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School Counselor

The Real Wonder Woman

As the parent of a 9- and 12- year- old, superheroes have surrounded me in recent years. I’m not talking about watching a few movies or picking up some random trivia or occasionally eating a Marvel- themed yogurt squeezie. I’m talking about intense action figure battles; regular discussions and speculation about individual characters; deep dives into specific qualities, relationships, powers, weapons, and personalities; and more than the occasional role-playing battle that spills out of the house and into the yard (maybe even once into the street, to the utter terror of an elderly neighbor who thought she’d met her end at the hands of three masked figures shooting arrows and screaming about the honor of Valhalla).

I have come to appreciate that while superheroes are pervasive in our culture on billboards, movie placards, and cereal boxes, real heroes have the same attributes, yet they walk among us.

Heroes come in a wide assortment of shapes and sizes.

My hero is a 4’11” spit fire from East Tennessee named Nancy Beane. Nancy is retiring this year from The Westminster Schools in Atlanta after a 40+ year career as a teacher, mentor, leader, and counselor. Don’t let her stature deceive you. She has more wisdom, fight, savvy, and skill in her right pointer finger (one she uses often to emphasize a statement while holding her reading glasses) than the normal human possesses in their entire body.

Heroes know their imperfections and have found strength and perspective in humility.

Whether she is giving a speech, talking in the hallway between meetings, accepting an award, or discussing a topic over a meal, Nancy is always self-deprecating. She’s quick to point out what she does not know or who is more of an expert in a particular subject. However, I’ve come to realize you should always listen a little closer when she says, “Well, I probably don’t have a clue about this, but ….” Or “Now, I’m not sure I know exactly…” That’s when she drops real knowledge. It is kind of like Barry Allen speculating about speed. She knows. She doesn’t just have a clue—she has the entire case solved already.

Heroes use their strength and power to help others.

As far as I know, she does not have laser vision in those glasses or a Batmobile or superhuman strength. Instead, Nancy’s power is her access, privilege, and voice. She works at one of the most highly regarded private schools in the South. She has been the president of every organization I’m part of on the state, regional, and national level. Her husband, John, is a successful lawyer (and a hero in his own right). The people she meets and influences on a daily basis in her neighborhood, at local restaurants, and in her college counseling office run the city (cue Oliver Queen). It would be easy– I’m talking about Sunday morning strolling the beach easy—for her to just live in the status quo.

That’s not Nancy. She is a champion. She is an advocate– for her students, for younger professionals in the college admission and counseling profession, for women (especially as a proud Agnes Scott alumna), for colleagues who might otherwise be overlooked or undervalued, for anyone in whom she sees potential. She may have to pull a stool up to the lectern in order to reach the microphone, but once she has it, you can be assured she is going to use that opportunity to skillfully advance causes, give credit to others, encourage students, and skillfully incorporate wisdom, wit, and calls to action.

Heroes don’t look for credit.

Instead, their reward and satisfaction come from watching the people they serve have opportunities to grow and thrive. A few years ago, I watched Nancy plant a seed with a lawmaker in D.C. that ultimately became an education bill benefiting military veterans. Walking out I had no idea what we’d started, but she did. She always does. I think her comment was simply, “That ought to give him something to think about.”

Because that’s what heroes do. They give us something to think about. They see in us what we cannot or do not see in ourselves. As I look back, it was Nancy who first encouraged me to get involved with leadership in professional organizations. “Rick, you should consider putting your name in the hat for SACAC Board.” Consider is Nancy speak for do it.  Four years later, she called again. “You need to really think about getting involved on the national level.” When Nancy calls, you answer.  Often her calls were about her students. “Now, let me tell you about this boy. He’s really something.” I’m guessing hundreds of admission deans around the country have heard Nancy say those exact words. Always advocating. Always talking about how great others are.

Heroes are in the right place at the right time.

Superheroes have an advantage. They can fly or use super speed or swing from buildings to the arrive on the scene. Real heroes just show up. They call. They text. They don’t miss the party or the funeral or the big day. One of Nancy’s greatest powers is being present. She is at the games, shows, meetings, graduations, and celebrations. She calls when she knows you are hurting. She always picks up her phone, or is crazy quick to call back. “Sorry. I was trying to find the darn thing…”  She always asks about family first. She is a hugger.

Heroes pay a severe price.

