January 1st is significant to seniors for two reasons: one, it’s New Year’s Day, but more importantly for many students, college applications are due around this date. As 2020 comes into view, students around the country alleviate their stress by clicking ‘submit’ on the Common Application.
The journey to clicking that button represents a process that is inherently flawed. The recent college admissions scandal centered around the wealthy scamming their way into top-tiered universities was something that was not entirely unexpected for those familiar with the application process. The reality is that there is almost no way to guarantee a certain outcome, and that is daunting to many students and families. Therefore, students are encouraged to perfect the aspects that they themselves can control: factors like test scores, recommendations, and essays. However, students at many large public schools around the country are unable to get the necessary support that they need to apply to college due to the lack of communication and individualized attention that they get from counselors.
High school counselors have many duties, but they are universally important during the college admissions process. Many colleges require them to submit a recommendation to students, which puts pressure on students to get to know their counselors individually. However, past the mandatory necessities, students at large public high schools often struggle to get in contact with their counselors.
EK, Senior in the International Baccalaureate at Myers Park High School, said, “It was really surprising to me that my counselor was so responsive because in the past it hasn’t been like that”.
However, another senior in the IB program Zoe disagreed. Zoe is intent on getting into some of the top schools in the nation.
“I feel like my counselor has her priorities of students and even though I’m a senior, I’m not her priority. I need a counselor recommendation, and I can’t get it because she doesn’t know me.” ~ Zoe
Zoe faces an issue that is common for many seniors at Myers Park: counselor changes. With an ever-fluctuating size of the student body, many students’ counselors change, making it hard to form a relationship with them. EK agreed with Zoe, stating, “My counselor was changed this year, so it was hard to start out with a new counselor, especially because my old counselor knew all of [my college process]”.
Counselors are essential for more than just recommendations though. They provide much of the information for the Common Application — but this essential knowledge is not always conveyed to students. Ella, another senior, recently attended a college information session and learned that the math class that she took excluded her from being admitted to a program that she was applying to. The information that she needed when selecting her classes was not given to her by her counselors: “I don’t feel like my counselors have guided me at all,” she said.
One thing that all students agreed on was that they had to seek out the information they were looking for in order to feel prepared for the process of college applications. Luke, a senior in the AP program, said,
“I’ve talked to my counselor a lot, and it’s helpful when I do go to my counselor, but there are some things that were left — like the common app that people across the board didn’t know how to fill out. I feel like they should do a breakdown of [the admissions for students]. For me, I sought out help early on from my counselor, but if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have been prepared for college applications.”
Luke continued, saying, “I think that we have a lot of diverse classes that can guide you whatever classes you want to do, you just have to figure out how you’re going to pick that track.” Ella wholeheartedly agreed, saying,
“ I feel like they give me the information that I need, but it’s always rushed. I do feel like they give me the information that I need, but I have to hear about it from my peers… It’s all based on rumors, and I don’t feel that confident.”
While the school has offered information sessions to remedy this issue, some students don’t feel that it is accessible to them. “[The school] has provided a lot of events to go to, but I feel like they should be incorporated in the school day more than after school,” said Luke. This would be one way of addressing the lack of communication and information that many students feel is at the root of their lack of confidence about college admissions.
It needs to be acknowledged that it is not entirely the counselor’s fault though. With a heavy caseload of students — often ranging around 300 students — it can be nearly impossible to get to know all of the students personally. And while other smaller public and private schools may have the resources to hire more counselors, the staff at larger public schools have to choice but to do their best with a massive caseload. After all, the mandatory school-to-counselor ratio varies per state, and North Carolina law doesn’t even mandate that schools have a counselor at all. The current North Carolina student-to-teacher ratio is 375:1, while the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of maximum 250:1. This is concerning at best — a study conducted by John Carey and Ian Martin from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst shows that “Lower student-to-counselor ratios were consistently found to be associated with higher attendance rates, higher college application rates, lower discipline rates and enhanced academic achievement”. The benefits of a counselor relationship are clear — however, it’s been a demonstrable challenge to acquire the funding necessary for more school counselors.
As a senior in the International Baccalaureate Program myself, college applications have been at the forefront of my mind. The most common topics of conversation at school seem to be test scores and application deadlines — all things that just increase my stress about getting in my applications in on time. Personally, I’ve gotten what I wanted from my counselor — I’ve gone to my mandatory ‘senior meeting’ — but I’ve used outside resources, like friends and teachers, to read over my essays and my Common Application. Why not go to my counselor for that? I feel like I’m not my counselors’ first priority.
More importantly, though, I feel like I shouldn’t be her first priority. My counselor has around a hundred other students also applying to college, going through the same stress. And I’m lucky enough to have friends who will read my essays, but other students may not have that help — I’d rather she help them instead. While ideally, she’d have fewer students and more time to help us individually, that would require resources that the state doesn’t provide for its students.