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A Systematic Approach to College and Career Counseling

By Dana Karas | January 2018

It is simply never too early to begin college and career counseling. As a prong of a comprehensive school counseling model, college and career counseling deserves as much dedication from school counselors as we give to our academic and personal/social counseling duties. Schools that do this find that efforts in career counseling actually lead to growth and improvement in the other counseling areas.
In developing your college and career counseling program, having a solid foundation is the most critical aspect. In my own work, I have found that grouping this counseling area via a school-wide banding model aided in appreciating the developmental needs of the students. It also helped delineate how the work that was already being accomplished could fit seamlessly into a new framework. To that end, the program is divided into three distinct parts: elementary on creating early awareness, middle grades on creating opportunities to explore and high school on creating college and career pathways.
Utilizing these standards, the model then identifies components of college and career readiness. Relying on resources identified through ASCA and the College Board, the model employs a total of eight components, six of which are applicable to the counseling program K-12 and two that are exclusive to the high school setting.
  1. College aspirations
  2. Academic planning for college and career readiness
  3. Enrichment and extracurricular engagement
  4. College and career exploration and the selection process
  5. College and career assessment
  6. College affordability planning
  7. College and career admissions processes
  8. Transition from high school to college enrollment
Early Awareness
At the elementary level, this approach includes a more clearly focused connection between college and career readiness as part of the school culture, as opposed to providing it in an isolated fashion. It also takes a focused approach with teachers that aids them in instilling the knowledge and skills necessary for school and future success, including emphasis on setting high expectations and rigor within the classroom setting that allows students to connect their passions and interests to future goals. To that end, schools have implemented “College Corner,” where students are able to explore areas of interest from dance and instrumental music to technology programming. Work has also focused on the impact of school attendance, student behavior and assessment results as connecting factors to future goal attainment.
Opportunity to Explore
The middle school has witnessed tremendous success with school-wide adoption of college and career exploration. Part of the school’s culture is the implementation of school pride and career and college through weekly Dress for Success and College Tee Shirt days. Staff have put tremendous work into establishing and expanding the school’s relationship with local stakeholders, from current families and alumni networking to connections with local businesses and universities. This has resulted in a shift from an isolated Career Day each spring to the establishment of monthly themes ranging from vocational exploration to financial planning. These have provided students and their families with unique opportunities for early exposure to financial planning and the FAFSA, student participation in a mock PSAT assessment, and pre-college workshops with topics from becoming a student–athlete to majoring in a STEM-related field of study.
College and Career Pathways
The high school has experienced a shift from RAG (random acts of guidance) to assisting and supporting the work of students and staff in achieving shared goals. New and expanding programming has included an Application Boot Camp (a five-day summer offering that provides students with the knowledge and practical application of steps to apply to college) and expanded, on-site Instant Decision Days. School counselors have also continued to think outside the box through their provision of pop-up classroom workshops during after-school office hours. With a rotating focus on college and career program offerings, these have addressed FAFSA completion to AP registration sessions.
At each level, school counselors have been able to identify and or expand the programs and services offered. College and career counseling is not solely for college-bound individuals, but an ideal that should be embraced for all students so they may all recognize their potential as future contributing members of our society.
Dana Karas is past president of NJSCA