Guest Opinion: College counseling system isn't working for anyone | January 23, 2008 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - January 23, 2008

Guest Opinion: College counseling system isn't working for anyone

by Chloe Zelkha

I'm a senior at Gunn and I read the recent article about college counselors (Weekly, Jan. 11). It was really interesting, especially the perspectives from graduates.

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Chloe Zelkha recently applied to 12 colleges, mostly liberal arts schools on the East Coast. She can be e-mailed at


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Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 22, 2008 at 7:14 pm

"But the current system doesn't seem to be working for anyone, kids or counselors."

No kidding!

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Posted by David Cohen
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 22, 2008 at 9:08 pm

Teacher advisors at Paly are compensated for their work. Advisory duties are counted as one class in the teacher's contract. Thank you, Chloe, for not expecting teachers to take on extra work without pay.

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Posted by =)
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 23, 2008 at 8:33 pm

I think the great thing about the Teacher Adviser program is that it pretty much eliminates all the troubles mentioned here. I think the schedule-makers try to put students in at least one class with their adviser, so that there is some personal connection. That isn't always possible, but I know of at least one class made up almost completely of a certain teacher's advisees.
I don't have to worry about not being able to contact my TA-- I can send an email or drop by whenever I have an issue. It's really nice, because each TA is only responsible for 30 or so recommendations each fall, rather than hundreds. My TA is wonderful-- each student has his or her own file with all the pertinent information in it. When rec season comes around, it's just a matter of remembering the details of each achievement, rather than trying to remember the student.
I was actually unaware that Gunn didn't use the TA program. I don't know what the objections are, but perhaps it could be implemented?

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Posted by Paly mom
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2008 at 10:01 am

I think the district needs to revamp the counseling program for both high schools. It doesn't sound like Gunn's system works very well, but Paly's advisory system doesn't work very well either. It seems to depend a lot on who one's advisor is, but many of the teachers don't do much in the advisory in terms of teaching students about college options and the whole college application process. I think many in our district assume that the majority of families will pay a private college counselor to guide their kids through that process. Since not all families can afford pricey college counselors who charge over $100 an hour, the school needs to make sure that all students get the assistance they need.
I was surprised to hear that the advisory takes the place of a class in the teacher's schedule. While I'm sure some teachers take the advisory seriously, some advisors don't even meet with students every week, and some let them leave early. (My son's girlfriend only met with her advisor twice first semester.) Perhaps more administrative oversight is needed.
My recommmendation would be for the district to replace the advisory system in both schools with several experienced guidance counselors. In addition to advising students about their schedules and grades, they would assist students in making decisions about colleges and careers. They would also be the contact people when the student is having academic or social problems. (In the current system, many parents say that it is unclear who one is supposed to communicate with.) This system works well in some of the other high schools in the area; maybe PAUSD should consider a different model.

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Posted by Student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 3, 2008 at 9:04 pm

It would be interesting to look for any difference in the admissions rates for Paly and Gunn High school students, given that the systems in use are so different. I know this doesn't take into account any emotional distress and such which fellow students such as Chloe Zelkha seem to feel, but it would be nice to have that as a starting point statistic before making any changes. Frankly, I would be surprised if any serious student (can't comment on parents) would prefer a non-pressurized counseling environment if it turned out that it was not effective in accomplishing its task of helping students get into college. I would suspect that Paly and Gunn show very similar admission rates as well as very similar student populations. If this is the case, there is little to convince me that the system "isn't working for anyone," in terms of the undeniable main purpose for its existence. The way I see it, application season is inherently a pretty painful time, regardless of the degree of counselor hand-holding.

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