College Advising from School Counselors’ Points of View
In the United States, the school counselor-to-student ratio is close to 500:1. Because counselors are in such high demand and handle much more than just college advising, they are faced with challenges that make it difficult to fully work with each student who seeks college advising assistance. School counselors report that some of the challenges underserved schools face are:
- Serving low-income, first-generation students who possess a great need due to their current circumstances.
- Balancing time needed to assist seniors with college research, applications, maneuvering the Common App, and applying for financial aid and scholarships in addition to meeting with students in grades 9-11.
- Keeping track of admissions requirements, deadlines, and the multitude of other information that comes with helping students apply for and prepare for college.
- Finding time to give the necessary attention that is needed to the college advisement process.
To address this issue, College Advising Corps adds near-peer advisers to high schools to work alongside school counselors to serve more students. Advisers work in collaboration with school counselors, teachers, and administrators to assist students with the post-secondary application and enrollment process including college applications, test registration, financial aid, and scholarships. Advisers supplement, not replace, the work of school counselors. College Advising Corps program directors and advisers work in partnership with schools, communities, and families to provide greater access to college for underserved students.
In the below Q&A, three school counselors – Cynthia Carter, Kacy Ruklic, and Derrick Booth – discuss their work and how College Advising Corps advisers make their jobs easier and help send more students to college.
How do College Advising Corps advisers support your work?
Cynthia Carter, College and Career Counselor at Sam Houston High School (Arlington, Texas): Our CAC adviser is more
than an asset to my work – she is a necessity. There is no way on this earth, in this life or even in the after-life that I can reach and mentor all the students that need attention. Without my adviser, I would miss students who need college guidance. I appreciate my adviser because when I can’t follow up with students, she does. When I can’t call in students, she calls them in to ensure that they are on track and completing tasks. When there are not enough hours in the day to complete the tasks needed, the adviser assists with the necessary tasks needed to operate a college and career center and inform students, parents, and faculty/staff about needed college information.
Working with a College Advising Corps adviser is like a breath of air. My college adviser probably does more than the average adviser because she is needed so greatly. I depend on my college adviser as if she were a counselor in the district. She is my colleague that I trust to take care of the students often neglected by society. It is truly refreshing to work with someone who sees potential in students and nourishes that potential. I enjoy the fact that there is an additional person on campus who believes in students, motivates them, and tells them that they “can!”
Kacy Ruklic, School Counselor at Crete-Monee High School (Crete, Illinois): As a first-year counselor, I feel extremely spoiled. Tyler O’Donnell, an Illinois College Advising Corps adviser, has made me feel a little less like I’m neglecting my seniors because I know he is constantly meeting with them and assisting with their college needs. It’s been a stressful year, but knowing that he is dedicated to that exact purpose has taken a little weight off of my shoulders. I am trying to get to know the process as well as possible, and it has been extremely helpful to have a resident expert on hand to ask questions and be able to bounce ideas off of.
It’s no secret…we LOVE Mr. O’Donnell! I probably would not have my sanity in tact if it weren’t for him. He’s extremely flexible and always willing to take time for students when needed, sometimes totally unexpectedly. I feel that by having a really specific area of expertise helps us counselors out because we have someone who has an answer that we might not be sure about. Helping students get into college is such a huge undertaking, and it’s been amazing having someone with such strong skills giving all of us assistance.
Derrick Booth, Lead Counselor at Manual Academy (Peoria, Illinois): I have been fortunate to work with Ms. Symphoni Henry, an Illinois College Advising Corps adviser, this school year, and several ICAC advisers in past years. Each College Advising Corps adviser has become a part of the Manual family. I have seen first-hand their impact in assisting students to prepare for college. The advisers assist students with how to choose a college, organize college visits, and host representatives from colleges and universities from around the country. The advisers work not only with students, but entire families to educate everyone about the college process. The advisers are also playing a major role in improving the foundation of our communities and strengthening our economy by providing an educated workforce for society.
Having an adviser on-site working with students at the start of the school year makes a remarkable difference in getting students focused immediately on developing a plan to continue their education. Often, staff and counselors are overwhelmed with beginning of the year issues such as scheduling, class sizes, and the enrollment of new students that college preparation is not addressed soon enough. College Advising Corps advisers have been able to fill in the gaps and maintain the focus on students’ higher education plans from day one of the school year.
It has also been beneficial to have a college adviser to assist students in seeking out resources such as grants and scholarships. We have seen a drastic increase in the amount of scholarship dollars and grants that our students have earned as a result of having a college adviser for the past five years.
What advice would you give to College Advising Corps advisers on how to best collaborate with counselor?
Cynthia Carter: I would advise a new college adviser to sit down with the counselor and assess what is needed at the school. I would ask the adviser to listen to counselor’s needs and also to share the needs that he/she may have discovered. In addition, I would encourage the counselor and adviser to establish roles, responsibilities, and expectations. It would also be recommended for the counselor and adviser to meet often and plan for the year, and then follow up monthly.
Kacy Ruklic:While every counseling department is different, the first step is to know your counselors and be patient. There are two of us who are brand-new counselors this year, and we probably need a little extra help and ask way more questions. Tyler O’Donnell, our current adviser from the Illinois College Advising Corps, has been extremely helpful in educating us about the college process and making us feel more confident and capable in being able to assist students. Mr. O’Donnell has gotten very involved with the department as a whole and is always ready to volunteer and find ways that he can contribute to the department. It’s been great having someone who has really immersed himself into our school culture and doesn’t stay in a bubble. That is extremely important.
Derrick Booth: Communication is the best way to work well with counselors. It is a good practice to have weekly meetings to discuss updates, concerns, or upcoming events. I would recommend developing a relationship with counselors where you feel comfortable asking questions or asking for additional support when needed.