I am convinced this woman does not sleep. She has sacrificed countless days, weeks, and years serving students and colleagues. Showing up and being available sounds good in leadership books—it’s in there because it’s so difficult to live out. Over the years, Nancy’s advocacy for the under-served has at times drawn criticism from friends, colleagues, and others in power. Using her voice and speaking up has come at a relational cost. This is the price of doing the right thing, of being a champion. But heroes don’t shrink from the fight, and she has only become more invested and committed as her power has grown.

Heroes change the world.

Unlike superheroes, Nancy (to my knowledge) has not moved a literal mountain. But one by one she’s spoken into the lives of thousands of students, professionals, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. One day at a time. One relationship at a time.

In a life that is often challenging, in a time that is extremely unknown and uncertain, in a world that has plenty of darkness and difficulty, we need heroes like Nancy Beane. They inspire us. They challenge us to live more selflessly. They come alongside us, lift us up, and believe in us, even when we are having difficulty believing in ourselves. Heroes beget heroes.

Like all good superheroes, Nancy is known by many names and titles: Mrs. Beane, mom, president, teacher, and counselor to name a few. But those who have had the honor of spending time with her know her true identity: she is the real Wonder Woman!

Congratulations on a heroic career, Nancy. We love you!

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It Works Out

Listen to “It Works Out: Episode 4- Andrew Cohen, Becky Tankersley, Chaffee Viets, Kathleen Voss, Evan Simmons, Sammy Rose-Sinclair” on Spreaker.

Each year, right before we release admission decisions, I speak with our tour guides. I love talking to this group because they are smart, excited, and always have really good snacks (shout out to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels). They amaze me because they voluntarily give up valuable hours each week to walk families across campus (often in the blazing sun or pouring rain or right after two exams and a bad break-up) and share all of the incredible opportunities available both inside and outside the classroom.

They love Tech. They believe in this place. They have drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid.  At their Monday night meeting I asked them a few questions:

Q: Was Tech your first choice when you applied to colleges?

A: 62% responded NO.

Q: How many of you are happy here now and are thankful for the way it has worked out?

A: All but two responded YES, which I thought was pretty good. (Plus “here” and “it” were vague… they may have been thinking about that particular meeting and whether or not they got the right ratio of pretzel dogs: pretzel nuggets).

Q: How many of you think if you were at another college you would have no chance for success or happiness in the short or long-term?

A: Only one of the 71 said they would have no chance of happiness or success elsewhere. Now you could call this contrarian, but I call it “ALL IN!” Give that kid the TGOTY (Tour Guide of Year) Award.

If you are a senior…

Whether you are waiting on an admission decision or trying to choose from your college options in the weeks ahead, I hope you will find comfort and confidence in these responses. The take home message is #ItWorksOut. Since lot of selective colleges will put decisions out in the weeks ahead, I don’t want you to lose sight of this fact.

Over the years I’ve written extensively about my own personal “re-routes,” as well as the experiences of students, family, and friends in hopes of providing solace when something you hope for doesn’t go as planned. Some of these include:

Again, the resounding commonality in all of these stories: #ItWorksOut.

Further Evidence 

Tweet describing college rejection and decision making

Good Day Philly co-host, Alex Holley.

While perspective always comes with time, it is accelerated by hearing the stories of others. I recently started reading Paul Tough’s book, The Years That Matter Most. I highly recommend it (it’s unquestionably the second best book about college admission to come out within the past year).  In chapter one he tells the story of Shannen, a senior from New York City, who is denied admission to her top choice. She’s crushed. She’s inconsolable. A few days later she receives admission to two other great schools (with better climates) who both offer excellent financial packages. Ultimately, she has achieved the real goal of the college admission experience: not just a single offer from a particular college, but multiple offers from different schools. She has options.

These stories are all around you, but you have to be intentional about being still and quiet and really listening. When you do, you’ll hear about the job someone did not get, the house purchase that fell through, the relationship that did not work out, or the deal that didn’t happen.

A Few Noteworthy Examples

Beyonce. Before she figured out that one name/one person was adequate, she was in a group called Girl’s Tyme (there’s a reason you’ve never heard of it).

Harrison Ford, and Henry Ford (only related by their similarly circuitous paths to fame and success).

Stephon Curry. From not being recruited by major college basketball programs to becoming, well… Steph Curry.

