CBO Counselor Educator Higher Ed K-12 School Counselor

Back to Basics

By Karen Arnold

Associate Professor, Educational Leadership & Higher Education, Boston College

When my daughter was 14, I asked her whether she thought she might like to go to college at the university where I taught. She had been to my campus countless times by then, most often to the School of Education where my office and classrooms were located. My daughter answered that she wouldn’t choose to attend my college because it was too small. With some surprise, I told her that we had 14,000 enrolled students. Her reply: “How do they fit them in that building?” 

I was taken aback that my daughter hadn’t realized that the entire campus was part of the university. I’d never really told her exactly what a university was, though. I guess I thought that she –that anyone—would just know that. 

So imagine the assumptions and misperceptions of high school students who do not grow up visiting college campuses with their professor parent. Indeed, in my role as a researcher of college access, I have come across innumerable instances of similar disconnects between what we educators assume students know and what they actually know:

“I’m not interested in liberal arts. I’m not liberal and I don’t want to study art!”

“What is a passing score on the SAT?”

“I don’t know what I want for my career, so I can’t start college yet.”

“This college costs $60,000—there is no way I can afford that!”

“The FAFSA gets you scholarships, right?”

Why in the world should we expect a 16- or 17-year-old to know unwritten yet crucial terms and concepts like the definition of liberal arts, the difference between sticker price and cost, or the components of financial aid? How would they know why it might matter that institutions are public, private, for-profit, in-state, or out-of-state? And what does it mean for college counseling to stop assuming such common understandings?

It means that we need to communicate and unpack basic information about higher education and about every other aspect of the college choice, application, and financial aid process. We need to “pressure test” students’ understanding of this information. It means avoiding the term “financial aid” until and unless we’re sure students understand that assistance in paying for college comes from a combination of family contribution, grants, loans, work, and scholarships and what each of these represents. Above all, it means checking ourselves for what we assume “everyone” knows. 

CBO Counselor Educator Higher Ed K-12 School Counselor

Forget the College Counseling Timeline- What Do We Do Now?

By Kathy Chau Rohn

Doctoral Student, Educational Leadership & Higher Education, Boston College

2020 brought both new challenges and shed light on the same problems we’ve experienced in the field of college counseling for years. 

In “normal” times, we, school and college counselors, often use variations of the same college application checklist with our students. The usual items are on there: (re)take the SATs or ACTs, finalize college lists, discuss options with family, write a personal statement, visit colleges, complete the Common Application, request fee waivers, submit the FAFSA, and the list goes on. The format of the checklist itself implies that the college process is linear–a neat laundry list of discrete tasks that we can help students check off, in order, one by one. We give presentations based on where students “should” be on the college timeline. Yet, as many of us experience, especially now as we navigate through the challenges of COVID-19, counseling students through the college process is far from simple or perfectly chronological. Students are at different places, at different times, at every juncture. Part of the problem is that we only have the capacity to do so much given the resources we have and the systems we operate within. And, part of the problem is that the tools we use follow an overly simplified checklist approach that does not work for all counselors, families, or students and certainly does not work in the context of 2020. So, how can we start college counseling off the timeline?

Based on a nationwide text-message college advising campaign for 35,000 students, a team of practitioners and researchers from K-12 and higher education began to identify the parts of the college application process that do not occur once, but continue to emerge and re-emerge. We realized that we needed a more realistic and dynamic representation of the college process. To that end, we are creating and evolving an interactive “timeline” that captures the non-linear messiness of the college counseling process. As we hear from counselors, students, and parents about their concerns and challenges during this unprecedented year, we will update this new “timeline” in part 2 of this blog post to help counselors reimagine when and how they provide information and support to their students. Stay tuned and send us your ideas and feedback!

CBO Counselor Educator Higher Ed K-12 Parent School Counselor Student

Rethinking College Advising During A Pandemic

By Laura Owen

Executive Director, Center for Equity and Postsecondary Attainment, San Diego State University

Billions of dollars have been spent and countless efforts employed to close college opportunity gaps and while we have witnessed encouraging trends to provide more equitable access, the pandemic is rolling back the clock, wiping out many of the gains that have been made and exposing the systemic educational failures that got us here in the first place. We can sit back and watch the process unfold or we can acknowledge our mistakes and devote our energy to create a new equity centered, antiracist advising and counseling system that more intentionally serves all students.

Current Enrollment Trends

A recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center confirms startling college enrollment declines. While high school graduation rates remained stable for the class of 2020, postsecondary enrollment decreased by 21.7 percent nationally and direct high school to college attendance for students from high poverty schools fell by 32.6 percent versus 16.4 percent for low poverty schools. Students attending high minority schools saw attendance decrease by 26.4 percent, while those enrolled in low minority schools witnessed an 18 percent decline. If that news were not alarming enough, early indicators predict a continued downward enrollment trajectory with even more discernible losses ahead. Common App recently shared college application rates are down by 8 percent for first time applicants and applications from students who are first in their family to attend college and those utilizing fee waivers decreased by 16 percent.

The Challenge Before Us

The events of this past year have only added to the complexities that students face in traversing their educational path, one that has long been riddled with roadblocks and obstacles. While school leaders have worked heroically to respond to the challenges brought on by the novel Covid-19 pandemic, college advising has unsurprisingly taken a back seat due to the many urgent and pressing needs that school staff have been juggling. This has forced students to wait patiently for guidance as shifting deadlines and polices have become the actuality.

Parents have agonized over how to best help their child carve out a viable post high school plan. One friend recently shared that he didn’t want to pay college tuition for his daughter to be two doors down, sitting on her bed and taking classes on her computer all day.  Another wished her son could experience all that college has to offer, including living on campus; so, ultimately, he decided to take a gap year. Other families made decisions to move forward as planned and students enrolled and completed their first semester of college, albeit not as they had expected. 

Students and parents are frustrated and stymied by a quickly changing landscape coupled with misinformation. They are looking to school counselors and college advisors for responsive and informed postsecondary guidance that is malleable to the daily disruptions and competing demands – they need College Counseling Now.

College Counseling Now Campaign

The College Counseling Now campaign will elevate and broadcast what is working. We will identify the mechanisms that influence postsecondary opportunity and expose how each piece, no matter how seemingly big or small, impacts everything else around it. 

As the saying goes, “it takes a village”. The College Counseling Now campaign will bring together students, parents, guardians, K-12 educators, higher education partners, community-based organizations, school counselors, district school counseling directors/supervisors, graduate students, counselor educators and researchers to create a community of practice committed to strengthening postsecondary advising. Together we will respond to the clarion call for creative, decisive, and equity focused college counseling solutions. 

We will:

  • Elevate the voices of parents and students 
  • Identify counseling and advising practices that support equity, antiracism and justice
  • Share lessons learned from summer melt advising interventions
  • Work with higher ed, K-12, community partners and college access organizations to thought partner and brainstorm solutions. 
  • Develop college advising tools, resources, and training 
  • Utilize social media and virtual spaces to hold Twitter chats, conduct Facebook Live events, share Instagram infographics, publish blog posts, and host webinars 

Stay tuned for more information to get involved in the #CollegeCounselingNow campaign. We can do this together!