College counselors hurtful, Gunn grads say
Original post made
on Jan 10, 2008
Their college counselors were unhelpful and discouraging, two former Gunn High School students told the school board and Superintendent Kevin Skelly Tuesday night.
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posted Thursday, January 10, 2008, 12:54 PM
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Posted by Carolyn Lawrence
a resident of another community
on Jan 13, 2008 at 3:32 pm
As someone who has been both a private college counselor and a school college counselor, several comments in the article and here strike home with me.
First, I believe that no parent should rely solely on someone else to help their students through the college admissions process. That goes for BOTH independent counselors AND school counselors. Parents know their children best, and they are almost always are also their best guides through the process. Am involved parent who is willing to educate themselves fully about today's college admissions environment is better than any counselor, be it school OR private.
Contrary to popular opinion, this is NOT rocket-science, folks. Anyone who is willing to do research, to really look at their child's strengths AND weaknesses, and invest some time into the process, can insure that their child ends up at the right college. This was true 30+ years ago when my mother, who had never attended college herself, helped me through the process, and it is true now as well. So, folks, if you are unhappy with the counseling at your school, don't immediately rush to hire a private counselor -- get yourself educated about what it takes to get into various colleges, what the median grades and test scores of admitted students are, and help your child make realistic choices.
Second, don't assume that hiring an independent counselor is going to automatically give your child an "edge." While there are many wonderful, experienced independent counselors, there are many people these days hanging up a counselor shingle who don't know any more than the average person on the street about college admissions. So, buyer beware. (For reliable independents, do a google search for the Higher Education Consultants Association or the Independent Educational Consultants Association, both of which have standards for the experience and education of their members).
Third, while it is true that many school counselors have heavy caseloads and many responsibilities unrelated to college counseling, I have found the vast majority of school counselors to be good people who sincerely want to help. School counselors have some advantages that independent counselors do not have. For one thing, they have knowledge about the high school's prior admissions records at various colleges (independents only have partial knowledge in most cases), and they are the only ones who can write recommendations for students (independents can't) and contact admissions people on a student's behalf (independents shouldn't). School counselor knowlege of the school's previous placement history means that they can be a better judge of whether a particular student's college application list is reasonable and realistic, based on past admissions and rejections. School counselor's ability to advocate for students is another reason why no student (or parent) should ignore their counselor or wait for them to seek them out. As someone noted above: it is YOUR responsiblity as a student to ask for more attention if you need it. True, some counselors are very busy, but if you have a parent who is giving you help and advice at home, you do your own research as well, you should not really need tons of time with a school counselor to apply to and get into college. (On the other hand, students who do not have parents to help need to be extra dilligent about getting to know their counselor and seeking out advice from teachers as well)
Think of it this way: If you were a busy school counselor with a caseload of several hundred students, wouldn't you be more likely to help the student who has consistently made an effort to get to know you, to seek out your advice on other things, and to THANK YOU for the help you do provide. They can be your best advocate if you work with them, but approach them right off the bat with an adversarial attitude, and you won't get much help at all.
Finally, and most importantly, it is important for students and parents to maintain some perspective on college admissions. This is where educating yourself and your child is so important. Someone who is fully aware of the admissions statistics for a particular school and knows that their grades and test scores are outside of the medians for students who are admitted shouldn't feel insulted if a counselor - independent or school - tells them what they already know: some colleges and universities have become very selective in the past five years and ANY weakness on the applicant's part - be it grades, test scores, personal characteristics, extracurriculars - can reduce one's chances significantly.
As a counselor, both a school counselor and an independent counselor, it is my responsibility to make sure that my students are fully informed about their chances. That may mean sometimes telling students and parents what they don't want to hear. But, if I am not honest, I can't help students find colleges where they do have a great chance of admission, and EVERY student needs at least some colleges on their list where their chances of admission are very good. That doesn't mean that you can't add a few "reach" schools in the mix, but you need to have the solid foundation to your list in place first.
Additionally, no one should be insulted if a counselor mentions schools you have never heard of -- they are simply encouraging you to look beyond the obvious choices like the UC's and the Cal States. I find that Californian students and parents are the most parochial college consumers of any part of the country. They don't want to look beyond those UC's and Cal States. They deem anything else as inferior. While the UC's and Cal States are great, it really is a shame to stop with them because there are over 2,600 four year colleges and universities in the U.S., and so many wonderful options to choose from if you keep an open mind and do your research. By the way, none of the UCs or Cal States meet the full financial need of 100% of their students -- in many cases, you will pay LESS or at least end up with less LOANS if you attend a private university, and I'm not talking just about Stanford, Harvard, and Yale and the other "designer label" schools folks in California seem so fixated on. Check out Oberlin, Grinnell, Lawrence U, Rice U, Trinity U, Southwestern College, Beloit College, Hobart & William Smith, Fordham, Rhodes College, University of Rochester, Reed, Northeastern, Villanova and many, many others for starters. These may not be names you've heard of, but they are all excellent colleges that will give any UC and Cal State a run for their money in terms of giving you a good education. The key is: focus on finding the best match for your child, not the best known name.
But, the bottomline -- when your counselor tells your child that perhaps they should add a few "safe bet" schools to their college list DO NOT think that they don't have confidence in your child, or are saying your child is a bad student. They are merely trying to get your child to add some safer options to your list. Again, given the admissions landscape of the most selective colleges these days, that is good advice, not bad.
A bad counselor is the one who tells a student: You can get into any school you apply to. The truth these days is: NO student, even one with straight A's and 2400 SAT scores is guaranteed of being admitted anywhere. Flying without a safety net of good schools where your chances are high of being admitted is foolhardy. Sure, take a chance on those highly competitive schools, but don't expect miracles. Miracles in college admissions at the nation's most selective schools are few and far between these days. If you're going to play with the big boys, make sure you fly with a safety net, and you will sleep a lot better at night while waiting for your college results.
So, listen carefully when your counselor - whether private or school - tells you that you need to maybe consider a few safer bets. They're not saying you aren't good enough, they're just telling you that you need a safety net. That is the best advice any counselor can give, and you should thank them for it.
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