In the final part of the College Counseling Countdown, I will focus on two components of the profession which are normally overlooked by administrators and even counselors themselves. These two components are data management and a whole school college counseling program.
As college counselors end the year, they amass a lot of critical data about students, from personal details to academic reports. At the end of the year from April to July, more data is received in the form of university decisions. While there are a lot of data management systems, it is the counselor who can make meaning from this data. A few strategies that have helped me in managing this wealth of data and processing it into information are:
1. Always create a database of all student records accessible to the counseling office and school senior management. Due to high teacher turnover in international schools, the data might get lost if counselors leave and move on. This is crucial as schools usually archive the graduating class; hence, the data is also not readily available for future purposes. Graduating students need the school to send key information to universities even after they graduate from high school. Therefore, it is highly recommended to create safe storage of student information.
2. Collate data to discover trends that will help to inform students, teachers, parents, and school administration about student choices, success stories, and what works and what does not. For example, teachers predicting higher may not be a good practice if the students do not actually meet the prediction or offering more language choices so students can stand out in their applications.
3. Create data infographics for academic discussions. Data helps to inform teaching and learning. For example, students underachieving in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects might need remedial lessons to prepare for university studies. It also informs teachers about the successful strategies in curriculum planning that helps students to make it to their dream universities. For example, if a student aces the college interview due to the project completed in a subject. Universities value practical knowledge over predicted grades.
4. Inform universities about the trends in your school or region to advise them on the resources that they can share with students. For example, college admission data generates country-specific data. This data will help universities to either continue with their good support systems or improve them to increase their reach to students.
5. Collect student feedback about the university orientation process and use it to advise the younger students or the universities. The post-admission data also helps in monitoring the success of the counseling program in the school. It is a measure of your success and a tool for your improvement.
Whole School College Counseling Program
Many international schools and their college counseling departments, unfortunately, run programs only for high school students. It is a common misconception as the program should start early in middle school. Most successful international schools commence career talks or college conversations as early as year seven. Here are a few strategies to consider when planning for a whole school counseling program:
1. Integrate college counseling programs or career talks as a regular part of personal, social, health, and economic (PSHE) education, life skills, or homeroom conversations in middle school. The pastoral care program can also focus a few sessions on future careers. Students need to know about the current trends in the job market and how it impacts their learning process. For example, a Grade 7 student passionate about music must know the significance of studying theory in the discipline. A student passionate about science should experiment with simulations, robotics, and coding. Students should be allowed to explore their subject-specific skills and strengths to gain confidence in future choices of careers.
2. One of the most critical conversations about college counseling is with Grade 10 students. These students will need to decide their subject choices for the final two years of high school. They must decide on their subjects based on their future career aspirations as well as their academic performances. The college counseling program should support students in subject choices and self-performance assessment. For example, teaching students to create a resume based on personal interests, academic performance, and extracurricular activities helps students create a personal profile which in turn helps them to think of their career choices. Subject choices decide university choices.
3. Invest in a whole school Careers Day. A day when parents and other community members are invited to talk about their career path and answer questions from the audience, comprised of secondary students. This is a great way of including the entire community in the college counseling program. Students benefit by asking questions about different jobs and gain confidence in their decision for future careers.
4. Invite universities to visit whole school assemblies. I strongly feel that university visits should include all secondary students. This will lighten the load of the college counselor to suggest universities to high school students. If secondary students are exposed to university talks early on, they are better equipped to make informed decisions about their future. Likewise, university fairs should be open to all secondary students. When it comes to university choices, it is never too early to start the conversation.
5. And finally, for a whole school counseling program, a school must invest in more than one college counselor. The counselor cannot be expected to run the show solo. To provide optimum support to students, schools must optimize the counseling department. A healthy student-to-counselor ratio should be decided as per the school policies to inform recruiting a team of counselors or assistants. This program can also serve as a great opportunity for young interns who are mostly ex-students. A comprehensive whole-school program needs to be part of an international school’s strategic planning.
Having discussed these two important components, it’s time to wrap this series with activities in the final months of April, May, June, and July:
April to July
University offers are mostly in, students know the decisions, and the way forward for them in terms of where they will go after July. Here are a few boxes that now need to be ticked by the college counselor:
1. Support students to make the final university choice and confirm with the university.
2. Advise students on conditional offers as they will be taking exams and need to perform as per the condition laid down by the university.
3. Remind students to complete the housing applications as soon as they accept the offer as places sometimes might be limited and you do not want a student to be disadvantaged.
4. Discuss post-results processes like sending the results directly to universities, procedures to reapply in case results do not match the condition, and completing orientation formalities.
5. Most importantly, as this is a very stressful time for graduating students, help them to practice self-care. I offer a month-long yoga program to all graduating students in April where we do simple meditation, breathing, and stretching for 10-15 minutes every day either during pastoral time or break time to relax and spend the final days of high school breathing in confidence and breathing out stress.
As a parting advice to all my fellow counselors, I would strongly recommend everyone reflect on their process and continuously evolve with the needs of the times. This is a very dynamic profession, and we need to be on top of current research, trends, and the needs of the industry. Most importantly, this is a service industry but with one main difference; we serve with compassion, not just passion.
Shwetangna Chakrabarty is the editor for The International Educator and the assistant head of secondary and university counselor at Utahloy International School Guangzhou, China. She has been a university counselor for over 10 years, actively advising students and families for university application and selection. She has toured over 60 universities across the world to develop a wealth of experience in college counseling. She serves in the Council of International School’s Global Forum Planning committee 2022 for university guidance and admissions.
Twitter and LinkedIn: @shwetangna