article banner

College Planning Small Groups

By Kimberly D. Brown | November 2023

article main image
School counselors can assist students with college preparation/planning and maximize their time by using small groups as a way of providing needed information and resources. In small groups, students can identify their future goals and work through the steps to achieving those goals. Small groups provide a time effective way for school counselors to serve multiple students and a peer network for the students as they undertake the college planning process. According to the American School Counselor Association, small-group counseling is a vital direct service to students and an essential part of a comprehensive school counseling program. It has a positive effect on students’ academic, career and social/ emotional development. It can also help reduce social isolation and negative emotions while increasing positive peer relations and a sense of belonging. Small groups create a climate of trust, caring, understanding and support that enables students to share their concerns with peers and the school counselor. This counseling approach can complement and enhance students' learning by improving their perceptions, attitudes and behaviors.

Using small groups like a First Generation Group and a Top Ten Group (described in detail below), school counselors can work with students to assist them with their journey towards college. Topics covered during the group sessions for both types of groups include transcript review, understanding your GPA, college admission tests, financial aid, scholarships, college application essay writing, high school resume completion, requesting letters of recommendation, college application types and timeline, types of colleges, understanding an award letter, making a final college choice, etc. School counselors should design the lessons to cover everything that the students will need to know for the college application and enrollment processes. Not all group sessions must be led by the school counselor. Instead, school counselors should use the people resources in their network and invite guests to lead certain group sessions. College admission representatives, college financial aid representatives, current college students, former students who are enlisted in the military, English teachers and military recruiters would all be ideal guests to lead group sessions. Do not forget to include any community-based organization partners that serve your students, like TRIO programs (Upward Bound, Educational Talent Search), Gear Up, College Bound, Communities in Schools, etc.

The First Generation Group is designed to provide extra assistance to students who will be the first in their families to pursue a four-year college degree. This group can be conducted in both middle and high school, in eighth grade or eleventh grade. Some students’ parents may technically have a college degree but may have received that degree decades ago, and school counselors can determine on a case-by-case basis whether the student would still benefit from participating in the group. Inclusion of such students may depend on space and the group size. The purpose of this group is to not only to introduce all of the college application and enrollment processes to the students but, more important, to provide a safe, supportive space to address the other factors affecting first-generation students. The factors include many non-academic college-going issues like first generation fears, personal/ family/ home life issues, and other factors that may make the students second guess their decisions or hesitate to pursue or attending college.

The Top Ten Group is designed for students either in the top ten (by rank) or the top ten percent of the junior class, depending on the size of the class. The purpose of this group is to allow these students to get a jump start on their college application tasks. Typically, students in the top ten apply to colleges for which applications require more work. This group works best when conducted the summer before senior year, ideally meeting for three hours once a week for a total of six weeks. Most high school counselors have summer work days, which provide an opportunity to spend time with students in this college planning small group. The ultimate purpose of this group is to allow these students to complete certain tasks during the summer so that when school starts and school counselors are typically occupied with scheduling and new enrollees, these students can be self-sufficient and work on preassigned tasks until things calm down in the school counseling office around the end of the first month of school.

Small groups can serve as an ideal intervention for students who need and require more assistance, such as first-generation students, those in the top ten or top ten percent of the class, students applying to performing arts schools, students pursuing collegiate athletics, military bound students, etc. Use this intervention as a way to offer targeted assistance to students who share a common goal or postsecondary path. As a result of working with students in college planning small groups, school counselors can expect to see increased outcomes including ACT/ SAT/ ASVAB exam registration and scores, FAFSA completion rates, college application submissions, college acceptances and ultimately college enrollments/military enlistments.

Kimberly D. Brown is the vice chair for the Board of Directors of the Palmetto State School Counselor Association and a school counselor at Wade Hampton High School in Greenville, S.C. Contact her at and via LinkedIn.