The Art and Science of Advising Students 
in the College Exploration and Selection Process

by Mark McGrath

mfmcgrath@gmail.com

I recently read a few articles by Lynn O’Shaughnessy that really got me thinking about helping students with their college exploration and selection process.  You can check them out at:
http://www.thecollegesolution.com/the-weakest-link-in-the-college-admission-process/
and
http://www.thecollegesolution.com/whats-wrong-with-high-school-counselors/
and
http://moneywatch.bnet.com/saving-money/article/college-search-dont-count-on-guidance-counselors/376975/ 
and
http://www.thecollegesolution.com/whats-wrong-with-high-school-counselors-part-ii/

The articles are quite harsh concerning the average public high school counselor's ability to advise students of appropriate colleges but I have to agree that some of the article rings true.  Colleges do not train students in their school counselor masters' programs adequately in understanding the college admission process.  When I began as a Guidance Counselor (I'm a School Counselor now) in the early seventies, I had three resource books, all from College Board, covering colleges, college majors and financial aid.  Most of my students attended colleges in New Jersey, except for a few academic or athletic stars who ventured beyond the Garden State. 

After spending the eighties and most of the nineties in business, and learning much about management and computers but nothing about colleges, I returned to education at the beginning of the internet information gold rush.  While I was concerned about how I could catch-up with all I had missed, I was amazed at all the resources that were now available.  I felt a little like Rip Van Winkle, waking up and finding the world had changed dramatically.  There were now hundreds of books filling the shelves in local bookstores and colleges were beginning to develop websites that provided a plethora of information about themselves.  It was quite overwhelming and my feelings were probably much like students graduating today with their degree in School Counseling.

What I intend to do in this weekly blog is to explore some of the resources I have found to be particularly helpful and to ask that other school counselors add their best practices for the advising of students in college exploration and selection.   I encourage you to join in the discussion.  Feel free to disagree with any and everything I say or to add your own comments and resources to the topic of the week.  Please contribute to the conservation and help counselors throughout NJ navigate the challenging task of advising students with their college decision process.

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College Admissions Specialist Trainng

ASCA now provides webinar training for school counselors to become College Admissions Specialists.  Visit http://www.schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors-members/professional-development/asca-u-specialist-trainings/college-admissions-specialist to learn how you can your College Admissions Specialist certificate from ASCA. 

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College Tours

A terrific way for counselors to get the feel for the admissions process is to go on college tours.  NJSCA offers one each summer.   Check the website in the spring for this year's tour information and schedule. 

Also, there are a number of tours sponsored by colleges each year.  Check the SUCH Counselor Tour (NY), the Bean Tour (Boston), the Crab Tour (MD)Virginia Counselor TourVermont College Tour and the Finger Lakes Tour (NY) for some wonderful examples.  Shelley Krause provides an extensive list of college tours on her WikiYou'll have to make your contacts early as these tours fill quickly.  Check with your peers or email me if you want specific info about the tours.  I only listed a few but they are well worthwhile you time learning about the colleges and meeting fellow school counselors who share as much information on the bus as you'll get on the campuses.  The best part of the college tour trips is the rapport you will build with fellow school counselors. 

I try to go on the NJSCA College Tour each summer.  Sitting in the back of the bus, trading stories with the "regulars" and "newbie's" and planning some kind of entertainment for our evening free time is as good as it gets.  OK, it does get better but it is good fun.  (Consider this a "shout out" to Carmine, Carol, Brian, Susie, Rich, Meridith, Chuck, Carl, Barbara and the rest of the fellow travelers.)

Do not hesitate to develop your own personal tour either on a weekend or during the summer.  College representatives are happy to meet with school counselors who schedule a meeting in advance.  Speak with an admission officer and take the campus tour with the students.  You'll be amazed at how much you pick-up on these trips and it's a wonderful way to develop contacts with local college representatives.   I spent the summer after I returned to counseling from my business adventure, visiting colleges throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  I not only learned a great deal about the individual colleges but by interviewing a good number of admission officers, I gained a general understanding of how the system really works.  It's a great way for a newly graduated high school counselor to become quickly knowledgeable in the field.

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Books

Obviously one great way to become knowledgeable about colleges is to read books about them.  My two favorites about the college admission process are The Gatekeepers, Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College by Jacques Steinberg and Admissions Confidential, An Insiders Account of the Elite College Selection Process by Rachel Toor.  Both books give real insight into what and how college admissions officers consider when evaluating students.  These are "must-reads" for new high school counselors.  Any other books like these that you can recommend?

