but when they all seem to pile on top of each other in the same year, it makes a real challenge out of getting through the day.  It’s no wonder folks experiencing that hope January 1 will draw a line in the sand of despair, and give them the fresh start the calendar promises.

I expect I’ll hear that again this New Year’s Eve, because I’ve already heard it from lots of people—and it isn’t even December.  From the passing of so many amazing entertainers to a one-of-a-kind election to too many news features of frustrated citizens,  reasons abound for people to want to move on to 2017 without giving 2016 a proper goodbye, wishing instead just for good riddance.

This is just as true for children as it is for adults.  Grownups may better understand the challenges that come with a change in presidents, but don’t think that the children aren’t immune from the tension some parents might feel, and unwittingly share with others.  They might not be articulating the need for a safe space, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need one; and combined with the holiday tensions some families regularly encounter, it will be easy to understand if some students will be engaging in unusual behaviors in the next couple of weeks.

What can counselors do to help these students?  What we do best—support.

Create a safe space  Counselors know students will only reach out for help in places where they feel accepted, and where they know asking for help will give them the help they need.  Counselors devoted their energies making sure counseling centers have that vibe and that track record; now is not the time to take away the that certainty with a slip of the tongue about a new political leader or the edgy relative you’re not looking forward to seeing.  Our students need a message of support now more than ever; modelling that message is the very best thing any counselor can do.

Call on your team  You never want to expect trouble, but now might be the time to send a heads up to your classroom colleagues, reminding them of the kinds of stress this time of year puts on students, and encouraging them to let you know if there’s a student who might be struggling unexpectedly.  Intervening before a problem gets out of hand is a delicate mix of art and science, and the intuitive data teachers can provide can make a world of difference in a student’s life.  Let your work partners know how much you value their insights.

Self-regulate  Being a great counselor is important to everyone, but that won’t get your holiday shopping done, or help you manage your own disappointments of 2016.  Counselors often find themselves hanging around the office a little more this time of year for no particular reason.  Make sure you understand your surroundings and the perspective you have that’s shaping them.  You can only be at your best by checking in, and shaping up.

It’s been an unusual year, and this time of year brings with it all kinds of unusual dynamics.  Being your supportive self can create a secure sense for students who keep looking ahead to the What If of the holidays, or who want to know if we’re at 2017 yet.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Future of College Access

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Many college access champions are wondering what the future holds for students looking for help applying to college.  While his campaign didn’t address this topic, President-elect Trump made specific promises to poor whites and urban-area blacks to improve their lives, and promised young people in general a better future.  He’s also expressed concern that the US Department of Education has too much power, and education decisions need to be returned to the states, a point many Democrats admit in private circles.

There are four things President-elect Trump’s administration can do to fulfill these promises, all by the end of his first year in office, while still improving the quality of college access for a great number of students.
  1. Improve Career and College Choices for Poor Young People  One of the  main reasons poor youth don’t get good paying jobs is because they don’t know they exist, or they don’t know how to get them.  A block grant program in Colorado has created 100 new school counseling positions that pay for themselves in four years, and have decreased the dropout rate, while increasing college enrollment and student participation in career training.  All of this is estimated to have saved Colorado $300 million.  Taking this block grant program to the federal level would be a snap, giving power to the states, and giving all poor youth a shot at a better future. 
  2. Provide Mentorships to Young People Who Understand Young People  These same youth are in desperate need of role models, students a few years older than them who overcame the same odds they’re facing, only to succeed in careers and colleges.  The National College Access Network has had great success developing such mentors in many states, mentors that offer sound college advice, as they support the college counseling curriculum developed by high school counselors.  A block grant version of the NCAN model can make the difference between helping poor students get to the next step, and being swallowed up by a life of desperation.
  3. Allow Student Loans to be Refinanced  Too many young people (and not so young people) are plagued with student loans they could easily pay if they could be refinanced and consolidated with other consumer-based debt.  This would give them the chance to get ahead, put a little money away, and use some of it responsibly to make purchases of other goods.  President-elect Trump’s strong connections in the banking industry could be instrumental in creating these avenues.
  4. Develop College-Based Success Partners  When poor young people get to college, they often don’t see anyone that looks like them, or comes from where they come from – and that can make adjustment to college life challenging.  Creating block grants for states to create college-based mentors to make sure low-income students develop the savvy needed to speak up for themselves and make the most of the rich resources of public universities.  A number of college-based mentorship programs exist; culling the best practices and developing a national model would be the perfect next task for a group like Better Make Room.
College access professionals are keeping a keen eye on the futures of undocumented students, financial aid, and the regulation of for-profit colleges, and with good reason.  While standing on principle for these core elements of college opportunity for all, advocates should also realize these four areas offer a place to begin dialogue with the new administration—dialogue that can lead to a better understanding on all sides of the needs of all students, and how college plays a role in meeting those needs.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

