For some, going to college is merely a stepping stone on the road to a bigger goal, one that includes a clear career path and the means to achieving long-held dreams. Yet even for this privileged group of students, the high school-to-college transition is filled with insecurity and uncertainty. Add the extenuating circumstances that often plague low-income and minority communities, and it’s easy to understand how for some, the route to college or a career is wrought with obstacles.
Making matters worse is the huge deficit of qualified counselors currently burdening the public school system. Without proper guidance, students cannot learn about the path to become the next generation of productive workers, leaders and citizens. At a time when college applications are more complex, tuition is more expensive and degrees are more in demand by employers, for many students, the options are no longer black and white. While some seek guidance in options for higher education, many are faced with the decision of continuing education or joining the workforce. To navigate these critical life choices, students need guidance now more than ever.
Broadening Economic Inequity
The average American school now has one guidance counselor for every 500 students. In some places, this jumps to nearly 1,000 kids for every counselor, and in the worst cases, there are none at all, according to Here and Now.1
Students in disadvantaged neighborhoods are among the most severely affected by this shortage, and the guidance counselors are largely focused on counseling students in crisis, versus helping students decide on a career path or what colleges they should apply to. Unlike in wealthier communities, where students often have at least some guidance from parents, many low-income students lack support from family and peers. Without a school counselor, they have nowhere to turn for such advice.
Reduced Educational Engagement
Without a path to follow, students find themselves not only lost but largely disinterested in education. Without guidance to show how their studies connect to the real world, students tend to feel as though they are not heading anywhere and there is nothing to be achieved. According to The Atlantic, public school students receive an average of 38 minutes of college admissions advice from their guidance counselors — a tiny percentage of the time needed to navigate a process that is challenging for even the most highly educated families.2 The result: a strained system in which many students either never go to college or worse, fail to complete high school.
Post-High School Prep
This lack of counseling prevents students from fully understanding the demands and payoffs of college. Students have an even harder time learning about available financial aid and how to apply for it, and the process often becomes too overwhelming to follow through with. Some students don’t even consider applying for college because they underestimate their potential for acceptance.
Of the lucky few who do move onto higher education, many end up at institutions that aren’t suited for the career field they want to pursue. Here and Now states that 60 to 80 percent of students are drifting through four years of classes with no direction.2 The high school focus on merely getting students to graduation is not setting students up for college success.
With a shortage of qualified guidance counselors, every teacher must act as a mentor. Often-overwhelemed instructors have plenty on their plates, but we should approach this problem creatively and come up with additional solutions to this issue. Bringing in college enrollment officers as class speakers or reaching out to retirees or volunteers who can offer career guidance are a couple low-cost options.
In a perfect world, every student should have a college counselor with enough bandwidth to cater to each student’s specific needs. Our students deserve someone who is not only familiar with college enrollment specifics, but also equipped to support them with options when going to college is not an option.