Other terrific resource books that I constantly use are:

Colleges that Change Lives by Loren Pope (a personal favorite)

The Insiders Guide to Colleges by the Yale Dally News

The College Finder by Steven Antonoff

The Hidden Ivies by Howard Greene and Matthew Greene

Making a Difference Colleges by Miriam Weinstein

Colleges with a Conscience by Princeton Review (see a trend here?)

The Advocate, College Guide for LGBT Students by Shane Windmeyer

Creative Colleges: A Guide for Student Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians and Writers by Elaina Loveland

Fisk Guide to Getting into the Right College by Edward Fisk

Rugg's Recommendations on the Colleges by Frederick Rugg

Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents by Zac Bissonnette

The Gatekeepers, Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College by Jacques Steinberg

Admissions Confidential, An Insiders Account of the Elite College Selection Process by Rachel Toor

While there are many more resource books I have on my bookshelves, I particularly enjoy using the ones I listed.

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College Fairs

While college fairs may seem more of an opportunity to fill your wheelbarrow with college literature, they can provide much useful knowledge through the workshops they often offer.  The NACAC National College Fairs and the Performing and Visual Arts (PVA) College Fairs schedule presentations by experts in the field.  Before you go, review the college list, plan to visit the booths of a few colleges not in your local area and then head for the free workshops.  You'll be amazed by how much you will learn.

Often high schools and/or county school counselor associations organize their own local fairs.  Volunteer to help and recruit some colleges to attend.  By contacting the college admission counselors and inviting them to participate, you will begin to develop a relationship with them.  While knowing them personally won't help get your students into their colleges, you will be able to become familiar with their expectations and perhaps be able to ask them to take a closer look at a student with some unique qualities or in difficult situation.  Getting to know those in our parallel professions can be of great benefit when you need some advice.  They truly have the same objective we have in trying to make the right match between college and student.

To volunteer to help at the spring NJ National College Fair in Edison, contact NJACAC at nationalcollegefairs@njacac.org.

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Professional Associations

Be sure to join NJSCAASCA and your local county school counselor association.   These organizations provide wonderful professional development, with many opportunities to attend college informational workshops.  At the end of each June, ASCA holds their annual conferenceWhat a great way to celebrate the end of the school year while expanding your knowledge of college.  NJSCA offers both a fall and spring conference, with a number of the breakout sessions pertaining to the college admission process, as well as other important topics.

In addition to joining the associations and attending their professional development offerings, consider taking a leadership role in one of the organizations.  The reason I became involved in NJSCA was because I had spent the eighties and nineties in business, I needed support to catch-up with what I had missed.  I found when I became active, I learned more from those in leadership positions than I had ever gleaned from my master's program or sitting in my office.  Leaders love to share their best practices and hanging with the leaders of the county, state and national school counselor associations is an invaluable resource.

I must say that some of my best friends in the counseling business have been developed through my time spent in NJSCA.  Working with Jim Lukach, Pat Phillips, Fran Pliskin, Susan Hatch, Melanie Seaman and the many others on the Executive Board have made the time fly and the work fun.

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Technology

A truly great resource is Russ Sabella's School Counselor.comWhile it's not a college information site, Russ provides so much technological assistance to school counselors on his site and in his free e-newsletter that I cannot help but praise it.  He offers excellent online videoslesson plans, and technology tutorials that every twenty-first century school counselors needs.

This is a very short post this week but if you spend time exploring his website, you'll learn much more than reading my musings.

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Naviance

I cannot imagine being a high school counselor today and not having Naviance (with Family Connection). Thia college information tracking and family communication program iabackbone strong college planning and organization in many schools.  Naviance tracks applications, records your student acceptances, comparess college acceptances of past students, produces wonderful reports and enable you to communicate with your students and their parents in a very professional manner.  You can even keep Naviance open and add a private journal entry each time you see a student to easily keep track of your conferences and what was covered.  Naviance does much more than the operations I've listed but most of all, they help maintain the sanity of high school counselors and we need all the help we can get.

If you have a good story of how Naviance has helped your school counseling efforts, please let me know..  Also, if there are other web-based programs that provides similar support, please let me know and I will add their info here..

