I want to thank everybody who commented yesterday on my post:
And a shout out to those who shared their thoughts about the post on the Facebook page for The College Solution. (If you haven’t checked it out and “liked” my new Facebook page, please do!)
The thoughtful comments that I received prompted me to respond to some of the issues that people raised.
Is The Counselor Knowledge Gap Really a Problem?
Jonathan, who is a senior at the University of Chicago, wondered if the woeful lack of training that counselors receive in their graduate counseling programs “necessarily leads to a knowledge gap.” He mentioned that at his high school, admission reps from colleges visited, which led him to believe that these reps can provide high school counselors with lots of information.
Here’s my reaction to that practice: High school counselors aren’t necessarily sitting in on college reps’ presentations. The counselors may not be interested or they may not have the time. But even if counselors did visit with the college reps, this can be of limited help.
The College Pitch
College reps are only going to present the best spin for their institutions. Colleges, after all, are businesses and their goal is to make the sale just as a car salesmen would. Admission reps, for instance, aren’t going to tell teenagers or counselors that the financial aid at their schools is lousy. They aren’t going to say that the typical financial aid package is primarily stuffed with loans. They won’t share if their students are graduating with onerous levels of student loans.
The typical admission rep’s spiel to prospective students will go something like this: We have lots of scholarships and even some full-rides. If you like our school, just apply and don’t worry about the price.
That kind of pitch is just that – a pitch. What teens need to know is how generous a school is. What percentage of financial need does the college typically meet? How accurate is the school’s net price calculator? There are lots of questions that educated consumers should be asking.
It’s hard to become an informed consumer, however, if the counselor can’t tell teens and their parents what questions to ask. And they usually don’t because they don’t know themselves.
What Counselors at Affluent High Schools Know
Denise suggested that the knowledge gap is probably less of a problem for upper-middle-class and wealthy families. I would agree that these families enjoy an advantage because they know that their children will attend college. These families, however, have plenty of opportunities to mess up too.
And it would be a huge mistake to assume that counselors at affluent public high schools or even private high schools know more. I’ve heard from many parents whose children attend these schools who bitterly complain about the caliber of the advising.
Are You Kidding Me???
I was frankly stunned when I went to a recent conference of the Western Association for College Admission Counseling in Los Angeles and heard a veteran counselor, who for many years had headed the college counseling program at a prestigious private high school in Southern California, answer a question about merit scholarships.
Someone in the audience asked how counselors could find out about merit scholarship opportunities from individual schools and she said something to this effect: She asked parent volunteers to look for merit scholarship info in the marketing material that colleges mailed to the high school.
When I heard that I almost fell off my chair! This highly respected counselor apparently didn’t know how to obtain this easily accessible information. There are lots of ways to identify merit awards that individual schools offer from such resources as the federal College Navigator, Common Data Sets, the College Board, COLLEGEdata, MeritAid.com and others. And yet this counselor’s trusty method was to have volunteer moms look through the snail mail they got!!
As I said, the high school counseling system is broken.
What Do You Think?
If you have any thoughts about the dreadful state of college counseling at high schools or how the system can be fixed, I’d love to hear from you. Just comment in the box below.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes college blogs for CBSMoneyWatch and US News & World Report. Follow her on Twitter.