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The role of the school counselor has evolved to support students. Here are three questions to ask in helping students plan for their future.

With many states focusing on and defining postsecondary readiness for students, the need for stronger advising is greater today than in years past. The options for students are much different today than they were 40, even 15 years ago. Today students have more alternatives to the traditional four-year university experience, such as vocational or professional skill certificates and registered apprenticeships. In addition, with the emergence of early college programs in high school, students have the opportunity to experience a non-traditional four-year experience with earned credit.   

The historic role of the school counselor, which supported postsecondary outcomes from its inception, has adapted over time. The creation of the school counselor position (originally known as a guidance counselor) was intended to support the National Defense Education Act (NDEA). This act was created, in part, to identify and encourage students strong in math and science to enter the space race. From this beginning, the school counselor role quickly evolved, becoming a crucial piece in supporting all students on multiple fronts.

In recent years, the counselor role has been an instrumental piece in supporting record-high graduation rates. Graduation requirements are meticulously tracked to ensure students finish high school and enter postsecondary programs in desired time frames. Creating this college-going culture has been a major shift in the school counselor role and has required an evolution to ensure such a shift in aspirational mindsets occurs for both students and parents. Once again, the time has come to redefine the role of the school counselor.

How can we define or leverage the next evolution of the school counselor? I predict this revolution will include a major emphasis on career and college readiness and success. Postsecondary success counseling is crucial to ensure both postsecondary enrollment and successful completion. It is an ethical imperative to leverage National Student Clearinghouse and other postsecondary data to ensure successful advising toward reputable and impactful programs. It is critical that we recommend options with a record of student successful completion as we urge students to connect their learning to their ultimate vocation.  

With all of the options for students to consider today, school counselors have a vast toolkit upon which to draw. For example, community colleges are developing middle college programs that allow “get ahead” programs in which students can complete their senior year of high school graduation requirements while beginning their first year of college. Such programs can greatly reduce time to degree and, consequently, the overall cost. With 80% of students changing their major in college, college and university has become an expensive place for self-exploration; counselors play a key role in minimizing costly post-secondary time spent on that. 

How can we retool and reinvent our current course offerings and advising programs to support students to a greater degree while they are in high school? Start by addressing these questions:  

What do we do to help students be college-ready?

  • How do we support dual credit and early college initiatives to eliminate transition and remedial course burnout?
  • Can we eliminate elective courses in silos and realign the curriculum to have purposeful career cluster alignment?
  • Do we have programs and practices in place that provide opportunities for students to explore post-secondary options?
  • How do we engage postsecondary partners to provide more than early college credit? Can they provide early advising models or on-campus engagement that is personalized to your district?  

What do we do to help students be career-ready?

  • How do we leverage proactive services and structure a multi-tiered system to support and encourage attendance greater than 90%?
  • Can we embed more advanced capstone courses to include workplace or experiential hands-on learning to foster career self-awareness?
  • Do we leverage community partners to establish a plethora of internship options? Students deeply involved in summer sports camps or afterschool curriculars may need creative options such as weekend internships or brief summer experiences.  

What do we do to help students to be life ready?

  • Can we embed courses with a growth mindset at the forefront?  
  • How do we design courses to exercise crucial executive functioning skills that will serve students beyond the school walls?
  • Do we have a myriad of supported study hall or advisory options to assist in supporting holistic social-emotional learning skills?

We celebrate the tremendous impact school counselors have in helping students achieve success in school and in life. Our role will continue to evolve. A constant will be the work we do to support each student and the creative ideas to ensure each student not only succeeds in school but well into adulthood.

Matthew Liberatore

Dr. Matt Liberatore, LCPC is the director of professional learning and student services for Township High School District 214, past president of the Illinois School Counselor Association, and senior advisor to Intellispark.