6 Ways School Counselors Can Help More Students Achieve Admissions Success

Young teacher helping group of students on devices.

As a school counselor, it can be difficult enough to help even a single student successfully navigate the admissions process for postsecondary education. Helping a school full of students to search, choose, apply to, and get accepted into the right college or trade school, then, can be nearly impossible without a good strategy. Add in the financing aspect — finding and applying for scholarships and other opportunities — and it’s clear that you’ve got your work cut out for you.

The good news, though, is that by using an effective strategy, you can help all your students who choose to take part in the process to find and get into the school that’s right for them.

At Harris School Solutions, we’ve found over the past 30 years that the successful Admissions Process strategy consists of 6 key points.

1. Empower each student to drive the search and application process.

This one is at the top of the list for a reason. The first thing an effective school counselor needs to do is to hand each student the keys to her own future. Now, that doesn’t mean explaining what needs to be done and then walking away. But you also can’t be the one pushing the student through each step of the process.

Instead, let your students take accountability for accomplishing all the necessary tasks while you steer them in the right direction, answer questions as needed, and support their efforts with encouragement. By taking this type of supervisory role, you’ll have time to help more students achieve success.

2. Help students find internal motivation.

Some students — not a ton, but some of them — have a decent idea about what they want to do. But the students who are unsure are the ones who are going to have a more difficult time with the Admissions Process. The reason is two-fold.

First, the less of an idea a student has about what sort of career she wants to pursue, the less able she’ll be to sort through schools and programs. Where would that student even begin? If you know you want to be an engineer, for example, you would try to find the schools with the best Engineering programs. On the other hand, without knowing what to look for in a postsecondary program, you won’t be able to narrow the search.

Second, if a student doesn’t know what she wants to pursue, it means she doesn’t know what she’s passionate about. Without passion, it can be difficult for the student to stay motivated enough on her own to complete each step of the Admissions Process.

So, begin by helping your students gain a sense — even if only a preliminary sense — of what sort of career may bring a sense of fulfillment by uncovering what the student is passionate about.

3. Provide the tools.

Once the student has a sense of the type of program to look for, the next step is to give the student the tools to begin the process. Like Steps 1 and 2, this will further empower the student to take control of the process instead of relying too heavily on you, the school counselor.

For your part, it can help to create a detailed list of resources that students can use at each step of the process. That way, once the student knows which field of study to pursue, for example, you can look at your list of resources and immediately know to hand over that giant book of colleges that sorts each school by the strength of its individual programs. Then the student will be empowered to choose some schools based on which ones have the top programs in a given field of study.

That’s one example, but if you go through each phase of the process and compile a list of resources for each step, you’ll save yourself the time of having to think through and track down helpful resources every time a student comes into your office.

4. Work with parents.

As important as it is to empower the students and provide them the tools and supervision they need, it’s equally important to get the parents involved. Think of the parents as your teammates. If your team is hundreds or thousands of parents strong, you can create positive outcomes for more students than if it’s just you working alone to help those students.

Whether you send out a letter to all the parents or invite them in for a large group meeting, it’s important to communicate to them much of what you’re communicating to the students. Let them know about the tools available, explain how the process works, and convey to them the important effect their assistance can have on their child’s future success.

5. Include follow-ups.

When you’re reassessing and re-tooling your process for helping students find and apply to postsecondary schools and programs, be cognizant of the fact that some students will require more follow-ups from you, their school counselor, than will others. So, rather than keeping a list of all the students with whom you’re working, running through the list every day, and trying to reach out to each one as quickly as possible, make sure your students know from the start that while you’re there to help as much as you possibly can, at the end of the day it’s up to each student to come to you.

Don’t be mistaken, though: this doesn’t mean that they should come to you only when they get stuck on one of the steps of the Admissions Process. Instead, let them know that you expect them to come to you after each phase of the process, whether they had trouble with it or not. Keep in mind that this is all new to the students, so sometimes they may think they’ve completed a step correctly when in fact they may have made an error somewhere along the way. That’s where you come in. Be sure to review each step — even for the students you don’t think you need to worry about — and either confirm that the student can move on to the next step or else point out where an error was made and explain to the student how to fix it.

6. Build on each success.

They say we learn more from our peers than we ever do from our parents, teachers, or other authority figures. Whether that’s true or not, why not enlist even more help from last year’s students? These young women and men have just successfully navigated the Admissions Process. It’s fresh in their minds. And, they have the added advantage of “speaking the same language,” so to speak, as your current students.

If one of your current students is interested in a particular school or program, and you have a former student who applied there, reach out to your former student and put her in touch with your current student. Or, have your current student reach out.

The ways in which your current student can benefit from this are innumerable. Maybe your current student looks up to that former student. Maybe she just feels more comfortable being open and honest with a fellow millennial. Plus, your former students may feel proud that you thought enough of them to solicit their input, making it more likely that they’ll help.

Either way, you put your time and energy into helping those former students, so why not at least try to recruit them to your team just like you did with the parents?


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