Albert Einstein. Failed his Swiss entrance exam, barely graduated from college, sold insurance door to door. So many great Einstein quotes to choose from. Perhaps the most apropos in this situation is, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

When things don’t go the way we hope, our tendency is to withdraw from others or go into our shell or gravitate toward people who are equally upset and in the exact same situation (see ad nauseam Reddit threads). Ironically, it’s in these precise moments we need to do the opposite—open up, listen to really hear, and seek perspective from people two, five, or 25 years older.

Common Threads

  • You are not alone. EVERYONE. EVERY. ONE. has stories of re-routes and disappointments. If someone cannot share at least one anecdote like this, do not trust them because THEY. ARE. LYING. Need more evidence? Go look at the admit rate of some of the schools you’ve applied to. Now flip that percentage (deny rate) and multiply it with the total number of applications received. That is a big number. That number is a lot higher than one, right? I know, I know. You come here for the math.
  • Re-routes and the things we do not get teach valuable lessons. Whether you are denied admission or you get in but ultimately don’t receive the financial aid package necessary for you to attend your top choice college, you will grow. My hope is you’ll be able to see these situations as opportunities rather than as disappointments. Use them as motivation. Anyone who is truly content, successful, and happy will not describe their life and journey as a predictable point-to-point path. Instead they’ll discuss bumps, turns, and moments of uncertainty along the way.
  • The real decision belongs to you. The common thread between the answers of our tour guides and the famous people listed above is that ultimately, we all need to choose how we handle re-directions, decide where our identity comes from, and determine how we are going to move forward.

To Parents, Counselors, and Teachers

March and April are critical times to give examples of how people students know, respect, and trust have weathered disappointments and emerged thankful on the other side.

Tweet explaining that college decisions work out

No. I don’t know Mark personally. I just ran across this when making sure #itworksout was populated with relatively clean, relevant and appropriate content.

So I have three favors to ask:

  1. Make a concerted effort in the weeks ahead to share your personal stories with the students around you. Extra Credit: join the movement by sharing your experience on social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)  Need some guidelines? Tell us:
  • What happened and when?
  • How did things ultimately work out?
  • Link to the blog, @gtadmission and #ItWorksOut.
  1. Talk to the parents of college students or recent college graduates about how things worked out for their kids. You’ll hear them tell encouraging stories of how #ItWorksOut. Maybe not the way they thought or scripted, but inevitably their anecdotes will be filled with examples of what we all hope for our kids: friends, happiness, and opportunities.
  2. Keep lifting up the students around you. They will need an appropriate amount of time and space to express their frustration or sit in the disappointment. Totally natural, normal, and necessary. But if you sense they are bumping up against the “wallow” line, use it as an opportunity to help them hone and develop a critical life skill– the ability to look down on a situation from 30,000 feet. It’s only from that vantage point we are able to absorb and handle disappointment, but also make big life decisions.

I’m not saying any of this is easy. But I am saying with absolute confidence #ItWorksOut. I’m excited to hear the stories of how it has (and will) in your life!

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College Admission Brief Podcast

We started the GT Admission Blog in 2015. At the time, I had a regular Thursday afternoon “running meeting” with our former director of enrollment communications, Matt McLendon. We’d set off with a full agenda to cover, but inevitably somewhere along the Beltline I’d start rambling about a particular challenge or admission issue. One day (mid-run/ mid-rant), Matt gently suggested I “write this stuff down.” He asserted that families needed to hear more honesty and openness from admission deans and directors, and my random analogies and anecdotes may actually be a refreshing way to present subjects that often stir anxiety. (Is it likely he was just trying to enjoy the run and stay on task? Absolutely. Nevertheless, here we are.).

In the early days of the blog, I was the sole/soul author. And for the first month, it was basically just my wife, mom, and aunt reading (using several email accounts to up our subscriber number). Since that time, we’ve found ways to bring in a variety of different voices from our admission team, enrollment division, as well as campus partners. The goal remains to provide perspective, insight, and helpful tips in a relatable and accessible tone–and hopefully to also bring some levity and solace along the way.

At the time of this writing, we have over 3,550 subscribers. We know that parents and counselors regularly share our blogs in their communities and friend sets. Thank you! And while we occasionally hear from applicants who have read an entry or two, we understand high school students may not always be up for reading another 1,200-1,400 words in an already word-filled day/week of going class, studying, taking notes, etc.