College Access under President Trump

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

It really should come as no surprise that the results of a presidential election lead to change.  Just like the start of a new school year, or getting a new principal, change requires us to focus on what we do and how we do it in a brand new way, if only because new people are involved in the processes we’ve  known and loved for years.

New faces might have been the only change some were expecting to deal with once the Electoral College had released its latest test scores, but with all the media calling this week’s results  “shocking”, it’s safe to conclude we’re in for more than just new faces in new places, implementing the same federal policies about college access.  It’s early to say what will happen to college opportunities under President Trump, but based on some of his campaign remarks, here are some possibilities we may need to consider:

Changes in financial aid  Many blogs and tweet sites have been abuzz with the notion that federal financial aid is going to become less available, both in the amount the federal government offers, and the number of students who receive it.  It’s uncertain where this claim comes from; part of it may be President-elect Trump’s assertion that government needs to change, and part of it may be the idea that education has long been the responsibility of the state, and a Trump administration will take financial aid and return it to those federalism roots.

Another possible change that’s been mentioned is the idea of increasing the role of banks in providing financial aid.  Cost-cutting efforts to eliminate the middleman in financial aid have generally been welcomed, but there are some who feel the federal government is holding colleges hostage with threats of cutting off student financial aid unless the college meets certain benchmarks, many related to student performance, and many, in the eyes of some, extremely unrealistic.

Privatizing federal financial aid may open more avenues for needy students to pursue, as would the loosening of restrictions on for-profit institutions, something that’s also been bantered about.  Either way, more changes to paying for college are in store than just this year’s switch to the FAFSA filing deadline.

DREAMers and College   Observers also believe a Trump administration will do little to expand college opportunities for undocumented students, with some believing the next president will institute changes that will make postsecondary access more restrictive for these students.  This would be in line with Candidate Trump’s insistence that immigration reform is badly needed in the United States, even though his specific plans for that reform have changed greatly since the promise to build a wall on the Mexican border. 

President-elect Trump’s policy on immigration in general may do even more to discourage undocumented students from seeking education of any kind, even at the K-12 level.  The GOP candidate has discussed deportation programs for undocumented individuals as part of a general priority of the administration.  If that’s the case, some families may make the decision to keep their children home from school, for fear of being discovered.

Common Core  One educational priority of the new administration that’s unlikely to affect college opportunity is the suspension of Common Core as a curriculum in schools.  Since the decision to use Common Core has always been made at the state level, the Trump administration would likely have to use federal mandates to restrict its use—a tactic that would give more power to the federal government, not less.  Look for this area as one that will require the new president to clarify his priorities.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Now that November 1st is Gone…

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

The last week has been way more trick than treat for most high school counselors.  More high school seniors than ever before have been applying to colleges through early application programs, and many of those have a November 1 deadline.  What started out as a bit of early trickle a few years ago became more of an early flood this year, with Common Application alone reporting 18,000 college applications submitted between 11 pm and midnight on November 1.

It’s certainly a treat to see that many students interested in college, and even better to see that they are organized enough to submit applications this early in the year—even if it meant some long nights and early mornings at the office for the counselors who had to submit all the transcripts to go with those applications.  But early applications can also bring some tricks along with them, way after November 1 has come and gone.  It’s known as the “If My Early School Doesn’t Take Me” riddle, and you want to make sure you know the answer soon.

Here’s how this works.  One of the reasons students apply early to a college is because they just don’t see themselves anywhere else.  This is especially true with Early Decision (ED) applicants, who must agree to attend the college that admits them ED.  When it comes to applying to college, this isn’t really asking to go steady; this is more like proposing marriage.

