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Monday, February 23, 2015
Guidance Counselors and College Admission
When I was in high school, I thought guidance counselors were there to steer students through the normal travails of high school. What classes to take. How to navigate social problems. Where to find a tutor. And though I vaguely recall them having college pamphlets on hand, I'm pretty sure college advising was only a small part of their role.
That has changed. And, as a recent NPR article points out, the socioeconomic divide between affluent and underserved schools is often best symbolized by the workload of the guidance counselor.
According to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), the recommended counselor to student ratio is 1:250. The average public high school guidance counselor oversees 471 students. As NPR notes, this is more than five times the number of students as most private high school guidance counselors.
Why does it matter?
Well, like most aspects of the college application process, the deck is stacked against poor students. They don't have the same financial/geographic access to standardized testing prep, such as SAT workshops and tutoring. They cannot afford private college consultants, or editors for their admissions essays.
Then there are the soft factors often linked with students from underserved populations, such as language barriers and being the first in their families to attend college.
This is where the guidance counselor should be able to step in and help level the playing field. Unfortunately, public schools simply can't afford to hire the number of counselors necessary to give students the kind of attention they need. And then there is the reality of salary to skill ratio. Private schools can afford to pay more, so they attract counselors with a greater skill-set.
Many organizations are trying to step up to support guidance counselors, in the hopes of giving students the preparation advice they need. But money talks, and even well-intended initiatives like the "Reach Higher" program backed by the White House won't level the playing field in a single admissions cycle.
Sadly, the disparity simply magnifies a problem with college admissions. Getting in is hard enough. As it currently stands, poor students are doing it with a hand tied behind their backs.
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