As we look for ways to improve the college admission process in the wake of the recent scandals, an important place to start is in our high schools. In my professional career of 26 years, I have served as a high school guidance counselor, a college admission representative, and an independent educational consultant. Having seen the process from all angles, I believe we must do a better job equipping students and their families with the knowledge and perspective to embark on a successful college admission journey.
The school counselor can and should play such a pivotal role in any student’s college search and application activities. But due to oversized caseloads and often inadequate professional training, even the best school counselors are unable to provide the support most kids need in identifying and applying to the colleges that are best suited to their interests and needs.
Michelle Obama’s Becoming proved to be the perfect launching off point for a robust discussion of college access and completion, ways to support first-generation and marginalized students, and a counselor’s role in these goals.
In a #NACACreads Twitter chat Tuesday night, Eric Waldo, the executive director of Reach Higher, shared his insights on these subjects and more. Reach Higher was founded by Mrs. Obama and Waldo has traveled with the former first lady during her recent Becoming book tour.
Our #nacacreads chat with Reach Higher on Michelle Obama’s Becoming is coming up in just under a month.
But in case you can’t wait that long, you can hear from the former first lady in her own words.
Obama recently talked with a group of young women convened by her publisher about “imposter syndrome,” the importance of education, and many other topics highlighted in her book.
“I had to contend with ‘how do I get my education when I’m surrounded by people who may have different expectations of me?’ And those weren’t just the kids in the neighborhood. There were teachers I had to confront, teachers who underestimated me… When I sat down with my high school counselor — somebody who didn’t know me but was assigned to work with students to help them apply to college — and I told them my intention was to apply to Princeton. That counselor told me, ‘I don’t think you’re Princeton material,’” Obama said in the interview.
“The person whose job it was to help young people reach their dreams when it came to college saw me and whatever she saw in me told her that my dreams were too high…Even though I continued on, I applied, and you know obviously I got in, but I still remember that story. I remember that feeling of doubt. Just another adult placing a barrier on me that I didn’t even have for myself. So then, to enter into an elite school when your high school counselor has told you you’re not good enough, when all of society looks at kids of color or kids from poor communities or rural communities as not belonging, I, like many others, walked into that school with a stigma in my own head.”
Watch the full video and make plans to join us next month for this important conversation. We will be discussing the former first lady’s own journey to college, her experience as a first-generation student, the importance of diversity on campus, and the role college counselors play.
The #nacacreads Twitter chat will kick off promptly at 9 p.m. ET on March 19.
Ashley Dobson is NACAC’s communications manager for content and social media. You can reach her at email@example.com.
NACAC believes school counselors have an important and often under-acknowledged role to play in moving toward the goal of equity in education.
One of NACAC’s core values is that our institutional and individual members strive to eliminate from the education system bias based on race, ethnicity, creed, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, political affiliation, national origin, or disability. We view this as fundamental to our responsibility as educators.
However, the stark reality is that inequities do exist, and are often strongly associated with race and ethnicity.
High student-to-counselor ratios School counselors in schools serving large numbers of racial and ethnic minority students face ratios well above the current national ratio of 464:1. According to the Education Trust, a high school counselor who serves predominantly students of color has to serve 34 more students every year than a school counselor who serves fewer students of color, and 27 states are shortchanging either their students of color, students from low-income families, or both. And since black students are more likely than their white peers to cite a school counselor’s involvement in changing their college-going perceptions, such shortages present steep barriers to students of color.
Inequitable access to education resources and college preparatory coursework Evidence of racial gaps in access to school resources is plentiful. Persistent racial and ethnic gaps exist in dual enrollment and college preparatory coursework (AP and IB), which is the foundation for NACAC’s policy priority in support of equitable funding for schools to ensure that all students have access to coursework that will prepare them for education beyond high school.
Implicit bias and cultural fluency There is a substantial and growing body of research documenting individual implicit bias across all industries and facets of American life. College admission counseling professionals, including school counselors, have identified implicit bias and other, more overt, forms of bias as a critical obstacle to serving all students well. As such, NACAC recently created a resource for practitioners wishing to learn more about cultural fluency and bias, and urges school leaders and policymakers to consider the effects of bias on the educational system.
Interaction with a school counselor has statistically significant, positive effects on college-going behavior and ensuring equitable access to school counseling and other critical resources—particularly for racial/ethnic minority students—is an immediate concern to be addressed by policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels.
David Hawkins is NACAC’s executive director for educational content and policy. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: National School Counseling Week, sponsored by ASCA, is always celebrated the first full week in February. Learn more about this year’s celebration and use the comment section below to let us know what you hope your students learn from you.
Every year, I say goodbye to a group of students I’ve shepherded through the college application process. We’ve spent a lot of time together. Obviously, we’ve talked about college. But we’ve also spent a lot of time talking about life, their hopes and dreams, the challenges they’ve faced. As I brace myself for the inevitable separation, this is what I hope they’ve learned from me.
Editor’s Note: National School Counseling Week, sponsored by ASCA, is always celebrated the first full week in February. Learn more about this year’s celebration and use the comment section below to let us know why you love being a school counselor.
Why do I love being a school counselor?
If I had a dime for every time a parent or friend commented, “I don’t know how you do your job,” I think I could pay for my trip to the national conference with money left over to buy treats for the rest of my colleagues all over the country.
My response is always, “I love my job! There is never a dull moment.” And that is the truth.
Editor’s Note: National School Counseling Week, sponsored by ASCA, is always celebrated the first full week in February. Learn more about this year’s celebration and use the comment section below to let us know what drew you to the counseling profession.
There is an iconic scene in the movie Clerks (1994), Kevin Smith’s first film, which centers on a suited man sitting on the floor of a convenience store searching for the perfect carton of eggs.
According to a random customer and the titular clerks, Dante and Randal, this man is suffering from shell shock as a result of working as a counselor.
The customer says, “Well, if your job was as meaningless as theirs, wouldn’t you go crazy, too?”
The American School Counselor Association’s (ASCA) School Counselor of the Year award “honors professionals who devote their careers to advocating for the nation’s students and addressing their academic and social/emotional development and college and career readiness needs.”
Coleman, a school counselor and counseling department chair at Jones College Prep in Chicago, IL, has worked to make sure his school takes a holistic approach to counseling.
“As a school with college in our name, there tends to be a great deal of focus and energy placed exclusively on students’ college and postsecondary planning processes,” Coleman told ASCA. “However, we have worked to create a broader awareness that students’ holistic well-being is just as important to their current and future successes.”
Coleman was honored by Jill Biden at a ceremony Friday in Washington, DC.
“It can be so hard to be a teenager. We’ve all been there. It can be so hard to know where you fit in and where you fit in to your community, especially as you plan your future. But Brian gives his students confidence in their abilities. He helps them find the best in themselves, and he pushes them to reach higher,” Biden said.
“He represents the best of this profession, but he’s certainly not alone.”