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Public Agenda Report: An Opportunity

 

By now you probably know that Public Agenda’s recent study, Can I Get a Little Advice Here?, released with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is causing quite a bit of controversy in the school counseling profession.  (Link to PDF of full reportEssentially, it states that school counselors are overburdened and that those surveyed feel their counselors often were not helpful in assisting with the college and financial aid exploration process.  The gist of this survey relates to the articles by Lynn O’Shaughnessy that prompted me to begin this blog.  (Link to blog #1)  Now, we can either reject the findings as unfair or attempt to deal with the situation as it is.  (Link to response by Richard Wong, ASCAs Executive Director)

Clearly, what we have here is a failure to communicate but we also have an opportunity to use the study to achieve some of our goals as professional school counselors.  I encourage you to discuss the report with your administrators and use it to demonstrate why we need smaller caseloads, less clerical tasks and better professional development.  Too often, school counselors are not able to leave the school to attend conferences and workshops and the P.D. provided in our schools does not relate to school counselors' needs.  Also, graduate programs for school counselors offer very little education in the area of college exploration and planning, leaving that responsibility to the practicum and internship experience.  Essentially, this means that the quality of this instruction depends on the expertise of the graduate student's supervising counselor.  And, that only works at all if the grad student is doing the internship in a high school, as those in middle or elementary schools may never be trained in this area.

This is an excellent opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.  Speak with your principal to request more free time to attend professional development workshops and conferences.  Push for professional development in your school that is relevant and truly meets the needs of your department.  Review with administrators the amount of time spent on paperwork and discuss where time can be freed to work directly with students.  Encourage the implementation of a comprehensive school counseling program in your school to demonstrate professionalism and consider applying for a RAMP (Recognized ASCA Model Program) designation.  Advocate for a school Advisory Program and assist teachers in planning programs that encourage students to develop skills and prepare for their future.  If working with a practicum or intern student, discuss the college exploration aspect of their education with their graduate school advisor and encourage them to include college admissions preparation in their graduate program. 

We can be the change agents in our schools and make the difference.  We can ensure that future studies reflect the new reality of today's professional school counselor.

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College & Career Websites

When I returned to school counseling in 1996, I had a great deal of difficulty convincing our school's Technology Chair to provide internet access to the Guidance and Counseling Office.  He couldn't understand why counselors would need access to the web.  Today it is impossible to imagine providing necessary services to our students without the many resources the web provides.

Of course, http://www.njsca.org/ is my favorite hub for college, career and financial aid websites.  It's maintained by NJSCA's Technology Chair and updated often.  From there you can visit College Planning, Career PlanningFinancial AidTechnical Schools & Technical CollegesCollege Open Houses and Summer Enrichment Programs by clicking on the links in the left column.  The sites listed offer just about every web resource any school counselor would need to provide information to their students.

A few individual links that I find particularly helpful and interesting are:

Colleges by Majors wiki  (Lists of majors by college provided by fellow school counselors)

UNIGO: College reviews by college students  (Unofficial information about colleges, provided by students attending)

Undocumented Student Resource Guide  (A great guide for dealing with undocumented students.  You must log in.)

Black College Common Application  (Where students can apply to 35 HBCU colleges for $35.00)

What Can I Do With a Major in ...?  (A wonderful site where students can explore potential careers by clicking on their favorite high school subjects)

List of "SAT Optional" Colleges  (Colleges that do not Use SAT or ACT scores for admitting a substantial number of students)

Colleges That Change Lives  (A personal favorite website listing the colleges in Loren Pope's book) (Be sure to attend the CTCLs College Fair in an area near you.)

Also on the NJSCA College hub, you will find headings for HBCU info, Students with Disabilities, College Athletics, LGBT info, Undocumented Students, Interest Inventories, Career Planning, SAT/ACT Information and many other important topics where resources are needed on a daily basis.  Just wander through the page and explore sites that interest you.  Keep the page in mind so when you're trying to get your hands on that important resource or website that escapes you, you will have a place to look.

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NACAC & NJACAC

The National Association for College Admission Counseling and the New Jersey Association for College Admission Counseling are important allies in our quest to provide proper guidance in the college admission process. 

NACAC provides a wonderful website with amazing resources.  Each year they host a terrific national conference, promote college fairs throughout the United States and are now providing webinars to make professional development available in our school counseling offices.  Their Admitted Blog allows school counselors to follow experts in the field as they provide up-to-date information and thought-pieces.  NACAC's Student Resources section is a must-visit area for both school counselors and high school students.  There they provide college preparation calendars for each school year, online student resources and access to the "Students' Rights and Responsibilities" handout.  Another area for both students and school counselors is the  Step by Step: College Awareness and Planning for Families, Counselors and Communities, offering school-to-college transition information.   It is important that high school counselors review NACAC's Statement of Principles of Good Practice to understand our own responsibilities in the college admission process as well as those of the colleges.  NACAC's Forms page  (Right column under "Important Documents") is also very useful.  The NACAC Exchange Listserve has been a must read for all high school counselors for years.   I encourage all high school counselors to wander through NACAC's website and explore the many resources they provide.

