38 Minutes

Making the most of your time with your college counselor

GUEST COLUMN | By Betsy Peters

scoreboard football CREDIT EverbriteOfficial playing time for an NFL game is 60 minutes. In the NBA, official playing time is just 48 minutes. Yet according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, high school students on average only receive 38 minutes of one-on-one time with a guidance counselor to talk about college. Let me say that another way. Our high school students receive less one-on-one coaching times for navigating college than it takes to play a football game. Those 38 minutes of college counseling cover vital decisions about how to select and get into college, and also how to finance it. When you think about those numbers, it’s a testament to the effectiveness of all involved – students, parents and counselors – that most applications, transcripts, test scores, FAFSAs, and teacher recommendations get sent in, on time. (And there’s probably no chips and salsa in the process either.)

This is part of a broader landscape as communities and school boards continue to wrestle how to spend in-classroom dollars. The realm of the guidance office grows while the budget to support it shrinks. Guidance professionals in our high schools have been forced to become the Swiss Army Knife of education, with duties ranging from counseling grieving students, spearheading anti-bullying campaigns, and implementing the increasingly rigorous standardized testing schedule.

This trend shows no signs of abating. As a result, preparing students for post-secondary life – a choice that can make a $1,000,000 difference in the lifetime earnings of a student – can often become an also-ran.

College admission has become more complex over the past ten years. It’s more than just getting in, but graduating too. Consider this: One out of three students will either transfer or drop out after their first year of college. On average it takes 6 years, not 4 to attain a bachelor’s degree in the U.S.

As things in college counseling evolve, the best action that students and the adults who support them can take in the face of these circumstances is to be as prepared as possible for the one-on-one time they do get with a guidance professional.

Technology is helping schools and families find the right fit

The good news is that today’s college bound students have more college information at their fingertips than the most seasoned veteran college counselor did just some 15 years ago. We know more about the social and academic quality of campus life at institutions of US higher learning than we ever have before. So much in fact, that families can feel overwhelmed with choices and lack real direction. This is where personal forecasting tools can give students, parents and guidance professionals an advantage.

What was once a massive tome of college statistics and demographics is now web-based? The beauty of this new technology is that not only is this data now minutely searchable, it is also easy to personalize. Every statistic about a specific college can be sorted, trimmed and matched to a student’s quantitative academic results and qualitative preferences. The best sites out there will also help to sort signal from noise + recommend which schools could make a great match. Something like a Pandora for college selection.

Data visualizations are making it easier to determine which schools are in range and which schools are likely more of a stretch. Often something as simple as demonstrating the chances of getting in and getting aid on a heat map can convince a struggling student that there are plenty of great educational opportunities within reach. Student data can be bumped up against college admission information to yield if/then scenarios like…”if I took the SAT again and raised my score by 200 points, would it really improve my chances at my target schools?”

Understanding individual chances of admission are important. But unfortunately, like most things in life, this choice often boils down to money. What is the right opportunity based on what a family can afford? Search engines use institutional and government statistics on grant aid to bring the student’s attention toward schools.

they can reasonably expect to help out financially. Calculators and shopping sheets help convert confusing offer packages into apples to apples comparisons and add in hidden costs like travel to and from school.

These are intensely personal discussions and decisions that families must make – and having personal forecasting tools helps to foster better questions for the guidance office or, for personal financial advisors.

Project management for the application process

A well-designed search takes a lot of organization – the average application process requires even more. Once the student has narrowed the list from 4,000 to something more like 6-9 colleges, there are applications and essays to draft and refine, teacher recommendations to prompt and manage, and transcripts to deliver. All on serious deadlines. There are a lot of ducks to get in a row and other stakeholders to organize. New web-based solutions help schools and families track upcoming deadlines and make sure the student is progressing and has everything they need to move forward. They can even send the student and parent reminders via e-mail or text. With the right solution, everyone involved can see just what the student sees so they can stay on the same page and on track.

Improving the odds through personalized tools

Aside from perhaps a home, a college education will be the most important purchase in a student’s life. Technology has revolutionized how we shop for homes and in doing so, the role of the real estate agent. Similar changes are afoot in the realm of college admission guidance. Schools that integrate technological tools into their college counseling programs bring their students and guidance professionals a distinct advantage. There are solutions to streamline everything from financial aid and unearthing the diamonds in the rough, to making sure that the teacher recommendations submitted are personalized and on time.

So while some things may never change – students waiting until midnight when applications are due to file, or drafting an admissions essay while watching an NFL game, the ecosystem that includes student, parent and school advisors can lean on the latest technology to make the most of time and money to provide students the best counsel available for this major life decision.

Betsy Peters is the CEO of PossibilityU, an educational technology company dedicated to democratizing college access and success through personalization, context and transparency. Write to: betsy.peters@cambiumenterprises.com   

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