Sincere applicants are always a joy to work with, but the increased volume of early applicants means more of them are likely to get deferred, or rejected—and that can be a problem.  Many students are so focused on their dream school, they either don’t have a Plan B, or Plan B is something like “I’ll hear from my Early school on December 15.  If they don’t admit me, I’ll just apply to my seven backup schools over the holidays.”

That may work out well for the student, if they really want to ring in the New Year in front of a screen.  But what about the teachers and counselors who have to send letters and transcripts to support those seven applications—and what if there are, say, 30 students using this strategy in your high school?  Do you plan to give up part of your holiday, paying homage to the copier, fax machine, or online application submission program?

If none of those are part of your plan, you’ll want to plan ahead.  Tell all students to notify you by December 1 of their plans to apply to any schools with a January 1st deadline.  Any student who misses that deadline will then know their transcripts and letters will go out after the holidays, late—and that’s real incentive.

It’s likely you’ll get some students who will tell you this deadline is ruining their Early strategy, but you can calm them down by saying “I’m not saying you have to have the application in by then.  I’m just saying you need to tell us there’s a chance you’ll apply to that college.  If you change you never apply, that’s OK.  If you do, my part of your application will already be there.”

This is one of  THE hardest parts of the college application process to explain to students, who don’t fully grasp that it’s an asynchronous production.  But every part can run together while running independently, and they’re just going to have to trust that.  Pick your date, spread the word, and say it often, and everyone can have a December holiday that doesn’t feel like Halloween.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Senior Panic, and What to Do About It

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

Just one look, and you know something’s different.

They came to school a handful of weeks ago, nicely tanned, hugely stoked, ready to rule the school.  This was the year of The Class of 2017, and nothing was going to hold them back from being the Best. Class. Ever.  Not tough classes, not college applications, and not even Genevieve, the freakishly large captain of the junior powderpuff football team, who promised to make Spirit Week memorable for the seniors, but not in a good way.

Now, the end of the first quarter is nigh, and the summer sparkle has been replaced by the autumnal pallor of lots of study time and little fresh air.  The seniors held the juniors off to win the Spirit Jug, and Genevieve’s last gridiron nemesis has just come out of traction with a college essay that is prize worthy—but everyone else who’s going to walk the stage in June is walking around like  a zombie, and that isn’t because Halloween is next week.

Welcome to the laws of physics brought to life.  Seniors started the year on a high that lasted through the first three weeks of school, where most classes were a review of what they learned last year, and everyone made the mistake of thinking twelfth grade was going to be a snap.  But what starts up has to come down, and once October came with the new ideas everyone has to master in every class, seniors had to try and find a gear they didn’t know existed—right about the time their first college application was due. 

They’re now on their third college application, and the initial college excitement has turned into tedium (“They want my date of birth?  Again?”), just as the end-of-the-quarter exams are in view. Ask a senior how they’re doing, and they’ll say “Fine”, but the tone is like they’re on auto-pilot, convinced a college will find out if they say anything else and make a note of it in their file. “We were going to admit you, but there was that Thursday in late October when you doubted your own existence…”

We’re counselors, so of course we want to jump in and administer affective triage to our students.  But even our best “You can do this” will come across as a Twinkie, and our seniors need sustenance.

So tell them to close their eyes. It isn’t October of this year; now, it’s October of next year.  Where are you?  What are you doing?  What are you wearing?  Who are you with?

It will fall out of their mouths like a smile comes from an infant.  I’m on campus.  The leaves are gorgeous, and the sun is shining.  I’m by myself, reading some really thick book, taking notes furiously, and I understand all of it.  I’m sipping some kind of foamy, beige-colored drink in a clear plastic container, and I have a sweater tied around my neck, like I’m in some kind of cheesy Eddie Bauer ad.  Three people pass by and all say hello, but I can’t tell you what their faces look like now, because I haven’t met them yet, but we’re friends. I go back to my book, and I still understand it.  I’m happy.  I’ve made it.

Great, you say.  Open your eyes now.  It’s this October, and the leaves are stunning.  You don’t know that now, because high schools don’t have any trees, which says a lot about American school systems, but take a look on your way home.  The backpack you brought in my office that will give you scoliosis by twenty-three has several thick books in it, just waiting to be understood by someone who loves to learn.  I know that’s you, and I’ve told the colleges exactly that.