NJACAC is NJSCA's state sister organization, supplementing some our own services and providing many unique resources of their own.  NJACAC provides an annual conference each year and Mini Institutes throughout the state.  They also publish the ABC’s of College Planning, a wonderful resource for taking a class through the college admission process if you're lucky enough to teach a section.  New high school counselors greatly benefit from their summer Basics Institute, which targets school counselors with one to three years experience.

If you want to be proficient in the college admissions' game, you have to speak NACAC and NJACAC.

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Classified/504 Students

Assisting classified students and students with 504 accommodations is sometimes challenging but always rewarding.  While there are many schools that have terrific programs for students with special needs, the school counselor, parent and student have to explore them carefully as there are many levels of support available.  Some colleges have basic LD services while others have extensive LD programs.  Colleges like Landmark CollegeMitchell College and Lynn University specialize in providing exceptional services to LD & ADD/ADHD students.  Other colleges like Fairleigh Dickinson have strong support centers for students with learning differences.  Visit the College Lists wiki for a more extensive (although certainly not complete) list of schools for LD students or students needing support.  It is important that students and parents are made aware of the different levels of support and to explore them carefully.  In the end, it is always the fit that is most important, but a college with a good support program may greatly enhance the fit for a student with support needs.

When writing a college recommendation for classified or 504 students it is necessary to discuss with the student and parent if it is best to disclose the learning difference.  Before including this fact in a recommendation, it is important to get the parents written permission to reveal this information.  Often it is unnecessary to discuss the learning difference in the recommendation letter, as the support given to the student has leveled the playing field enough that the student has achieved at his or her ability level.  If the learning difference has been a significant challenge or if there is an important story to be told, then be sure to have the parent's permission before including it in the recommendation.  Keep in mind that most colleges feel that the in-school support given to the LD or 504 student "levels the playing field" and that the classification or accommodation is not taken into account when considering admission.  Once the student is accepted, it is then important for the parent and student to contact the LD center of the college to discuss support available on campus.  Beginning the self-advocacy process at prospective colleges is a good step to a successful transition.

Extended time on the SAT and ACT is available for students who can verify the need for this accommodation.  Both require extensive documentation of the disability and verification that the student is currently receiving the accommodations in school due to a professionally diagnosed disability.  Because it takes time to receive approval from College Board and/or ACT, it is important to begin the request for accommodations process early.

Some good websites that provide excellent information for students with learning differences are  http://www.heath.gwu.edu/, (Toolkit for counselors) and http://www.going-to-college.org/.

There is a wonderful chapter in Colleges That Change Lives titled, "Today's 'Learning Disabled' will be Tomorrow's Gifted and the SATs Obsolescence" that captures the spirit of working with students with learning differences.  I recommend the book and particularly that chapter to all school counselors.  A few other books that are also useful resources are Princeton Review's The K & W Guide for Students with Learning Disabilities,Wintergreen Orchard House's The College Sourcebook for Students with Learning & Developmental Differences and Peterson's Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or AD/HD.

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SATs and ACTs

The SAT and ACT scores are sometimes the barriers that make a difference in acceptance or rejection in the college process.  Students have to understand that while the tests are certainly not the only measure for admission, they are important, and very important to some colleges. 

Although students register for the SATs and ACTs on their own for the most part, some students are not as sophisticated as we would hope and never get around to taking a test in their junior year.  It's always a surprise when I review my Naviance reports and see that an incoming senior has not yet taken the SATs or ACTs.  That makes for a bit of a scramble in September.  I'm not sure how to resolve this problem except to often include the SAT and ACT registration dates in my Naviance emails to students and parents and to keep stressing the importance of most students taking the tests at least twice.  When speaking with college admissions officers, I am now told that more students are taking the SATs/ACTs three times.  Apparently taking the test three times is becoming a new norm.

Which test is better?  Easier?  More fun?  Can't help you there.  As for which test is better for which student, there are many explanations about this topic.  A simple explanation can be found athttp://www.gocollege.com/admissions/preparing/tests/.  I think the best plan is for a student to take both tests as a junior and then repeat the test he or she found the most comfortable and produced the highest score.  A comparison of the SAT and ACT scores can be found at 
http://professionals.collegeboard.com/profdownload/act-sat-concordance-tables.pdf

Improving the SAT and ACT scores can be a challenge. Some students are able to simply use the free practice materials provided by College Board and ACT but many need additional practice.  Many good practice books for the SATs and ACTs can be purchased in local bookstores but using them takes discipline.  There are some free online practice sites that may help.  Listed below are a few that I've reviewed:

http://sat.collegeboard.com/practice 
https://www.march2success.com/ 
http://www.freerice.com/ 
Princeton Review 
http://www.quia.com/jg/1527.html

For those students with strong grades but poor SAT/ACT scores, Fair Test provides a great list of colleges that accept a large number of students without submitting scores.  This can be a real lifesaver for students who have done everything right but just cannot hit those high scores on the SAT or ACT.  Some schools are SAT/ACT optional and leave it to the student to decide the best route to apply but schools like Sarah Lawrence College have completely removed standardized tests from the college admission process and evaluate the submitted essays.  Visit http://fairtest.org/university/optional  for a list of "Schools That Do Not Use SAT or ACT Scores for Admitting Substantial Numbers of Students Into Bachelor Degree Programs" but be sure to contact the college to determine exactly how this is done at the student's perspective college.

