For high school college counselors, summer is a time to watch another wave of college-bound graduates roll out, a time to let the successes and failures of the past year inform you of how to handle the youngsters and parents who come for help throughout the next year, and, most importantly, a time to get positioned to shape and direct the next wave of graduates. These 5 summer tips for college counselors are shared with those goals in mind.
5. Don’t Let Summer Melt Turn Your Wins into Losses
The common definition of summer melt applies to someone who attends a different college than the one where they initially enrolled. A more serious version of summer melt is when a graduate has college plans but doesn’t follow through come fall. Data show that up to 40 percent of college-bound graduates become summer melt statistics, and the ones most at risk are minority students from low-income families, particularly graduates who plan to attend a community college.
The sad reality is that financial hurdles are too much for many high school graduates hoping for college, regardless of how much help they get. You can make a difference with these steps:
Don’t let complex financial aid paperwork keep a grad out of college. For example, the final phases of applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) are a minefield for youngsters going it alone.
- Don’t let something as simple as failing to send vaccination paperwork or a final transcript stop your graduate.
- Don’t let a graduate succumb to pressure from friends and family to skip college.
- Don’t let the simple tasks of enrolling for college overwhelm your at-risk graduates, from setting up email accounts to registering for classes.
Do what you do best. Reach out. Inform. Inspire. And it wouldn’t hurt to stay up to date on solutions for summer melt. If your district or school doesn’t have a program to curb summer melt, lobby for one. If your school doesn’t have an official summer melt strategy but you are in a position to tackle the problem, do it, even if only baby steps are possible. Identify the graduates most at risk of having their college dreams fade away, and step in.
4. Reconnect with Admissions, Financial Aid Offices
There are a lot of colleges and universities on your students’ radar, but growing relationships with people in college admissions and financial aid offices is important. Hit the road if possible, give them a call, or follow schools’ social media to continue to cement old relationships and to start new ones.
A good old-fashioned campus tour also can give you a treasure trove of information to share with students. If you can’t make it to a college’s campus, see if the school offers a virtual tour like the USF virtual tour.
3. Work on Your Calendar
Use some of your summer to work on the calendar for the upcoming year. Planning ahead can help make the start of the new school year a little easier. You can find important dates, tips, and tools on the College Board website. The USF Counselor Toolkit also provides helpful information for college counselors.
2. Get Your Office Space in Shape
Your office typically is the first point of contact between you and the students and parents you serve. You don’t have to have an unlimited budget to make it welcoming, informative, and comfortable.
Focus on lighting, seating, what’s on your walls, and maximizing your space. If your school has a yearly theme, you could decorate your office according to the theme, or you can make your own theme for the year.
Consider having brochures and handouts available about local colleges and community colleges as well as information about out-of-state schools.
1. Sharpen the Tools You Use to Help Students, Parents
The overall program you develop to open college doors for high school students needs to be current, and that means understanding and using the latest tools, information, and techniques.
Make Sure You Understand Your Tools
Some schools use software tools to help counselors, so it’s important to understand the tolls your school uses.
All counseling tools have limitations, and most of those limitations arise from the fact that you are dealing with unique individuals. Keep that in mind, and be sure you:
- Know what tools are available to help you help your students.
- Research available tools to see whether superior products are available.
- Stay up to date on all counseling tools you use.
Make Sure the Information You Share Is Up to Date
College counselors don’t just handle a mountain of information; they handle entire mountain ranges. If you use fixed files (sources that don’t update themselves), keep them updated. Use tools such as The Common Application and College Board that are in the business of staying up to date.
Staying up to date on evolving processes takes a lot of effort, but it’s worth it to help your students find the information they need on colleges, financial aid, scholarships and more.
Take Care of Your Most Important Tool – Your Mind
Continuing education helps you help others as efficiently and effectively as possible and usually has positive effects on your wallet. Along with brick-and-mortar and virtual classrooms, don’t forget webinars or memberships that can connect you to professional development resources. And scouring the internet can link you to valuable resources, too.
About Joe Emerson
Joe Emerson spent 30 years as a magazine and newspaper reporter, editor and copyeditor who turned to freelancing after 20 years with The Tampa Tribune, which closed in 2016 after 125 years of serving the Tampa Bay area. Writing and delivering valuable information remain his passion.