reports “In 2003—the most recent available data—Boston had 94 guidance counselors, a ratio of 1 counselor to every 664 students.” In education the student to teacher ratio is an important one. 40 to 1 gets most people upset. What about 664 to 1? This is the ratio of students to guidance counselor in Boston and the data is similarly alarming elsewhere. College guidance counseling is important work. Good guidance counseling can help students identify and realize life goals, choices, and careers that fit with who they are as people and their own potential. But many students never get a chance to meet with a guidance counselor to start this process? This is significant problem. Because there are on average hundreds and hundreds of students for every one school counselor and counselors have many more responsibilities than meeting with students one on one to advise them on the college application and selection process, one cannot expect the school counselor to devote more time to this since they are extremely busy. The obvious solution would be for the school to add more school counselors and bring the ratio down with doubling their counselors. This is still a high ratio and it is widely known that schools don’t have a lot of money to bring new staff on. So ultimately there is a need for innovation of how college guidance counseling is happening in schools. We have been researching, thinking about, and generating ideas for solutions to this problem. Here are some innovations we are proposing based on insight, research, and experience.
1) Utilize a system that allows people that are interested in guiding, advising, or mentoring high school students to do guidance counseling. Consider them pro-am college guidance counselors. These could be teachers, coaches, and other staff at a school or mentors in the community or other organizations. They may have interest or expertise in working with students but not necessarily counseling or college application and selection strategies.
2) Provide a way for school counselors to counsel more students on the college application process through a group format rather than individual one on one sessions. For instance instead of meeting with one student they can meet with three to five during that hour. Over the course of the year many more students will get the chance to have at least one meeting with a school counselor. Having other students present will also allow for a different kind of learning and allowing the students to help each other as well. The challenge here is that this is a different kind of counseling requiring different kinds of activities.
3) Institute a formal program or course in the school that all students should participate in and they can receive college guidance counseling through this course or program. Many pre-college programs provide guidance counseling through this strategy. Again, it is a new departure for schools requiring a curriculum, teacher knowledgeable in this, and formal time in the school day.
4) Provide a series of activities for students and parents to do the guidance counseling themselves. It is a do-it-yourself strategy. It is like going to a cafeteria where you do everything yourself including selecting the food, filling your own drink, bussing your own table vs. being waited on at a restaurant. This will require a series of activities that is effective in simplifying the process and engaging the students.

We have created the ThroughCollege system to help solve the problem of too many students, too few school counselors, and too important a process for one’s life. The system is designed to be used in these alternative ways to innovate the experience students’ have in preparing for college applications.

Author: Darin Eich, Ph.D.