School Counselors and College Readiness Counseling

Added June 26, 2018

School counselors are vital to helping students become college ready, yet the particular skills and knowledge needed to provide it have not been comprehensively explored. This conceptual article with practical applications identifies student needs, responsibilities of school counselors, training of school counselors, and advocacy issues as essential elements to develop college readiness counseling.

Researchers have begun to look at what students feel they need to be successful in their post-secondary college and career plans. Students identify college selection and college decision-making as the top two priorities they want their school counselors to have (Coogan & DeLucia-Waack, 2007). Several studies focus on first generation college students (students whose parents/guardians do not have a bachelor’s degree). They note that these students need more support and information throughout the college preparation and enrollment processes; when they receive this support from school counselors, they are more likely to apply and enroll in college (Cholewa, Burkhardt, & Hull, 2015; McKillip et al., 2012; Pham & Keenan, 2011; Tremblay, 2013).

Students, their families, school leaders, and college admission personnel all expect school counselors to be knowledgeable about the college transition tasks and processes in order to support their students in attaining their post-secondary education goals (Tremblay, 2013). The average amount of time school counselors (in both private and public schools) spend on postsecondary admissions counseling is about 21% (Clinedinst & Koranteng, 2017); however, students across a variety of school settings (i.e. rural, suburban, and urban) have identified college readiness counseling as a top priority they want their school counselors to have (Coogan & DeLucia-Waack, 2007; McKillip et al., 2012). One of the difficulties of managing the multiple demands on school counselors is that there is not a clear set of competencies that all school counselors can use as a guide for their college readiness counseling. ASCA, NACAC, and College Board all offer competencies that relate to college and career readiness counseling, and this article discusses details of each (ASCA, 2012; College Board, 2010; NACAC, 2000).

Practitioners rely on learning college readiness counseling skills and knowledge through their practicum/internship experience or on the job, but some practitioners would prefer that college readiness counseling be taught more comprehensively in graduate programs, by providing additional coursework or experiential learning opportunities (Bardwell, 2010; Brown et al., 2016; O’Connor, 2010). A report by the National Consortium for School Counseling and Postsecondary Success (NCSCPS) found the lack of research and evidence-based practices in college readiness counseling makes it difficult to provide recommendations on how to best train school counselors (Brown et al., 2016). Tremblay (2013) suggests school counselors might benefit not only from graduate coursework, but they might look into certificates and endorsements in college counseling.         

Several researchers and organizations suggest that one of the elements of this training and coursework is advocacy. In order to work for educational equity and college access for all, school counselors need to be trained in advocacy and leadership (Dockery & McKelvey, 2013; Schaeffer, Akos, & Barrow, 2010). Vela-Gude et al. (2009) suggest that school counseling preparation programs also teach students how to challenge unjust educational practices and stereotypes in the school. This type of advocacy training could include strategies to utilize data to support efforts, bring up systemic issues to administrators, and offer professional development opportunities for teachers (Schaeffer, Akos, & Barrow, 2010).

Researchers and practitioners alike recognize a need for further training in college readiness counseling (McKillip et al., 2012; Perna et al., 2008; Tremblay, 2013). By examining student needs, responsibilities of school counselors, training of school counselors, and the need for advocacy, ideas for future directions can be developed. These future directions can be grouped into three main areas: standards for education and training, exploring training opportunities and content to provide effective counseling in this area, and further research on training and practices of school counselors in college readiness counseling. This article provides suggestions on steps to take in each of the three areas.


Beth Gilfillan