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High School Counselors in Short Supply

At a time when more and more high-school students are urged to apply to college, the need for counselors to help them make suitable choices and then guide them through the application process has never been greater.  Yet nationwide, the ratio of students to counselors is 478 to 1 - unchanged for more than a decade - and one in five high schools has no counselors at all ("Little College Guidance: 500 High School Students Per Counselor," The New York Times, Dec. 26).

The college application process has become more complicated since I was in high school in the mid-1950s.  In those days, tuition was reasonable, and admission was based largely on grade-point averages, SAT scores and two letters of recommendation.  But even then, I was fortunate because there were two counselors for my graduating class of 99.

Today, the situation is different.  Financial aid is a top consideration because of skyrocketing tuition. Trying to understand the options and rules can be overwhelming.  For students whose parents never went to college, the choices are confusing.  Many give up and apply to those where their friends attend or never apply at all.

College guidance counselors can also help prepare students psychologically for what they can expect to encounter if they are admitted.  This is particularly important because more than 40 percent of students who start at four-year colleges do not earn a degree even after six years. One of the reasons may be the result of unrealistic assumptions.  Counselors can anticipate the doubts they might experience.  This is especially the case for students who are the first in their family to go to college.

The mismatch between the increasing number of college applicants and the static number of counselors will undermine efforts to improve the on-time graduation rate.  That's why it's encouraging to learn that New York City, home of the nation's largest school district, has hired 250 new guidance counselors this year.  I hope that other districts will follow in New York City's footprints. 

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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