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Posted on Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 8:39 a.m.

High school counselors need better training to help students make college choices

By Guest Column

High school seniors and their parents often start the school year with lots of questions about college. In the interest of getting the Class of 2012 off to a good start, here are some answers to those questions: 25 percent: 25-50 words if it’s interesting; and zero.

In case you don’t have a high school senior in your home, here are the questions that match those answers:

The University of Michigan saw a 25 percent increase in freshman applications last year, the largest increase ever. Applications to U-M will probably go up again this year, but it’s very unlikely it will be this big of an increase for a second year in a row.

Yes, it is generally OK to go about 25-50 words over the limit on most college essays. College admissions officers tell me they don’t count every word, but they do tell me those extra words better be part of a great essay -- they’ll be happy to read more of something good. (By the way, this isn’t true for Yale -- if they say 400 words, make it 400 words.)

Zero is the number of classes your high school counselor probably took in graduate school that prepared them to help you apply to college.

Yes, I did say zero.

My situation was pretty typical. I earned my degree in school counseling, got a job as a school counselor, and learned everything about college counseling on the job. It wasn’t easy, but I had a lot of help from other counselors, and I learned a lot from college admissions officers who visited my high school. Even with all that help, there were a lot of days when I wished graduate school had showed me what to do before I started working with students.

It’s even harder now for school counselors. With caseloads of 500 or more, they don’t have as much time to learn about colleges, and fewer college representatives are visiting high schools, because of budget cutbacks. Since more principals are hesitant to let counselors leave the building to visit colleges or attend workshops, the on-the-job training approach to college counseling is failing counselors and students more than ever.

If you think that’s kind of amazing, you’re not alone. A recent poll reports two-thirds of young adults said their school counselor was of little help finding the right college. Another poll found that 95 percent of *the counselors* surveyed felt counselors should have more training in helping students prepare, apply, and pay for college.

And all of this is going on while more students are applying to college, and needing good guidance, than ever before.

Counselors are trying to get universities to include more required training in their counseling programs, but it’s not easy. A recent article by a counseling professor said it would be “inappropriate” to increase counselor training in college counseling without increasing training in other counseling areas.

Based on the results of those two polls, counselors and students seem to be saying it would be inappropriate not to.

Now that school’s begun, counselors will be giving 100 percent to give those extra 25-50 words of encouragement to make sure zero students are denied the right to apply and attend college. If you feel like we can do more, take the time to tell us what more we can do, since we came into this profession to care about students.

If you feel we could have been trained better in college counseling, so do we.

John B. Boshoven, M.A., M.S.W., is the counselor for continuing education at Ann Arbor’s Community High School, founding director of College Counseling at the Frankel Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit in West Bloomfield and past director for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. He is the co-author of the book, "Solving the College Admissions Puzzle."


Brian Carr

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 2:41 p.m.

John -- Great post. The challenge we've seen in our primary research is that guidance counselors are too often overburdened with more and more duties that used to fall to parents. So the results we've seen is that invariably students at the extremes get attention, the ones in the middle are pointed in a direction and largely left on their own to be proactive in the search . For what it's worth, we also found in a primary research survey of 400 incoming freshmen that 14% of fathers were either "useless" or "very useless" in the college application process. Sigh. Again, thanks for the enlightened column.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 1:54 a.m.

I have mixed feelings as to whether a high school absolutely needs to provide extensive and individualized "get into college" counseling. There is so much information on the internet and even some from the college itself, this seems more than adequate, at least for any student with college educated parents. It seems like the primary focus in high school should be the student's high school curriculum.

Basic Bob

Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 10:05 p.m.

We have had two students graduate from the Ann Arbor big box schools, and the counseling has been fairly weak. The standard advice for students seems to be: apply to University of Michigan (second choice, Michigan State), and if you don't get in, go to WCC and get an associates degree. When you talk to people in the community, you will find that many people live successful lives going to many different colleges and universities, both inside and out of Michigan. Counselors need to be open-minded enough to realize there are many choices and every one of these can be the right choice for some students. Students who are not ready for college might consider productive employment or military service. (At least they told us that when I graduated, shortly after the earth cooled) It is wrong to label a high school student as a failure strictly because they didn't apply or gain admission to the counselor's alma mater or the prestigious local university. Our children have been fortunate enough to learn of many different experiences other than the townie fantasy, and we encourage them to choose their own path.

