As the halls of high schools across America empty, college counselors can breathe a collective sigh of relief, having successfully survived yet another academic year. But just as your students shouldn't let their minds turn to mush or their college aspirations come to a standstill during the dog days, counselors should likewise find ways to stay on their game in preparation for the upcoming school year. Whether you're a high school counselor with a few months off or an independent consultant still heading into the office every day, here are a few things you can do to keep your skills sharp and gear up for the next cycle of college planning:
Stay in touch with your fellow counselors and find ways to connect with others you don't know. See if any of the state or national organizations you may be a member of are holding any events over the summer, such as the Independent Educational Consultants Associations's Summer Training Institute. You might even start your own local group through websites such as MeetUp.com. If you can't get together in person, you can network online through Facebook, Twitter, or pages such as the LinkedIn group CollegeXpress for Counselors and NACAC's MemberToMember Community. Discuss the previous school year's challenges and triumphs as well as any shifting trends you've noticed in your students. Ask questions and exchange ideas. You'll be able to share your own experiences while learning and perhaps gaining some new perspective.
- Visit colleges and universities
Consider paying a visit to the schools that are within driving distance from you. And if you want to be extra proactive, you might even visit schools in other cities or states while you're on vacation. Drop by the admission and financial aid offices and ask a few questions. Pick up some brochures, course schedules, and anything else you can get your hands on. Wander the campuses and check out the housing options, dining facilities, and places like student unions to get a sense of what student life is like. Assess the parking options and opportunities for socializing at commuter schools. Your first-hand experience will be helpful when students begin narrowing down the list of schools to which they will apply.
- Update and build your counseling library
Unfortunately, college statistics are not constant. As you are well aware, things like contacts, deadlines, and enrollment, financial aid, and tuition figures change from year to year, so it's important that you maintain a current and accurate counseling library. Summer is the perfect time to go through your materials and determine what needs updating. Search the Web for new titles that may be relevant to your students. If necessary, renew your subscriptions to any educational magazines you may receive. And be sure to request current catalogs from the schools your students most often apply to.
- Scour the Web
Become a "collegiate armchair detective." With the help of a laptop, iPad, or a smartphone, you can research and stay on top of all things college admission from the comfort of . . . well, pretty much anywhere. In and amongst the time you spend online shopping, catching up on celebrity gossip, or whatever your Internet vice may be, you can easily work on expanding your knowledge and expertise. Visit schools' websites and connect with their social media. Bookmark the education pages of your favorite news websites. Set up Google alerts to keep your finger on the pulse of topics that are important to you. And of course, visit CollegeXpress frequently for articles, blogs, and advice on every aspect of the college admission process.
- Keep tabs on your students
If possible, consider checking in with your students (particularly juniors) and their parents by e-mailing or calling them once or twice throughout the summer. If you helped any students devise game plans for an application-boosting summer, see how they're panning out. Ask about any job or volunteer experience they're acquiring, books they're reading, and summer programs they've attended. Pass along information about any additional opportunities you think they may benefit from. Ask if they or their parents have any questions about the upcoming school year, the courses they've selected, or the college application process. Follow up with any students who had to go to summer school and make sure they're back on track for senior year. Putting a bug in your students' ears will help keep their noses pointed in the right direction, and tackling any questions they have now will help you get a jump start on the first day of school.