If you give me a minute, I can probably hijack a lukewarm cup of something bleakly brown out of the staff room and let you drink it while you study.  If you really want to, you can take your hoodie off and tie it around your shoulders.  Better yet, Principal Freeman is a member of Eddie Bauer’s Gold Club, which means she can have that sweater here tomorrow, with free shipping.

Or, there’s this.  Suppose there’s a ball on the floor, and you push it.  It goes one foot in the first second of travel, then half a foot the next second, then a quarter of a foot, and so on.  When will it travel a total of two feet?

Right.  It never gets to two feet, but it always keeps travelling.  Would it stop if it knew it would never reach two feet, or is that just a goal someone else made that has nothing to do with its journey?

There’s the bell. It’s time for you to push on.  Thanks for coming in.

Welcome to the laws of physics brought to life.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What to Say When Your Students are Freaked About College Apps

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Peer pressure is an amazing thing.
There haven’t been two months of school in many states, but some seniors are already convinced everyone is ahead of them in the rush to college. “I’m all through with my applications” beams Jennifer. “I’ve narrowed my Early Decision college down to two” boasts another student. “I’m almost done with my first application” crows a third, “my essay is all that’s left.”
Seniors, it is October 20. College doesn’t start for 10 months. No college has closed admission, and one isn’t likely to until November 30. After that, there will only be, oh, about 3000 other colleges to choose from. Many of them don’t require test scores or essays, most don’t let students apply Early Decision — and they totally rock. So there’s time.
But enough about them. Let’s talk about you.
When was the last time something good ever happened to your life when you took a snapshot of somebody else’s life and assumed it was wonderful? Jennifer may be finished applying to college, but maybe that’s because her mother was holding the car keys hostage until the apps were done. Does that make for great college essays — especially since essays due January 1st should be reviewed December 15th, just in case the first four months of senior year have changed you, the way you look at the world, or what you want to do with your life?
And your friend who’s choosing an Early Decision school — does he understand this is like marriage? Sure, more ED students get admitted (by percentage) than students who wait — but if your one ED college accepts you, you have to go there. Done, Decided. Welcome to the Family.
If your friend has doubts about both of these schools, maybe it isn’t time to book the bachelor party just yet. Instead, he should find some other colleges that have the best qualities of both schools, apply to all of them as a regular applicant, and see what feels best eight months from now.

As for our applicant who needs to finish her essays, she is probably stuck on her essays. If so, it’s likely she is trying to write them Tuesday night at 10, after a full day of school, band practice, homework, and a dinner that involves microwaved pasta, no lettuce, and little family time.
If this describes your friend, here is her antidote — no essays on Tuesday. Carve a two-hour block out of Saturday or Sunday (or both), work on your applications then — and only then — and forget about them during the week. That way, you get to study and learn, work on the homecoming float, have a great senior year, and write great college essays to boot. Plus, your applications will be done by Thanksgiving, so you can spend Christmas break with your family, not with your computer.
The root of all bad living lies in thinking someone else has it better than you — it can make you feel trapped, confused, and unworthy. Funny thing is, that isn’t because of pressure a peer is putting on you; that’s because of pressure you’re putting on yourself.
It’s time to deflate. Be happy Jennifer’s mom is off her back, tell the bridegroom ED doesn’t have to be, and make sure your pal with the essays gets a real meal next Tuesday. You’ll be happier, they’ll be happier, and you may find your first college application will be easier to complete than you thought.
On Saturday.
(Oh, right. What’s another reason your friend might not be able to write her essays?  Click here.)

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.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

College Readiness Checklist Fails to Make the Grade

By; Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

While we’ve been away this summer, the School Superintendent’s Association (AASA) has released a series of National College and Career Readiness Indicators.  These three checklists can be used to determine if students will succeed in their chosen postsecondary path of college or career, along with one checklist to determine if they are, according to the Website, ready for life.