Tony Livingston

Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 8:27 p.m.

My daughter is an AAPS senior and has never had any help from counselors. She has had a new counselor every year and none of them have helped her figure out anything about college. We get our information from friends whose kids are a year or 2 ahead. Mr. Boshoven is at Community. That is completely different atmosphere and the staff has a completely different attitude towards the students. Pioneer is nothing like Community.


Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 4:43 p.m.

My high school counselor's were former teachers that could not teach. They stuck them in that job because they did not know what to do with them. Frankly, I talked to one a few time and all the advice I got for college was wrong. I told them my 9 year plan for a career and they attempted to advise me but really had no clue. One of the places that cuts should be happening.


Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 3:45 p.m.

Tip: If you are dead set on going to college and are mature enough, then not going to high school is the best option for most universities (especially instate) imo. Instead, go to a community college in-place of high school. Why? 1. Because the classes taken count for college credit when you transfer. 2. Completing the first 2 years at a community college saves $10,000-$40,000. Further, many universities have scholarships/grants specifically for transfer students. 3. Transferring to most universities is usually fairly easy with a decent GPA. This is especially true for instate (UofM is excellent for transfers btw). 4. Even if you decide not to transfer to a university, you will likely be holding an associates degree or certifications.

Dr. I. Emsayin

Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 3:02 p.m.

Mr. Boshoven often says that high school counselors have not taken courses in college counseling in his programs at the library. When I confronted a high school counselor about this, the counselor said that over the course of more than 20 years visiting colleges and listening to college admissions counselors, the counselor has learned as much as Mr. Boshoven. And newer counselors do take coursework in college counseling. Mr. Boshoven and others who sell their private college counseling services do not necessarily have a better knowledge of how colleges will fit particular students. High school counselors do have many more tasks than college counseling, but when students like my student, come for help choosing colleges, the counselors and the college-career center expert have been there to help. Students are asked to help the counselor prepare the student's college choices and recommendations by filling out comprehensive, useful information. I have known students who have made interesting college choices through conversations with counselors and college admissions reps who came to the school. Bravo to the parents who want to put out the money for private help, but the schools help the students write essays in English courses and the Career Cruising program that my student used in school and at home was very helpful for him and for us. I've enjoyed my communications with the high school counselor, and once we visited a few small schools in nearby states, we had a better idea of what we were looking for. Ohio and Indiana have a number of interesting small schools. Other parents should check out Career Cruising or Fastweb to help with college decisions and financial help.


Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 2:22 p.m.

In most communities there are alumni of a large number of colleges. I know several of my classmates from college who belong to school answer networks. The counselors create a list of questions from students about a college or a list of colleges and send them out to the alumni to answer. In some cases there are forums that the counselors use. This insulates the student from any "untrusted" adults and allows the counselor access to people who first hand knowledge of the schools. Too often this resource goes untapped.


Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 1:40 p.m.

As a mother of a college senior. One question I wish we would have asked while choosing a college is, "What is the percentage of students that not only graduate from the college but also the percent of students that get into their preferred program." Many ask about the graduation rate, but at the college my child is in, 90% can't get into their preferred programs. Many programs at her college require a 4.0 GPA to get in due to the small number of students that are admitted to the program every year.


Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

Both of my kids attended AAPS and saw their counselors exactly once in 4 years and that was for their 5 minute junior interview... Didn't the UM application rate go up last year because of the common application?


Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 1:24 p.m.

However, those of you applying to state schools, especially those that are perceived as second tier need not ask for my advice!!


Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 1:04 p.m.

Great article. HS counselors are invaluable when it comes to assisting students in college choices and in helping students hone &amp; explore interests. Besides grades, ACT scores, extracurricular activities (which can help a student stand out) and your common app/individual essays correctly identifying the Safety, Match, and Reach colleges may be the single most important task to help shape a student's future and ensure success. Far to often we see students wanting to attend a school because a good friend is going there even if it isn't a good fit for them or if it is away (at least by a few hours) has a reputation for being alot of fun (e.g. &quot;party school&quot;) but just like anything a student can make the least, or most, of any opportunity, even at a &quot;party school&quot;. Parents &amp; counselors please take the time and effort to know your highschool student and assist them in their prep for college which will set them on course for the rest of their lives. Using the Safety, Match, and Reach Strategy to Help Choose Colleges - <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Tips for the Personal Essay Options on the Common Application -<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>