For college counselors, productivity is a measure of how many students can be helped in a day. Nationally, the average ratio of public-school counselors to students is 482-to-1. That means knowing how to make your day more productive is about effectively and efficiently handling a workload that is nearly double the recommended level of 250-to-1. The challenge is great, and the stakes are high.
Begin by Ensuring That Your Students Know What You Can Do for Them
Making your day more productive involves far more than organizing things on your desk and sticking to a schedule. Yes, productivity is about things on a micro level, but a macro approach is how you set yourself up to function more effectively and efficiently at all levels hour by hour.
An overarching truth of the profession is that students and their parents can save you time if they know how to make the best use of a college counselor. That means an early push to show freshmen and their families your role in the college process and doing outreach at middle schools can boost your long-term productivity.
Here are some of the messages you can deliver to middle-schoolers:
- College might be the best path to your dreams.
- Know your academic interests, strengths, and weaknesses.
- Explore college options and ways to finance them.
- It’s never too early to focus on a curriculum that preps you for college.
- A broad portfolio of academic and extracurricular accomplishments and a good social network can broaden your college options.
A regimen of workshops and other teaching events for you, your students, and their parents; cutting-edge tools and communication tactics; and turning college-process events into celebrated milestones are among tips to make your workday more productive and enhance your counseling program. But getting the parents and students informed and into the game early is the game-changer.
Have a Schedule and a Plan That Can Withstand the Unexpected
Don’t overextend. The risk of cramming too much into your schedule is that what you do won’t be done effectively, possibly causing confusion and typically creating more work.
Most days, the time you buy through diligence and organization will be used to overcome the nearly inevitable unexpected challenges; sometimes the time you buy can be spent positioning yourself for success and higher productivity in coming days.
This sounds trite, but it’s all about Aesop’s tortoise and hare. A paced, thoughtful, and steady advance usually will get you where you’re going faster and more productively than a disorganized dash triggered by a time crunch.
The Aesop analogy fails in one respect. Counseling is a journey, not a race. Here are three steps toward a good start to that journey:
- Step one is calculated efficiency. It’s a strategy that employs smart tactics.
- Step two is that thing you’re always pressing rising college freshmen to master: time management.
- Step three is keeping an unblinking eye on goals, both daily and long-term, and adjusting accordingly in the moment.
Make Your Office Space Functional and Student-Friendly
Your office is one of your most valuable tools. Use it to show students and parents who you are and what you can do for them. Make your space welcoming, informative, and functional through wise use of:
- Wall space: It can educate, entertain, and set a mood.
- Overall design: Form and function can enhance productivity.
Budget constraints can limit design options, but even an underfunded public school can underwrite the kind of modest tweaks that can make a spartan room look welcoming and make guests comfortable.
Stay Current on College Counseling Tools and Information
Apps and online resources are among tools that can give you the edge you need to tilt the odds in your favor, despite being outnumbered 482-to-1. Need help with time management? There are apps for that, too. In fact, there are digital tools for almost every task.
There’s also a mountain of information to be had by staying connected with admissions offices, particularly those in your region. There’s no app for building personal connections at those offices, and there’s no substitute for those connections. Reach out, and visit when possible.
Tracking professional organizations such as the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), services such as College Board, and state groups such as the Florida School Counselor Association will keep you up to date on advances and events in college counseling. They are also a pipeline for resources.
One of the best ways to advance productivity is a meld of the old and the new. Digital age communication tools and old-school communication skills can keep you connected with students and parents even when school isn’t in session. Beyond snail mail, email, and texting, consider the advantages of:
- A web page on your school’s website or elsewhere, even Facebook
- A newsletter or handbook
- Staying connected through digital platforms such as Twitter
Continuing Education Isn’t Just a Goal for Your Students
Continuing education helps you help others and can boost your income. For most, continuing education also is a requirement.
Continuing education opportunities include NACAC events and offerings. Among these are:
- Professional development days
- Workshops such as Guiding the Way to Inclusion
- A career center that can assist in job searches
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.