Still, we know from questions in and after presentations, as well as from emails, calls, and online posts, students want to get perspective about college admission. They want to know how decisions are really made, what they mean (and don’t mean), and often simply need to be reminded that the people reading their apps are just that—people.

College Admission Brief Podcast

College Admission Brief Header

To that end we just launched a new podcast, The College Admission Brief. Just like our blog, we hope to personalize the admission process by sharing timely tips and encouraging advice from colleagues and campus partners. While we’ll sometimes use Georgia Tech as an example, the goal is to include general information, advice, and broadly applicable admission insight for students to use in their college admission experience.

A great example of why we launched this podcast is my obnoxiously long (2,160 words to be exact) blog from last week. If you read it, thank you. Grit is a valued trait and you have it in spades, my friend. (Plus you now have a sense of what Matt was dealing with on those runs). The actual title was “What’s Taking So Long?” and anyone who is honest would admit they asked themselves that precise question several times during the reading.

If you skimmed a few paragraphs and clicked back over to Instagram or scrolled down twice hard with your thumb only to realize you were only to the second picture, I understand why you bowed out. Seriously, I get it. Good news- our latest podcast episode with our Senior Associate Director, Mary Tipton Woolley, covers the same content in under 10 minutes. Bonus- you can listen while walking, driving, or waiting around for a practice or rehearsal to start. (Multitasking is a skill and we’re here for you.)

Listen to “How Are College Admission Applications Reviewed? Episode 3: Mary Tipton Woolley” on Spreaker.

We are still tweaking the audio and working out some behind the scenes kinks, so just like: the world; my laundry folding skills; the admission experience; or any one of us, it is not perfect. Still, we hope you’ll find these interviews and recordings encouraging, relatively light, shareable, and at times humorous. But if nothing else we guarantee this—they’ll be brief! Each episode is less than 10 minutes. How bad can it be? Download and listen on iTunes, Spotify, or Spreaker to check it out. Happy listening!

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More and Less, Part 4

Over the last 20 years I’ve had the privilege of traveling around our country and the world speaking to families about college, the admission experience, and higher education.

During that time, both the work and the landscape have shifted dramatically. There is no question we currently face some unfortunate macro trends and realities: tuition costs continue to rise, putting greater financial strain on all families (particularly the middle class); decreased birth rates related to the recession in 2008-2009 will soon have significant impacts on the number of high school graduates; performance on standardized tests correspond heavily to a student’s socioeconomic background; state appropriations to public systems which were severely reduced over a decade ago have not recovered; and false narratives surrounding the economic value of a college degree have become pervasive.

Yet at its core, at the micro level, college admission is exactly what it’s always been—a family experience. Whether in Atlanta, Arkansas, Argentina, or Asia; whether a student is first-generation or from a multiple generation college-going family; whether the focus is on the Ivy League or regional publics in their state; regardless of religion or ethnicity or socioeconomic background, I’ve found one common and deeply encouraging thread: parents love their kids. While their questions may surround sterile topics like weighted GPAs or super-scored testing or application deadlines or graduation rates, they emanate from the same place: one of deep affection and unbridled love.

So before launching into the mores and less’ for parents, let me first say, “Thank you.”

Thank you for loving your kids. Thank you

Thank you for advocating for them.

Thank you for wanting them to have a better life and more opportunities and experiences than you have had.

Thank you for encouraging them and supporting them, even when they drive you nuts, roll their eyes, mumble one-syllable responses, or keep you up late at night worrying.

Thank you for washing the same dishes and clothes a thousand times.

Thank you for driving to and from practice and sitting through hours of swim meets or dance or music performances (just to hear or see your child perform for a fraction of that time).

Do I wish you wouldn’t disguise your voice in order to procure your daughter’s admission portal password? Sure.

Would admission officers prefer to come in the morning after releasing admission decisions, get a cup of coffee, and check the scores from the night before, rather than having parents outside (or in the parking lot) wanting to appeal or provide 13 additional recommendation letters? Yep.

Do I enjoy having my competence, intelligence, or soul brought into question based on an admission decision? Not particularly.

Nevertheless, as the parent of two kids, I get it. The truth is you are doing what you always have–loving them, protecting them, and providing for them. So for that, I thank you.

