February 2019

Middle School College & Career Readiness in the Digital Age

By Sarah Brant-Rajahn
Middle school students are growing, developing their self-concept, attitudes and beliefs and beginning to apply these to the world of work. Our role as school counselors is to help students acquire knowledge and skills to make informed decisions and progress successfully. We should also provide opportunities for students to identify and connect their interests to postsecondary decisions. Career and college readiness programming can serve as a tool of empowerment for students, specifically students who will be first-generation college attendees.

But when physical and financial resources aren’t available to support college and career readiness programs in middle school, technology and digital tools can come into play, such as the following free or low-cost digital tools.
  • Assessments and assessment results: Career interest inventories help students connect their likes, dislikes and personalities with potential career interests. Many free interest inventories are available online, or your school may have a licensed product – which collects individual, group and schoolwide data that can help inform your program.
  • Google surveys: Easily create needs assessments, program evaluations and activity evaluations. With a Gmail account, access the Google survey app and create multiple-choice, multiple-answer, single-answer, short-answer and yes/no questions. You can then share the link to your survey with stakeholders or provide students with the link during a lesson. As the students submit responses, Google survey displays the results in text and graph forms.
  • Virtual college and career cafés: In a virtual career café, speakers use Skype or similar video conferencing tools to “visit” the school. This minimizes the time and travel cost for speakers and allows you to connect your students with professionals from all over the world. Virtual cafés with college admissions staff can introduce students to requirements and general knowledge about college.
  • Virtual field trips: Discovery Education and similar science and agricultural sites offer free virtual field trips that let students see a job being performed on-site. Virtual field trips serve as extension activities for virtual career cafés or as an enhanced learning experience for visual learners and for students with disabilities.
  • Colleges and majors: Online resources such as bigfuture.collegeboard.org, princetonreview.com, and mymajors.com helps students explore colleges and majors. Using identity-specific online resources may encourage marginalized populations to explore postsecondary education options. Dreamcollegedisability.org provides resources and information for students with disabilities interested in postsecondary education. Hacu.net lists colleges and universities identifying as Hispanic-serving institutions. Campusprideindex.org provides college resources, information, ally groups and support for LGBTQ students. You can also use the online Occupational Outlook handbook to help students explore careers, associated majors and average salaries.
  • Virtual college visits: In a large classroom setting, a small group or individually, a virtual tour guide “walks” students around campus while naming the buildings, listing the major departments and providing general knowledge about the institution. You can pre-watch and develop questions aligned with the information to assess student knowledge post-visit.
  • Blogs and social media: Create a blog or a tab on your current blog dedicated to college and career resources. Post a career of the week, career fact of the day, college of the week, college major of the week or college fact of the day. Career of the week can align with college major of the week – get creative. Set up social media accounts you use only for your students, teachers and parents. Share college and career information using short phrases or links, to teach key terminology and quick facts, and keep students engaged.

Using the Tools

You can build these tools into your comprehensive college- and career-readiness programming or use them independently.
  • Needs assessment: At the start of the school year, have students complete an electronic needs assessment developed using a Google survey. Ask students about feeling successful, what they need help with and their high school and postsecondary plans. Use the results to shape your school counseling program goals and initiatives, or solely to address college- and career-readiness needs.
  • School counseling core curriculum: Middle school students need key terminology, college and career facts and links between new knowledge and current core content and social decision making. Curriculum should also enhance academic skills and techniques such as time management, note taking and test taking. Assessments, virtual college visits and online college and major exploration can support school counseling core curriculum. You can provide graphic organizers or scavenger hunt worksheets to guide students’ navigation of these websites. You can also teach students how to build a college portfolio documenting potential colleges and majors to further explore. Collaborate with teachers if you want students to earn a grade for their work.
  • Small groups: Use assessment data to form college- and career-readiness small groups; these can serve specific student needs such as first-generation college students, ESL students, students with disabilities and LGBTQ students. These groups would address specific challenges members may face and provide resources and tools to be resilient and successful. Other small groups can address students with similar career or college interests – these can be ongoing or meet only once.

Tips for Success

Once you have decided to integrate technology tools into your college- and career-readiness program, it’s time to start planning.
  • Roll the program out over time: Attempting to implement all the tools and groups at once can be overwhelming. Start with the needs assessment. Focus on one or two of the top needs for the first year and implement a few interventions to address these needs. Assess your interventions and remediate them if necessary. Add an additional focus area and interventions as you feel prepared to do so.
  • Fully prepare and schedule ahead: If you facilitate virtual career and college cafés, begin to recruit and schedule speakers at least three months in advance. Share these calendars with teachers and administrators to market your program and avoid conflicts (e.g., testing, major exams, fire drills). Make sure you have scheduled space with the technology for your virtual cafes. Do an advance test of the technology each time. Create invitations or passes for students with the room number and time, and send an e-mail reminder to teachers.
  • Share your results: Our work is easier when administrators and teachers buy in to our program. Post pictures showing your interventions in action. Share your interventions and data in a newsletter, blog, video, e-mail or schoolwide meeting using bullet-point highlights and charts and graphs. Invite teachers and administrators to observe or participate.
  • Collaborate: Work with teachers to schedule careers aligned with content they are teaching. Ask parents and staff to suggest career professionals to speak with students. Work within your school feeder pattern to streamline college- and career-readiness programming and collect longitudinal data tracking student improvement with intervention over the K–12 span.
Sarah Brant-Rajahn is a school counselor and a doctoral candidate at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at snb28163@uga.edu.