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A Little Advice, Here?: A Report on Guidance Counseling

A national survey released earlier this week targets a subject that doesn't get talked about in education nearly enough: high school guidance counseling. It's no secret that high school guidance counselors are stretched pretty thin. Across the nation, a typical counselor is responsible for setting 265 students on the right path for life beyond high school. But, in some states, such as California, the student-to-counselor ratio can be three times as high.

What's interesting about this new survey, which was conducted by the Public Agenda research group, is that it gives some insight into what happens to students when their counselors fall down on the job. The Public Agenda pollsters talked to a nationally representative group of more than 600 adults in their early 20s who had at least some college experience under their belts. More than 60 percent of the respondents said their counselors had done a "fair" or "poor" job of helping them select the right college or career. The survey also showed that the young people who got bad advice in high school were less likely to receive financial aid and less likely to be happy with the college choice. Among those badly advised students, nearly a quarter ended up delaying going to college.

I know a lot of middle-class families already put a lot of energy into directing their children to college, but many other students don't have that kind of resource at home. In this survey, which was intended to be nationally representative, six out of 10 students came from families in which neither parent had attended college.

This study strikes a chord in me because, 30 or so years ago, I was one of those students with no college-experienced adults to advise me. While I made a decent college choice in the end, I also stopped myself from applying to other schools that I feared were beyond my family's financial reach. I didn't really know for sure whether that was the case. I just knew that these schools sounded prestigious and expensive so I backed off. My guidance counselors never told me differently. What I wonder now is how many students in a similar situation might never consider college at all?

The report, "Can I Get Some Advice Here?," was paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Check out the full text here.

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