Always be sure to review your high school's "Free and Reduced Lunch" list to determine which of your students are eligible for SAT and ACT fee waivers.  Often economically disadvantaged students are not aware of this service and may miss out of the free SAT/ACT test.  Do not leave this responsibility to the student.

Other good SAT/ACT resources are:

http://www.compassprep.com/admissions_req_subjects.aspx (lists schools that require or recommend the SAT Subject tests) 
http://www.prepmatters.com/educational-counseling/compiled-college-admissions-requirements (lists SAT/ACT requirements for colleges)

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Financial Aid:

Giving advice about financial aid may seem intimidating for new school counselors but if you keep it simple and straightforward, you won’t get into trouble.  Obviously, just encouraging students to apply early for the FAFSA is big as it’s amazing how many file quite late.  Also, getting students and parents to verify if their prospective colleges require the CSS/Profile is quite important.  The CSS/Profile can slip through the cracks, particularly if there are only one or two schools on their potential list that require it.

Once you drive home the necessity of parents filing the FAFSA, and possibly the CSS/Profile, you will have accomplished much of your goal.  Encourage parents to apply even if they think they won't qualify as some potential loans are also based on the FAFSA process.

Some parents will need additional guidance for these tasks but if you are not comfortable in this area, direct them to College Goal Sunday, the Higher Education Student Assistance AuthorityFederal Student Aid and the financial aid officer of their favorite potential college.  A good article to refer parents to is How to Pick the Best College for You (and Your Wallet) by Zach Miners of US News.   It’s always good for a high school to offer a financial aid night but often the parents that need the information the most, do not attend.  You may have to find other ways to keep them informed.

Sometimes parents will ask, “How can my child get some of the scholarships that I hear are left unused each year?”  Although I haven’t found too many of them just lying around, it is possible to give parents some other options.  While most financial aid is provided through the FAFSA process, there are some things students can do to receive additional financial support.

  • Most academic scholarships are given to students with top grades and SAT/ACT scores so besides applying for them, there is not much more that can be done in this area. 
  • You can show students and parents how to use scholarship search websites but teach them to beware of scholarship scams.  It is best to avoid scholarships that require a processing fee.
  • Students and parents should explore the financial aid sites of their prospective colleges as some schools have specific scholarships that require an application.
  • Other scholarships are given to students with extensive volunteer activity, community service or leadership experience.  These scholarships do not necessarily require outstanding grades but, like the academic scholarships, it’s too late to begin building that aspect of the résumé in the junior year.
  • One scholarship type that is sometimes overlooked is the “essay scholarship.”  They are often avoided at all cost by the student but a strong writer can compete in this arena, even at a late date.  Have the student type “essay” in one of the many scholarship searches and more than enough will appear.
  • Another strategy to get a scholarship is for the student to apply to some colleges that are somewhat below their academic profile as some schools may be willing to offer a more lucrative package to encourage their acceptance.  An average applicant for some colleges may look like a high flyer to others,
  • Overview the meaning of the terms scholarships, grants, co-op, work-study, ROTC, loan programs and payment plans to give parents a taste of these programs but you don’t have to go into too much detail.  You can get brochure handouts for most of these options that describe them thoroughly.
  • I always encourage my students to apply to a New Jersey state college (public) as a financial “safety school,” much as they apply to academic “safety schools,” even if a state college is not on their original prospect list.  Sometimes though, a private school will actually be more financially accessible as they may provide more financial aid than the state college.  You never know until the financial aid package is received.
  • New Jersey state colleges and universities often have a class rank/SAT matrix for merit scholarships that will be easy to evaluate.  Have the student type in “merit scholarship” or “academic scholarship” on the NJ state college websites to find the matrix or have them call the Admissions Office for more information, as these scholarships are administered by Admissions, not Financial Aid.
  • Also encourage your students to check out some "state colleges" that are out of New Jersey as they often provide an excellent education at a reasonable price.  Virginia offers some amazing public colleges at very attractive prices for New Jersey students.
  • Do not forget to encourage students and their parents to explore our local community colleges.  You really cannot receive a better education for the price.