AASA calls these research-based metrics, but doesn’t manage to site the research on their Website or indicate the involvement of counselors or college admission officers in the creation of the lists.  They go on to state “the campaign is a response to dismal college and career readiness scores reported by standardized test makers that fail to portray a comprehensive picture of student potential.
The comprehensive picture AASA has drawn for college readiness reads as follows:

GPA 2.8 out of 4.0 and one or more of the following benchmarks:
Advanced Placement Exam (3+)
Advanced Placement Course (A, B or C)
Dual Credit College English and/or Math (A, B or C)
College Developmental/Remedial English and/or Math (A, B or C)
Algebra II (A, B or C)
International Baccalaureate Exam (4+)
College Readiness Placement Assessment*

The College-Ready list then goes on to site minimum scores on the ACT, as well as “other factors” that contribute to college success, including completion of the FAFSA.
The stated goal of the indicators is to prove “Our students are more than a score”, a slogan that seems to refer to deciding a student’s college readiness based exclusively on the ACT or SAT.  Given the list they’ve created, AASA seems to be suggesting students are indeed more than just one score; they are  three scores.  If the list is an accurate indicator of college readiness, students are ready to take on the rigors of college as long as they have a minimum score on the ACT; a minimum GPA, and a C in any class from Algebra II to an AP course.
This is undoubtedly a great relief to school counselors and college admission officers, who have long been under the delusion that college readiness is a much more intricate construct, and never determined by just one score, or by just three.  Directly involved in the college selection process, these educators are under the impression that a student is more likely to be college ready if they’ve taken rigorous classes across the curriculum, not just one AP class. 
In addition, a number of colleges are convinced that a C in an advanced class suggests the student is unlikely to succeed in college, since average college grades are typically one full grade level below what a student earns in college.  Given that data point, is AASA really willing to say a student with a C in Algebra II is a success if they earn a D in their first year of College Algebra, or if their high school GPA of 2.8 turns into a 1.8 at university? This would rebuff years of institutional data that has been created and verified by thousands of colleges, data that includes the role of personal maturity and socialization as measures of college readiness.  Knowing college readiness is something as easy as following this checklist clearly makes these follow-up studies pointless.
In addition, this college readiness list will undoubtedly lead parents to reconsider what they thought they knew about choosing a college.  Since the list doesn’t answer the question “Ready for which colleges?” parents will now safely assume that the college readiness list will prepare their child to succeed in any curriculum at any college, from community college to research universities to the Ivy League.  I for one can’t wait to return to the office and get the first phone call from an ebullient parent who advises me that I was wrong about Johnny’s college prospects, since the Superintendent’s Association has decided that Johnny’s 2.9 GPA and C in Algebra II really does make him ready for Yale, no matter what I think.
Helping students with the very personal experience of discovering colleges that are best suited to advance their goals, talents, and dreams has never been an easy thing to do, if it’s done well.  A vast majority of school counselors and college admission counselors will readily admit that the many Best Colleges lists haven’t helped that cause, since those rankings are based on factors that either have little to do with a student’s college experience, or don’t take the unique needs of each student into account when creating the list. Counselors and college admissions officers do that; lists don’t.

Well-meaning as it may be, this checklist of college ready attributes does little to help the cause of college readiness.  It may be news to some superintendents and principals that there’s more to being ready for college than a good score on the ACT, but that’s only because those school leaders have never had a serious conversation with their counselors about the purpose of college, and the process of creating a successful college fit between student and school. 

The creation of this college readiness list may create that opportunity, as administrators may use its rollout as an occasion to advise counselors how to “do” college counseling.  School counselors are going to want to be ready for that conversation with armloads of data and the insights of college admission officers.  If they are, that conversation could lead to new levels of support for college counseling program—the only possible outcome of the creation of these checklists that could be considered a plus.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

College Application Season Brings Changes

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

If you’re a high school counselor, you probably don’t need to be told that there have been a lot of changes made to the college application process over the summer—and some are still taking place.  As schedule changing season winds down, and college application season heats us, here’s a reminder list of what you need to watch out for:

Testing, Part I    Some of the biggest news this summer is the number of colleges that no longer require SAT or ACT results as part of the application process for most students.  This shift to test-optional admissions usually comes when one of the major tests makes changes; colleges look at the role test scores play in admissions, decide they don’t add that much information, and decide it isn’t worth putting students through all the stress of taking the test.

An updated list of test optional colleges can be found at , and since colleges were just added last week, it might be a good idea to take a peek.  Keep in mind that some colleges still require test scores for some admissions cases—it’s still required for students who want to play interscholastic sports at Division I and II schools, for example.  Other colleges will still ask for test scores once the student is admitted, to use them for scholarship consideration or placement into freshmen classes.  Students should check the admissions Website of their colleges for more information, and if a student’s test scores are above the college’s average, it’s probably still a good idea to submit the test scores anyway.

