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High School Counselors Lack Training in College Admissions

High school counselors, particularly those in poorer urban and rural districts, often don't have the training needed to help students navigate the college admission system. And this can hinder access to higher education for first-generation, minority students, says Patrick O'Connor, past president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling in an recent op-ed essay that appeared in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.

While 466 colleges offer training for school counselors, fewer than 45 of these programs offer a course showing future counselors how to help students and families select, apply, and pay for college, writes O'Connor. This disproportionately hurts students from lower-income schools, since private and wealthier public schools often provide additional professional development on college admission counseling or hire former college admissions counselors on staff. This lack of training hurts efforts to increase campus diversity as these urban and rural students often don't receive the support they need to transition into college, maintains O'Connor, who is also the author of College Is Yours in 600 Words or Less.

Part of the problem is that those in charge of the counselor-training programs don't think college admission counseling is "real counseling," he writes. And policymakers have not responded with action to change counselor-preparation programs. This leaves many students without adequate guidance to make it through the college admission process, O'Connor says. The irony is that counselors polled say they want this type of training, and some even feel it should be mandatory, he notes.

As the push for college completion continues, it will be interesting to see if counselor-training programs will modify their requirements to include education on college admission counseling. It's a big goal to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020, and it will likely take efforts on many fronts--including improved counselor training--to make it happen.

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