Understanding that is your goal, here are the mores and less’ for parents in 2020.

More willingness to talk about money early

Any admission or financial aid director can share countless stories about painful conversations with families in spring.  The student has been admitted, posted his intent to attend on Instagram, bought the hoodie, and already started scoping out dorms. Meanwhile, his parents are staring solemnly at the recently received financial aid package. They are weighing the fact that supporting this choice will mean no more vacations, or taking out a second mortgage on the house, or not retiring until the age of 78. Naturally, emotions are running high. At this point, I typically grab my laptop, place a box of tissues on the table, wish them the best and quietly close the door in search of the Keurig. I am simply not certified to moderate that type of discussion.

If you are the parent of a junior, now (before they apply to colleges) is the time to have honest conversations about what paying for college is going to look like for your family. You don’t need to itemize all of your expenditures, but “opening the books” and facilitating a transparent dialogue will shift your private financial burden to an open partnership and a collective investment. As a student’s first significant adult decision, they should be privy to the expense and implications of their college choice.

The beauty of the college admission experience is it can actually teach some long-term, real-life lessons. Sometimes that is about humility and dealing with disappointment when they are deferred, denied, or waitlisted; sometimes it’s the tension and difficulty of having to wait on results; and sometimes it is understanding how the lifestyle they know is financed, and how paying for college will factor into that. Visual display of families discussing financial aid

I understand this can be uncomfortable initially. However, talking money early will not only keep you out of that dreaded April scenario I described, but will also help inform your college search. It will help generate important questions to ask on tours about co-ops, internships, major choice, return on investment, careers, salaries, and how those colleges help students pursue employment opportunities during and after college. It will help frame the difference between “sticker price” and actual cost before applying. It will allow you to use and process the results of Net Price Calculators as a family. I believe talking about money early will actually bring you together, rather than creating a painful silent wedge in your relationship during the college admission experience. Talk money early!

Draw less lines.

“My dad will only let me apply to schools in the Top X.” Before you put those types of conditions on your student’s search, I urge you to check the methodology behind how the rankings are formulated (this is how US News and World Report creates its rankings). Before you blindly follow a singular number as an authoritative signpost, ask yourself if your values are in line with their calculations.

More pointedly, do you care what one president (or their assistant who completes the survey) thinks of another college (20% of the methodology)? Is it of any consequence that a school looking to increase it’s position might intentionally inflate a small fraction of faculty salaries or decrease the class size in a major your daughter or son has no interest in pursuing (another 20% of the methodology)?

Secondly, just like college football teams may end one season inside the Top 25 and begin the next one outside of it, the same is true for university rankings. They change. The BIG difference is sports teams move up and down because of actual performance or losing a quarterback.

In contrast, last year Georgia Tech was ranked the #8 public school in the nation. This year we are in the fifth slot. The truth is we are the same place. Our students are just as bright. Our research is just as important. Nothing has changed—except that number. So before you tell your daughter she can only visit schools in the Top 50 or 100, consider not only the highly debatable methodology, but also the fact that last year number 94 was ranked 107 or visa versa (Note: I have no idea who is currently 107, 94, or any other number, except number five).

Admit rates are another line parents often draw that I urge you to focus on far less. A school counselor put this beautifully last week, “selectivity is not always a proxy for academic quality.” Bam! That is spot on. As a parent, I hope you will not find yourself coaching your daughter or son to, “only look at places with admit rates below X%.” Or to attend the “most selective school to which you are admitted.”

Here is my case study counter. When I arrived at Tech, we were admitting well over 60% of applicants. Just a few years ago we sat around 40%. This year’s class will likely see an admit rate below 20%. Are they any smarter, more talented, or more destined for future success? Absolutely not. Students we admitted at 60% are running companies now and sitting on boards of major organizations. If a parent was drawing draconian lines they may have counseled their oldest child elsewhere, but now demand Tech is the right choice for their 2020 grad simply because of a specific percentage threshold. Same dorms. Same food. Same job opportunities. Draw less lines!

Less talking to other high school parents and more talking to the parents of current college students (or those of recent college graduates).

When you were pregnant or figuring out potty training or trying to determine the best discipline tactics, or as your daughter was about to get her driver’s license, you consulted the parents of kids who had already walked that same path.

