College-bound seniors spend a sizable chunk of their final year of high school sweating the details of the college application process. It’s a test of patience and perseverance you can help them ace, especially if you don’t let scattergrams and endless paperwork squeeze the humanity out of the process. To help you get seniors ready for college, our must-do tips for counselors focus on human elements of the college challenge.
Motivating – Connect with Seniors Early and Often
Senior year in high school is the stuff of rites-of-passage movies; trying to give each one a happy ending is your job. It helps to connect with your seniors early in the year to let them know what you can do for them, from writing a letter of recommendation to helping them choose target schools to coaching them on writing their application essays.
If they don’t come to you, then reach out. It’s going to take continual reminders to cut through the senior-year haze and keep the basics on their radar. Be sure they:
- Finish strong on extracurriculars, including community service.
- Stay ahead of the college application process and the financial aid hunt.
- Don’t let their focus on college and senior year rites keep them from excelling academically.
The human element is the essence of preparing seniors for the realities of college, from helping the parents become key parts of the student’s college team to using third parties to prepare your seniors for college. It’s also the reason for important discussions about what the college transition can mean, from homesickness and stress to adapting to a college roommate and learning how to do laundry.
Team Building – Keep Parents in the Loop
If a student has parents who are vested in the college process, there are ways to sustain that connection, including handbooks and newsletters. These are great tools to keep parents up to date on the application process. Use them to share details, flag deadlines, and share tips on what parents can do to advance the process.
Parent nights are one way to log some facetime with your students’ families, and you can always reach out by email, phone, or even snail mail. A school website also is a great place for a web page full of information useful to college-bound students and their families.
Keeping the parents informed is critical to helping them with their important role in the application process and preparing their children for the transition to college.
Reinforcing – Recruit People to Help Keep Students on Track
Putting a face on facts is a great way to help your seniors.
- Bring in that newly minted college freshman you counseled during his/her final year of high school to discuss freshman year challenges.
- Bring in an admissions officer to discuss the application process and answer questions.
- Bring in a college professor to discuss the academic demands of college.
Teaching – Give Your Seniors a College Academics Reality Check
Since doubt and uncertainty flourish in the absence of facts, keep the information rolling in – even if some of the facts are a bit intimidating.
On academics, the fact is that your seniors’ college workload will make high school look like the good old days. Be sure they know:
- Mom and Dad won’t be there to push you to do your work.
- The instructors aren’t going to hold your hand, but they will give you a hand – if you ask.
- There will be fewer class hours but more work.
- The expectations will be higher.
- Failure can be costly in terms of educational opportunities lost and money wasted.
Warning – Address Nonacademic Challenges They Will Face
It wouldn’t be fair or smart to tout the innumerable benefits of college without warning about potential downsides. That’s especially true since a word of warning can help college freshmen minimize or avoid problems. Be sure they know there are ways to:
- Deal with the almost inevitable homesickness.
- Cope with the stress of going away to college.
- Build a support system by getting involved on the college campus.
- Ease the transition to college life.
- Overcome the roommate challenge.
There are life-lesson areas where you can step on the parents’ toes and shouldn’t encroach. But even if they have heard it from their parents, it won’t hurt if you advise them that the days of laundry and housekeeping services, from meal prep to actual housekeeping, are about to end and that they should spend some time now trying to:
- Learn their way around a kitchen.
- Learn how to do laundry.
- Learn how to manage money, from budgeting to shopping.
- Learn to be responsible for getting up in time for class and in bed early enough to stay healthy.
- Learn how to stay healthy by making good choices on diet and physical and mental wellbeing.
Basically, let them know that along with embracing many of the benefits of being an adult, they soon will have to bear much more of the burden.
Defending – Position Yourself to Minimize Summer Melt
The end of the school year needn’t signal the end of your service to seniors. For students facing difficult social or financial circumstances, for potential first-generation college students, or for those likely to shy away from the challenge or lose interest and change course, be ready to keep nudging them toward college.
You’re defending against summer melt, trying to keep your seniors from becoming part of the roughly one-third of graduates who abandon plans to attend college, melting away into the workforce. Before the school year ends, arm them with tips on how to spend the summer. You also can:
- Use websites and social media to stay connected and continue the push toward college.
- Use text messages and email to send quick reminders about college process deadlines.
- Use a newsletter to stay in touch with students and parents.
- Use the student’s college team to close the deal.
- Advise the parents to sit down weekly with the student to assess progress and goals in the college process.
- Recruit a friend or sibling of the student, especially those with connections to a target school, to accompany them on a campus visit.
Basically, use your imagination to keep them motivated. There’s a lot riding on it.
The USF Office of Admissions values counselors and shows it. Consider USF’s Counselor Toolkit, one-stop online access to all the USF information you need for your students. Still have questions? Contact us online, or reach us by phone at 813-974-3350.
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.