Once the student is accepted to a few colleges and a financial aid packages are offered, parents should contact the financial aid offices to discuss the package and the process.  Financial aid officers are happy to hear from students and parents as long as the conversation is positive and realistic.  Parents should understand that financial aid personnel want to be as generous as possible but they are the gatekeepers and must be able to verify that information provided is accurate.  Often information will be audited so parents must be sure they can support the data submitted on the FAFSA and CSS/Profile.  The source of college financial aid is federal, state and institutional.  A conversation with the financial aid office is the best way to ensure that all possibilities are explored.  Also, if there are unusual family financial circumstances or if there have been recent changes in the financial situation it is important to discuss this information with the financial aid officers.

If you are dealing with a student who is having difficulty understanding their college financial aid package or if you think the financial aid offered does not make sense for the student and if the parent is not able to handle the communication, don’t hesitate to call the financial aid office.  I always have the student present and put the financial aid officer on the speaker phone.  It’s amazing how much can be cleared up if you ask the right questions and if you are persistent.  Everyone really wants to help but sometimes it just a matter of failure to communicate.  At times, you will have to facilitate the communication.

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Calling Admission Offices

New school counselors are sometimes hesitant to call a college's admission office to get a direct answer but this is often the best way to clarify a sticky question.  Obviously most information can be gleaned from the college websites but there are times when you have to go to the source to be able to provide accurate information to your students. 

For example, if a student asks if it's okay to not take Spanish 3 the next year and replace it with a challenging social studies elective, you can provide the pros and cons of each option.  However, if the student is hoping to attend a specific college, it is best to make the call and discuss the situation with both the admission officer and student on a speaker phone.  Anytime a student has a question that pertains to a particular college, it is important to verify that the generally accepted answer applies to that college. 

Sometimes the answer can be quickly be resolved by speaking with the individual in the admission office who answers the phone.  Sometimes it is necessary to push beyond that person and speak directly with an admission officer.  Individuals answering phones in admissions offices may be experienced staff who really understand how things work but sometimes the phones are manned by students who know some things but are not experts.  You will have to judge the seriousness of your question and the quality of the response to decide if you have to request going to the next level of authority.

Admission officers actually enjoy speaking with school counselors when they're not buried in applications.  Remember, they have very busy times and somewhat slower periods, so please be patient with them in December, January and February.  Sometimes, if the question is not too nuanced, an email can be just as effective and easier for an admission office to handle.

Interesting questions to ask during a slow time are "how do you look at each part of the application during the review?" and "does one part of the application count more than another?"  Admission officers have the same goal as school counselors, to make the best match between student and college.  The more you understand about a college, the better you can assist in that process.  The more accurate the information you have about a college, the better you can counsel your students.

Also, there are limits to what school counselors can comfortably write in a recommendation letter so if there is something that you would like the college to know or something about a student that needs clarification or discussion, be sure to reach out to the admission office and speak directly with the admission professionals.  They are our allies in this very challenging task of helping match students with colleges.

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Support services for economically disadvantaged students

Students who are economically disadvantaged experience many challenges in school and when planning for the future.  At times, parental expectations do not include academic success or the anticipation of education after high school.  Lack of family support in these areas can discourage students from achieving in high school and/or exploring post secondary school options.  Actually, students in this population may be teaching their parents about the process so information provided to the students may ultimately influence parental support.

One roadblock that school counselors can help overcome is the cost of SATs, ACTs and college application fees.  By determining which students are enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program, counselors can identify those who need extra help in funding these activities.  College Board and ACT both provide fee waivers for a limited number of tests.  Students who use a fee waiver for the SATs can then apply to up to four colleges using the College Board College Application Fee Waiver.  Another option is to use the NACAC Application Fee Waiver Form.  While not all schools accept the application fee waiver requests, most do.  Also, a letter from the school counselor requesting a fee waiver is often honored by colleges.  The key is identifying the students who qualify for these resources and encouraging them to use them.  Oh, and by the way, keep checking with the kids to be sure they've registered as you may have to set them up on a school computer to get the job done.  This also applies to online college applications and the FAFSA.  Both may require your hands-on supervision and assistance.  And yes, there are times you will have to help a student post his or her FAFSA information.  It's a bit of a challenge, but it can be done.  Don't forget that College Goal Sunday provides help for parents completing the FAFSA.