This is why high schools invite parents of alumni back to serve on panels. They have walked in your shoes. They have wisdom and tips and can console and empathize. You know what they never say? “We really wish we’d really stressed more about this whole college admission thing!” Nope. Instead, they may talk about the twists and turns. They will likely describe some lessons learned. They’ll certainly talk about how they wish they’d talked about money earlier or drawn less lines or discovered the Georgia Tech admission blog as a junior. But ultimately they say the same thing. It all worked out for the best: “she’s happy,” “he’s dating a girl we actually like,” “I never thought I could cheer for that team, but I have to admit it’s a pretty amazing school.”

First day of school and first day of college cartoon

editorial cartoon

So spend your time talking to your peers about the upcoming soccer game or whether their son is also going on that spring break trip, but don’t talk to them about college admission. Many exaggerate. Some straight up lie. And unless they’ve got an older kid or two in college, they are just as confused or anxious as you are. Escape your echo chamber!

As we end this four-part series, I again want to thank you.

If you are a fellow admission colleague out there bleary-eyed in the middle of reading season, thank you! Thank you for your diligence, your perseverance, and your commitment to building your campus community one application at a time. Stay hydrated. Get some sun. Connect with colleagues.

If you are a school counselor walking the halls each day, inviting kids into your office to encourage, console or just listen, thank you! Thank you for truly seeing them when they feel unseen or misunderstood. Thank you for being there to give them a hug or some perspective after a rough exam or a big break up. Thank you for juggling a million responsibilities but consistently putting your concerns aside and pouring out your time and energy into kids.

If you are a high school student, thank you. Thank you for the hope you convey in your essays. Thank you for the bold aspirations and tremendous accomplishments and talents you outline in your applications. Thank you for the boundless optimism and desire to improve our world that you discuss in your interviews (frequently despite carrying burdens of expectations, enduring a tragic loss, or weathering circumstances no teenager should ever have to endure). Our world is broken and dark at times. Too often we see the “worst of us” play out on the nightly news or in our social media feed. Particularly in an election year, when we hear polarizing rhetoric or see caustic divisions and factions, you provide incredibly refreshing light to those of us fortunate enough to read and listen. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

If you a parent, thank you! This role is an amazing, terrifying privilege that leads us down a simultaneously joyous yet heart-wrenching path without any real trail map or instruction guide. Thank you for the dozens of unseen sacrifices you make and silent prayers you offer for your kids every day. The truth is you will not be able to control everything about your family’s college experience. The good news is that is not what they need anyway. After watching this cycle repeat itself for two decades, I am convinced what they really need is what only you can provide– your love and support. Keep showing and telling them you trust them and that you are proud of them. Thank you for loving your kids!

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More and Less, Part 2

Rick Clark’s time off of screens

This is my auto-generated monthly recap from December. That was 6 “quiet days” more than the November report, so here’s hoping for 2020.

Last week we kicked off the new year with some questions around what you want to see more and less of in your life in 2020. I confessed my need to unplug more and email/text/tweet while walking less. Again, if you have not already done so, I highly encourage you to take some time this week to write down your goals and priorities and revisit them periodically in the year ahead. I also shared my hopes for mores and less’ from my college admission colleagues around the country. You can read that blog here. Now, you’re all caught up.

Since our best work is done in collaboration and partnership, this week Part 2 continues with a focus on school counselors. First, Happy New Year! I am guessing for many of you it already feels like two months back, rather than just two weeks, because the beginning of any semester is a frenetic–especially in high schools.

If you have not heard, “Thank You!” lately, then please pause on those words. I’ve had the opportunity to walk the halls of a few schools over the last week, and it reminded me of how deeply thankful I am that you are there each day. These students walk through your doors carrying such a breadth of burdens, questions, pain, and uncertainty. Your smile, fist bump, hand shake, or offer to simply sit down and breathe is invaluable. As a parent that drops two kids off each day in a public school, I live this. Knowing there are caring adults who see and hear things I’ll never be privy to has made me even more grateful for the pivotal role you play in loving, encouraging, and mentoring our kids. Thank you!

To my school counselor colleagues:

More Advocacy

Nationally, the counselor: student ratio is nearly 500:1. School counselors are frequently asked to proctor exams, assist with class registration and course changes, handle psycho-social and family-related counseling, and much more. As a result, writing recommendation letters, ensuring transcripts are sent, and providing guidance to students in their college search is a small, and ever-decreasing percentage of the work.

