By Howard Freedman
President of Financial Aid Consulting
It seems like ancient history when I worked with my high school guidance counselor whose invaluable advice and personal attention supported my quest to find my college of choice. Back then class sizes were smaller, education budgets were more generous and guidance counselors had more time to spend with each student. Today things are much different.
During my career as a financial aid consultant, I served as the program manager for a scholarship and financial aid support program in a public school system supporting thousands of students from 27 high schools. Working with headmasters, guidance counselors and students provided a much different perspective of today’s guidance counselor confronted with more complex challenges. What remained the same was their passion for helping students and their future successes. What changed is the increasing number of students assigned to each counselor, improved technology and far greater demands limiting the personal attention time they can offer each student. Added to the mix are a greater number of college majors and degrees, ways to earn them and a more diverse student population.
The bottom line of doing more with less requires new ideas to enable guidance counselors to meet these challenges by finding ways to simplify the process.
- Students should be given their roadmap to college starting in the freshman year. They need to know what colleges are looking for, what it takes to earn scholarships and stick to a plan that can be reviewed with their guidance counselors and coaches on an annual basis.
- Lists of recent graduates attending college can allow students to network with other college students at their level. These relationships may also become more important when the aspiring high school student visits a college.
- Publish gap year (s) opportunities for students who are unsure, pressured or not ready to attend college. This provides opportunities to participate in real life experiences and earn scholarship money.
- Outside Professional Help: Professional resources are not all equal or qualified to provide services that may not be available in a high school guidance office. For example, the mechanics of completing a financial aid form have been simplified yet defining the accuracy and impact of this information in relation to a family’s ability to pay is a greater challenge that a qualified professional financial aid consultant provides. Guidance directors and counselors can further help their students and families by interviewing outside service professionals and focusing on their qualifications, backgrounds and fees before making their names available.
- Identify those tasks and problems that are the most time consuming and brainstorm ways to simplify them. How about these ideas: Standardizing formats for recommendation letters, meeting with groups interested in the same majors or colleges, compiling a list of viable scholarship Web sites, identifying colleges that offer virtual tours, creating question and answers of common questions asked by students and or their parents, better manage meetings agenda and timekeeping to shorten meeting times.
- Recruit and organize volunteer groups to work directly with students that need additional support. Retired teachers, guidance counselors and educators may be able to spend two to three hours per week working with students that require more individualized attention.
- Prepare a resources guide of opportunities in addition to college. These can include trade schools, military, private and public sector employment, volunteer and missionary work and entry-level jobs along within their employment outlook.
- Focus on Results. The U.S. Department of Labor developed the Occupational Outlook Handbook that describes projected job growth through 2018, earnings, training, advancement and skills for more than 300 jobs covering about 90 percent of all U.S. workers. This is a great resource to help students focus on areas of opportunity and what it will take to get them there.
- Scholarships: Looking for a scholarship is like looking for a job. The best jobs are procured through networking not newspaper or Web sites visited by millions of scholarship seekers. Researching professional organizations, networking with adults, contacting companies, getting involved with community activities are all part of a more effective process based on the number and types of people with whom a student communicates. Teaching students how to network with others in person or online improves self-esteem and helps them to discover opportunities outside of the guidance counselor’s office.
- Lists of information can be very insightful and present data in a very organized manner. I used and or developed lists of colleges that do not require SATs, CSS Profile colleges, highest and lowest acceptance percentages, high and low SAT scores, transfer opportunities, most need and merit based financial aid, retention percentages, average salaries after graduation and so on.
- Guidance counselors can only give students the best advice possible but can’t do the work for them. The summer between a student’s junior and senior years is an important time to create a student calendar for the student to schedule campus visits, think about their college essay and find ways to pay for college.
Howard Freedman is president of Financial Aid Consulting. Visit his website at www.financialaidressuklts.com