Some wonderful programs like PUPPQuestBridgeGear Up , Young Scholars’ InstituteCitizen Schools and Upward Bound offer terrific opportunities for economically disadvantaged students.  Check your local area for similar programs, as there are many organizations throughout New Jersey providing assistance to students with economic needs.  Search the National College Access Program Directory for other New Jersey support programs.  Students may not be aware of any of these programs so it is imperative that school counselors proactively provide this information.  Becoming knowledgeable about Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) programs is also important as colleges offer special assistance and support to New Jersey students with economic and academic deficiencies.  

A challenging aspect when working with economically disadvantaged students is that they sometimes lack the academic motivation and direction we would like to see.  There are many programs and resources that can help in this area.  ASCA's Position Statement, "The Professional School Counselor and Dropout Prevention/Students-At-Risk" provides clear direction for identifying and intervening with students who are at risk through a comprehensive K-12 school counseling program.  NACAC offers FCCT (Families, Counselors, and Communities Together), resources and PowerPoint “essentials” for parents of underrepresented students to increase knowledge about college readiness and the process. 

If looking for some inspiring stories, and we all need inspiring stories, visit the Opportunity Scholars Blog where ten students who beat the odds and overcame a difficult background, blog about their road to success. Pathways to College is a great site designed to assist with providing college opportunity for underserved students through research-based policies and resources.  The College Readiness for All Toolbox is a systematic planning guide to create a college ready culture, enhance expectations and implement positive changes in a school.  If working with undocumented students, be sure to read America's Children, a supplement of The Journal of College Admission from NACAC.  The IES What Works Clearinghouse provides practice guides to help improve student achievement, navigate a path to college, provide dropout prevention and assist in other critical areas.  Another useful resource is the College Preparation Checklist, offering a college readiness plan for students from elementary school through high school.

To take action in a larger venue, visit the NACAC Legislative section, highlighting the Pathways to College Act.  The act is designed to support funding for college counseling while focusing on the school counselor's role in student achievement.

While assisting economically disadvantaged students achieve their full potential is a daunting task, it is an imperative one.  By making students aware of financial resources and special support opportunities and by developing a college readiness culture in school for these students, their road to success will be much smoother.

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College Board Support

While we think of College Board as the organization that provides us with the SAT and AP exams, they do offer resources that are very beneficial to our school counseling programs.  One of my favorites is the College Board National Office for School Counselor Advocacy.  Their goal is "To promote the value of school counselors as leaders in school reform, student achievement and college readiness."

Pat Martin, NOSCA's Assistant Vice President, is a strong advocate for school counselors and her office provides wonderful resources for our profession.   Some of the best support and advocacy information for school counselors are developed through NOSCA.  When dealing with an administration or board of education that is not supportive of a comprehensive school counseling program, this is a great resource to get the latest research on why school counseling programs are important and necessary.

Currently NOSCA is developing an initiative to help school counselors in urban school districts and a toolkit to help principals and school counselors work together more effectively.

Another good College Board site is The Counseling Profession where resources are provided for:

I encourage you to become familiar with both the College Board National Office for School Counselor Advocacy and the College Board "Counseling Profession." Both these resources are invaluable for today's professional school counselor.

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National Collegiate Athletic Association

It is important for new high school counselors to quickly come up to speed with the National Collegiate Athletic Association requirements for student athletes.  Students assume they will get good guidance in this area and the topic is rarely covered in graduate school programs.

If you go to http://eligibilitycenter.org/ you will see NCAA New High School Portal.  Click on the "STUDENTS and PARENTS" for both before and after the spring and fall of 2010 and become familiar with both areas.  The post-fall 2010 option is pretty high tech so be patient at first.  It will literally talk you through the student responsibilities and provide resources for both students and parents.  Be sure to click on the "Resources" pen on the desktop as well as the tabs across the top of the page.  You may have to show your students how to register by clicking on the phone on the left or the "New Account" login in the top right. 

A terrific resource for school counselors is the NCAA Eligibility Center High School Newsletter.  You'll receive a monthly e-newsletter, giving you the latest info on athletic eligibility.  To register for the monthly NCAA newsletter forhigh school counselors email mailto:ec-clientrelations@NCAA.org with "subscribe" in the subject line.  Provide your name, position and your school's name in the body of the email.

You can also view a 60 minute webinar, "NCAA Eligibility Center 101," through NACAC's online training.  Go to http://www.nacacnet.org/events/Webinars/Pages/default.aspx for more information.  

Another organization that may prove to be helpful is the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), which provides information and resources for athletes participating in two-year colleges.  In addition to giving eligibility guidelines, they provide a basic search engine of two-year colleges by sport and state, so high school athletes can search for schools that may meet their needs.