Testing, Part II   Another big change that came this summer is in the highly selective colleges.  Many of these schools required students to submit either the ACT or the SAT, plus two or three SAT Subject Tests results as well.  A number of these colleges looked at these requirements over the summer, and realized this may be a little too much testing.  As a result, many highly selective colleges are now recommending students submit Subject Tests, or describing them as optional.

In some cases, Subject Tests are only optional if the student submits the ACT with Writing, but other colleges are making them optional if any other test is submitted.  It’s wise to double-check the college’s Website.

More Early Applications  The five year trend of colleges encouraging early application continues this year, with more schools offering more versions of Early Action and Early Decision than ever before.  All of these new programs make it more important than ever for students to understand that Early Decision programs require the student to attend that college if they are admitted under an Early Decision program—so if they apply ED and the college takes them, their college search is over.

Look for an increase in the number of Early Decision II programs.  These work just like Early Decision, but they usually have a later application deadline, typically in January.  This gives students more time to consider their choices before deciding to apply ED to a school.  It also allows them to apply ED to a second school, if their first choice ED school doesn’t admit them in November.

Finally, note that more Early Action colleges are trying to limit the number of other colleges students can apply to Early Action.  Usually known as Early Action Single Choice, these programs give students until May 1 to pick their college—but they can’t apply Early Action to any other college.  This requires students to also make some important choices; make sure you walk them through all of their options before they decide.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Skilled Trades Tale of Two Senators

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

As Michigan students head back to school, Michigan families need to take a minute to contact two state senators, to thank one for looking out for their kids, and to urge the other one to start to do so right away.
The topic is skilled trades, a world of work that was supposed to die during the Great Recession and never come back. Evidently, someone forgot to tell that to the plumbers, pipe fitters, and other skilled tradesmen, whose annual salaries average$41000 a year—and these fields have openings they can’t fill now.
Getting information about these opportunities to young people has been a bit of challenge, and that’s where Senator Ken Horn comes in. Rules governing the skilled trades have been added here and there for the last thirty years, creating a patchwork of state law that made skilled trade regulations confusing, and sometimes contradictory. By introducing the Skilled Trades Regulation Act, Senator Horn has taken a well-meaning mix of skilled trade regulations and made them as easy to understand as reading the newspaper.
In introducing the Act to the public, Senator Horn said “Creation of the Skilled Trades Regulation Act will update and revise the relevant laws into one universal code that would ensure they meet the highest standards for enforcement and efficiency.”
This is excellent news for everyone in Michigan, especially students who like to work with their hands. The Skilled Trades Regulation Act is one legislative effort that will help students understand the strength and viability of many important career paths in the skilled trades, and most of them are attainable with two years or less of training after high school. When it comes to creating options after high school for students, Senator Horn’s innovative thinking is leading the way, as this bill has already had one round of Senate hearings.
The same cannot be said for another bill that would do even more to help students shape their futures after high school. House Bill 4552 makes sure Michigan students and families are working with school counselors that have the latest information on career and college opportunities in Michigan. Many of Michigan’s school counselors report they receive little training in college advising, and even less in the skilled trades. By including this training in their existing requirement for professional development, House Bill 4552 would help counselors understand the latest trends in career and college opportunities, information that’s been shown to be needed by students as early as age 10.
This bill passed the House by a wide margin, and with bipartisan support, in January. Since then, it has languished in the Senate Education Committee, even though the bill has received the support of business leaders, law enforcement officers, counselors, and retired military officers. Members of the Senate leadership have indicted the bill will easily pass the Senate floor, but it has yet to even be scheduled for hearings by the Senate Education Committee, which has not met to discuss any issue in the last six weeks of legislative session.
All of Michigan’s students deserve an opportunity to understand all of the career and college options that await them after high school, and your voice can make that happen. Take a moment to contact Senator Ken Horn’s office to thank him for helping Michigan’s students, then contact the Senate Education Committee and urge them to take up House Bill 4552. In this time of incredible postsecondary opportunities, our students deserve easier access to all of them.