My hope for 2020 is more counselors will lift the issue of chronically high ratios to principals, superintendents, PTA/PTO, and broader school community, as well as with local and state representatives. Addressing this problem has short and long-term implications on mental health, high school and college retention and graduation rates, as well as finding the best academic and financial college matches for students.

It is my hope through collective advocacy, as well as telling a broader story, decision makers will gain more appreciation for the value of investing in K-12 counselors, which will improve college performance at their state’s public schools and ultimately reduce student debt due to finding the best academic and financial matches. If you are a parent or student reading this, take the time to learn more about your school’s ratio and then ask your counselor what they could do more, or by necessity do less, based on that number. Want to know your state’s overall ratio? Check here.

Another important point surrounds the fact that many of the degrees counselors need to practice in our high schools require precious little emphasis on college guidance. Equally unfortunate is continuing education requirements rarely include robust college counseling exposure. Add to the equation a severe lack of budget, time, and support for public school counselors in particular to attend professional development programs, and we are left with both a significant gap and an equally viable opportunity.

Whether you are in an independent school with a counselor: student ratio of 40:1 or working at a public high school and carrying a 400:1 caseload, it is imperative for those of you who live this every day to raise your voice and tell your story.

We need your singular anecdotes as well as your aggregate data to provide policy makers compelling illustrations of how helping students find good college matches allows them to earn a degree, graduate with less debt, and find a job quickly, therefore helping them to contribute to the economy.  Easy? No. Critical? Absolutely.

Wondering how to get started? Contact your local government relations liaison through your regional or state affiliate or contact NACAC’s Government Relations Jedi master and esteemed legislative guru, Mike Rose.

Less Rush to Judgment

My hope is 2020 will bring more trust between school counselors and college admission officers. We effectively build and fortify this bridge when admission reps focus on improving transparency, and school counselors commit to being more quick to listen and learn about the pressures their university colleagues face, and less apt to jump to conclusions without first gleaning appropriate context and engaging in conversation.

Recently, a colleague told me about a change that his university has decided to make for next year’s admission cycle. “I’ll tell you what I’m not looking forward to is dealing with the maelstrom this is going to create among counselors next fall.” His statement is reflective of what needs to change in the professional dynamic going forward.

I hope you will remember just as you operate within the framework/pressures/dictates of your school or system, admission offices are doing the same. When they set policies, timelines, or admission decisions, they are responding to institutional priorities which are typically driven by a board, chancellor, president, provost, or even the regents or administration of a state system.

While it is critical for you to challenge us at times, as well as to highlight the implications these decisions have on you, your students, and your communities, too often the tone of comments on social media or the edge voiced in questions is skeptical and accusatory at best, and confrontational at worst.

Comparative questions like, “Why don’t you all do X like Y college?” and comments beginning with “I just don’t understand….” Or “It makes no sense that you….” neither facilitate a healthy exchange nor set an example for students on how to seek information or understand nuanced issues.

I hope in the year ahead, you’ll pick up the phone or reach out to contact admission colleagues more quickly, rather than make assumptions or post speculation/ isolated anecdotes without attempting to glean context.

More Collaboration Building collaboration

Just as I hope more universities will look for diverse partners to travel or host programs with, I’m similarly hopeful for my school counselor friends.  In 2020, I hope you will consider not simply putting on programs for your individual school community, but will look around your area to see who you can partner with. Could you open up your evening panel of visiting college deans to all schools within a five-mile radius, or local CBOs? If you have an admission director coming to speak with your students or families in the evening, could you host a lunch for all local counselors to learn more about that school or set of schools? Can you create or broaden your college fair to include even more high schools and local students?

I can tell you without a doubt that directors and deans will be far more apt to attend your programs if you demonstrate collaboration with counselors at other schools. This is the type of ROI for them that makes it worth leaving campus for a few days or spending time away from family. I’ve seen great examples of models for these types of programs, so please reach out if you want to share your previous models with others or receive ideas or contacts from colleagues (@clark2college).

Looking Forward

As 2020 gets rolling, I am optimistic. While the challenges are many, I am deeply encouraged by the quality of professionals in our field. Want to be inspired? Check out this piece by Brennan Barnard in which he highlights the influential work happening in high school and college communities around the country.

Next week, Part 3- More and Less for parents and students in the college admission experience.

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