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E-lists, Listservs, Blogs & Groupsites:

A great way to keep up with the latest happenings in school counseling is to belong to some e-lists, listservs and groupsites.  There are times when you will have a question or problem that cannot be resolved by speaking with your peers or searching on the web.  The advantage of listservs and groupsites is that school counselors can receive information from school counselors throughout the world and post questions that need an expertise not found locally.  Listservs and groupsites are easy to join and provide a wealth of information.

Another great listserv that I mentioned in past blog posts is the NACAC Exchange Listserv.  Be sure to join.  You can setup your Exchange registration here.

While not a listserv, NJSCA SCENE is a Groupsite that works in a similar manner.  Since you are reading this, you are already a member but perhaps you can forward this info to others and encourage them to join. https://njsca.groupsite.com/join

The ASCA SCENE is also a wonderful resource.  Visit http://schoolcounselor.groupsite.com/ and explore the discussions and file cabinet.  It's similar to NJSCA SCENE but with more members and focused on the national scene.

If you have another favorite listserv for school counselors, please post information about it here by leaving a comment.  Thank you.

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Newspaper and Magazine Resources

Keeping up with what's happening around the country in college admissions may seem challenging, but it's not.  If you subscribe to High School Counselor Week you will receive "weekly stories, facts, trends and other information from around the country."  Gene Kalb scours the web looking for topical stories for high school counselors.  Last week's edition covered stories and articles under the general topics of College - Larger Picture, College Admissions Process/Strategies, Social Media, Student Loans, FinAid, SATs & ACTs, Roommates, Going Away, Senioritis, Paying and the Northeast.  Each subtopic provides short summaries and links to the complete articles.  It's a perfect way to overview what is happening and then read what interests you.  The newsletters are even targeted to specific regions of the country so you can subscribe to the Northeast edition.   If you use Naviance and like to send email copies of pertinent newspaper articles to your students and their parents, this is a great way to have them delivered to your email inbox.  Just visit http://hscounselorweek.com/ and register for your weekly online newsletter.  

If you are a real college counseling news junkie, you can get daily updates of news articles by subscribing to a Google Alert.  Just go to http://www.google.com/alerts, set the Type to "news" (for just news articles) or "comprehensive" (for news, blogs, web & video), type in "college admissions" in the "Search terms" text box and create a daily alert sent to your email address.  Google will send one email each day with links to newspaper articles from throughout the world.  It is not as refined as High School Counselor Week, but you will know what is happening on a daily basis.

Another wonderful newspaper resource is the New York Times' "The Choice, Demystifying College Admissions and Aid."  Jacques Steinberg, NYT's education writer and author of The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College, heads up a team of contributors who explore all aspects of the college admissions process.  The articles (blogs?) are directed to the general population but provide amazing insight into the process.  A good example of the information provided can be found athttp://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2010-admissions-tally/, a sampling of admissions data from some highly selective public and private colleges.  Visit http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/ for the latest contributions to The Choice.  Scroll down, as there are a number of articles posted for the last week or so. You'll want to check back often to read The Choice, as it's well worth your time.

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Lesson Plans

For my final blog post of the year, I'm tackling lesson plans for high school counselors.  As part of a comprehensive school counseling program, we should be out of our offices and in the classrooms.  Once we get there, what do we say?  There are many resources available to make our presentations professional and pertinent, some college planning related, and some covering other important topics.  

NACAC's "Guiding the Way to Higher Education" series provides a complete Middle School CurriculumGrades 9-10 Curriculum and Grades 11-12 Curriculum with activities and handouts and letters to parents, certificates for students and even evaluation forms.  It's a complete package that makes it easy to hit the classroom and create the path to college exploration and decision making for all students.  If you prefer a textbook, another excellent college planning curriculum is the new edition of the ABC'S of College Planning from our good friends at NJACAC.  A resource you can provide to your intermediate and middle school coworkers is Believing the College Dream, which helps 4th through 8th grade students understand the college preparation experience.

Other good school counseling curriculums can be found at:

While the focus of this blog has been college planning, developing a good curriculum for teacher advisory programs is an important responsibility of high school counselors.  School counselors should be at the vanguard establishing teacher advisory program in their high school and resources are readily available.  Marjorie Cobin, a coworker, developed the following list for our "Cardinal Time" teacher advisory program development committee.

 

I hope this blog has been helpful for new high school counselors.  To make it easier to access, I've posted it on the NJSCA website at http://njsca.org/advising-students-college-exploration.  While visitors won't be able to leave comments or add suggestions on the NJSCA website as they can on NJSCA SCENE, it may be a useful resource for new high school counselors and students in school counseling graduate programs.  Thank you for your time and interest.  If you have questions, suggestions or find broken links, please contact me at mfmcgrath@gmail.com.