New York State is Understaffing High School Guidance Departments: What Can Parents Do?

Guidance counselors are an important resources to students, especially during the crucial junior and senior years of high school. Guiding and advising students about the college preparation and application process and the almighty question of “how to pay for it,” are invaluable services. The true significance of counseling has just begun to dawn on me, and it appears as though I’m not alone.

A recent national survey showed that guidance counselors are under-recognized by the public. Respondents were asked if they would be willing to raise taxes to try to improve your local public schools and, if so, what their priority would be.Counselors came in last, with only 6 percent choosing it as a priority area. Yet, it is shiningly obvious to me that they are the keepers of the holy grail of increasing access to college and garnering financial support.

Now that I have the full picture of the guidance that is necessary to navigate through the college preparation years, I am troubled by the number of students per guidance counselor. The American School Counselor Association recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250:1. According to the most recent data, only three states meet that recommendation — New York is not among them– with the national average hovering at 419:1. We are definitely feeling the effects of this imbalanced ratio in our high school.

My daughter is entering her junior year and over the summer we were bombarded with mailings regarding upcoming ACT and SAT test prep courses and about setting up a portal for our students that will siphon financial aid and scholarship information to them over these next two years. After a wave of panic, I began asking some friends who have just sent their oldest off to college for advice. I found out that they felt just as overwhelmed as I do and although they said their child’s guidance counselors were a resource to them, by and large they had to navigate through this daunting time on their own. The consensus was that counselors in our school are open and amenable to meeting and gave good advice and direction, but the ratio of students each serves makes it nearly impossible to provide the concentrated attention that is necessary to successfully advise each student on a regular basis.

One friend described going through the college application process during her son’s senior year as akin to “being in a foreign country and not knowing the language.” She said that if it weren’t for the fact that her son was attending college on an athletic scholarship, she would’ve been completely lost, as his future coach made sure he was on top of the deadlines and requirements. She also ended up hiring a service to help her son with the “Common App” (Common Application), which she called a godsend, as our school does not offer that sort of preparation.

Another friend, who is a highly organized and in-charge type of person, also said she never felt so overwhelmed by anything in her life. Although her daughter was always an exemplary student, the process of sifting through all of the financial aid and school options was daunting. She said she isn’t certain whether the choice they ended up making is the right one, but that time will eventually tell if the school they chose is a fit for her daughter.

It appears as though leaders in the education community are increasingly realizing the crucial role guidance counselors play in directing students to the right courses, test prep programs and financial aid resources. A few schools have been establishing high school departments of College Acceptance and Retention and some states and districts are making a serious commitment to addressing the advising gap. However, the majority have demonstrated little sense of urgency on this issue. With the future of millions of our students hanging in the balance, we can only hope that public policy and funding are ramped up to play a more pivotal role in improving the state of counseling in our school systems.

What do you think?

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