As a counselor, I always did two things:
1) I gave junior families college lists to consider.
2) I asked about and discussed family financial considerations.
When I became Director, I was a bit surprised by the lack of consistency on these two really basic parts of our job. I worked at a school where I commented in a written observation that the counselor did not discuss with a low-income family how the student would pay for an expensive college that severely gapped the student. She told me that the former director did not allow them to discuss personal finance issues. It seems more common than not to only discuss financial aid terms, policies and forms rather than individual financial circumstances.
There is a similar feeling about giving college lists. Some counselors only give out lists by printing out lists from printed or online resources. Others adamantly state that they do not give out lists. I once stated to a counselor that they needed to provide specific college recommendations in order to get a better evaluation. They responded by wasting the family’s time by going through the College Board’s Big Future search tool with the family and printing out a list.
What do you think? Should you always/sometimes/never discuss family financial circumstances and/or give college lists?
College is REALLY expensive, considerably more-so than my day. Many more parents than ever do not have a realistic path to paying what they will need to pay for their child’s college, and even less so for the siblings to come. The risks of the child dropping out for financial reasons, with nothing to show for it but debt, gets higher every year.
Also, knowing colleges that are a good match for a kid is a vital part of what we do? If you don’t know who would be happy at Grinnell, Haverford, U. Chicago, Colorado at Boulder or Rutgers, you should be hitting the road, hitting the internet and hitting the books. Read anything and everything about the subject. Wherever you are, take advantage of taking at least a drive through of colleges in the area.
If someone needs a more pressing argument, if we only provide information that is available elsewhere, why do high schools need us?
For those who say that this is fine for private schools but at public schools laws, privacy issues, consistency, liability (and on and on) prevent this, nonsense!. Counselors at schools with reasonable counseling numbers can, and should, give the same level of expertise whether the school is public or independent.
We should be asking families: Is there money set aside for college? Is there money left over each month after expenses to help pay for college? Is there debt already? Are there younger children? Are there unusual expenses, like taking care of an elderly parent or paying medical expenses? What level of debt are you comfortable taking on? Are there other sources, like a grandparent, to help pay for college?
If we are not providing our expertise and informed opinion, we essentially become what we most despise, paper pushers. If we do not take risks and experience a degree of discomfort in our daily jobs, we are not providing the best service to our students. If we want to be treated as professionals and respected as professionals, we need to act as professionals. Who would accept a lawyer or doctor not giving you advice on what you should do, or at least discuss and help you come to a decision on a difficult choice? Why is this okay for counselors?