Working to Expand Graduate Coursework in College Admission Counseling


Why does NACAC’s College Admission Counseling Graduate Coursework SIG exist?  Simple:

  • School counselors are supposed to have three domains of expertise—social/emotional development, academic planning, and college/career planning
  • Surveys show that less than one third of all school counselors report receiving any training in college counseling as part of their graduate school experience.

Think about that for a minute as it relates to the other parts of a school counselor’s job. Would anyone want a counselor talking to their child about depression, stress, bullying, or peer pressure if that counselor had no training dedicated to those topics?  How confident would we be in the advice a counselor gives a student on course selection if the counselor had no idea what the school’s graduation requirements are?  Yet, year after year, the vast majority of counselor graduate programs send counselors out into schools with no formal, focused training on how to help students make strong college choices.

NACAC’s Graduate Coursework SIG was started about ten years ago, based on the recommendations of a NACAC ad hoc committee chaired by Bob Bardwell.  Our goal is to increase  the number of graduate programs that offer a separate, sustained course that focuses solely on college counseling, and we’re starting to see some results.  A January report from Harvard suggests school counselors do their best college advising when they talk about colleges close to the high school where they work, or the college they attended—suggesting this lack of breadth is due in part to a lack of graduate school training in college counseling. This message is echoed in a NACAC opinion piece that provides data on how bad the problem is, and this report that shows how this lack of training affects students.

School counselors have raised this issue with counselor educators—those in charge of the graduate school programs where school counselors are trained—for years, but these concerns have largely fallen on deaf ears, or been met with one of the responses below. In either case, there seems to be a new urgency for more training in this vital element of the school counseling curriculum—so let’s see how the concerns of counselor educators can be eased so they can move forward with this important change:

Instruction in college counseling is already integrated through all the other courses we offer. Individual and Family Development. Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy. Clinical Counseling. These are all titles of school counseling classes, and these subjects are taught as separate classes, as part of a comprehensive curriculum. College counseling has its own curriculum, and counselors deserve the opportunity to devote concentrated time to mastering this curriculum, just like the others that are mentioned—and it’s no less important.

I wouldn’t know what to teach, since there’s no established curriculum for a class like this. True—but then again, there’s no established curriculum for any course in school counseling. If you’re not sure what you should be teaching in a college counseling course, some of the leading minds in the field have produced a list of outcomes for a college counseling class—skills counselors should have after learning about college counseling. It’s not a comprehensive list, but most counselors who’ve seen the list would have killed to get these skills in grad school.

If you want to see how other colleges teach the subject, the membership roster of NACAC’s Graduate Coursework SIG membership includes instructors of college counseling classes who would be happy to share their syllabi with you, along with the texts they use. Contact that group here if you have questions about starting a class.

My own teaching load is full. Most of the graduate programs that offer this course have school counselors teach it—those who engage in college counseling in the field. Since they work for adjunct pay, this is a bargain, and doesn’t affect any professors’ teaching load.

We can only hire Ph.D. adjuncts to teach courses, and Ph.D. school counselors are hard to find. Many colleges have a way around this. The course is listed with the professor’s name on it, and they serve as a supervisor, but with someone else teaching the course. Other colleges let the school counselor serve as a guest lecturer, which has a different, and more liberal, set of rules when it comes to running those courses. There’s a way your theater department can hire Lin-Manuel Miranda to teach Drama 101, and he only has a BA; use that method to hire a rock star school counselor to teach this class.

I can’t find anyone with background to teach the course. If this is really the case, please contact us here. The NACAC Graduate Coursework SIG has about two dozen experienced teachers who would welcome a chance to teach some version of this course again. If you can’t find someone, we will.

I can’t afford the startup costs of a new class. College budgets may be tight, but they always include funding for development of new classes—so this wouldn’t cost extra money. Still, if you can’t afford to start the course, encourage your students to take an existing class, and let them transfer the graduate credits in. The University of Sioux Falls (SD) offers a three-credit graduate course in college counseling, and it costs a bargain basement $405 (full disclosure: I teach it). Many counselors have taken this course and transferred it into their degree. Just make sure the path is clear at your school so your grad students can do that.

This isn’t “real” counseling. This one just drives me crazy. It’s bad enough some school counselors feel this way, but when counselor educators claim college counseling is nothing more than advanced academic advising, it’s clear they’ve never studied the topic, and don’t care enough about it to help counselors become the comprehensive school counselor their students need them to be. When the American School Counselor Association says college advising is one of the three parts of being a good school counselor—and when you stop to really understand all the emotions and family dynamics behind a student’s plans for life after high school—it’s easy to see how studying this topic, and knowing what you’re talking about, is a counseling obligation.

This article points out how school counselors support the affective domain of their clients. One major way to damage aspect of the student-counselor relationship is if students walk out of their counselor’s office, convinced the counselor can’t help them much with their college plans. Better, focused training eliminates that worry.

We don’t have room to add another class in the school counseling program. Recent changes in school counselor training requirements make it very easy to add a separate course in college counseling without going over the new credit limit, but some counselor educators still insist there’s no room for growth. If a program has reached its maximum credit load, it’s time to consolidate. Most school counseling programs have six to eight classes in mental health training; with a little creativity, that same content can easily be realigned into one less class, leaving three credits for a new course in college counseling.

Most counselors don’t have time to do college counseling. It’s certainly true that high caseloads and “other duties as assigned” limit all facets of a school counselor’s job—but that’s also true for mental health counseling, and grad schools still teach that. Convincing administrators to give school counselors the resources they need to do their jobs is another story. For now, it’s essential to make sure school counselors know how to initiate and supplement strong college counseling programs if they’re given the chance to do so (or make the chance to do so)—and the only way that happens is to teach them how.

Convinced? Great! Join our SIG, or support our work by passing this along to your favorite counselor educator, and change the school counseling landscape for the better.

Patrick O’Connor and Julia Varriale lead NACAC’s College Admission Counseling Graduate Coursework SIG.

2 thoughts on “Working to Expand Graduate Coursework in College Admission Counseling”

  1. I totally agree with this article. But what the article doesn’t cover is that many of the school counseling programs have to follow CACREP guidelines which I believe don’t require a college counseling course. Perhaps NACAC should work with CACREP to get them more in line with what school counselors need to know.

  2. NACAC could design a series of credentials that will achieve your objectives. A three-year renewal process will enhance professionalism and garner more attention and respect from potential employers. A credential can be designed to be developmentally appropriate for elementary and middle school college counseling.

    NCDA has a model for this:

    In a world that is now using the term “the new abnormal,” it makes sense to utilize a well-known process that can be adapted to the times we live in.

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