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Multitasking and Making Time for College Planning

High school counselors wear many hats. When there aren't enough hours in the day, how can you find extra time for college planning?

Guidance counselors are real life superheroes. Working with high school students in any capacity might send lesser folks running for the hills, but you remain vigilant and undaunted, facing your herd day after day and doling out expert advice on a wide array of adolescent undertakings. Counselors may find themselves playing referee, college advisor, sounding board, and even disciplinarian and therapist--all before lunch. With so many responsibilities at hand, your job really boils down to a single objective: mastering the fine art of multitasking.

Each year, NACAC releases its immensely enlightening State of College Admission. The report is "based on surveys of school counselors and colleges and universities nationwide" and is provided "to highlight issues of concern to college-bound students, their parents, and the educators who serve them." Among the many fascinating and revelatory findings of the most recent report, the following stand out:

  • On average, public school counselors spent 23% of their time on postsecondary counseling in 2010, while their private school counterparts spent 55% of their time on college counseling.
  • In 2010, only 26% of public schools reported employing at least one counselor (full- or part-time) whose exclusive responsibility was to provide college counseling, compared to 73% of private schools.
  • According to U.S. Department of Education data, in 2009-2010 each secondary public school counselor had responsibility for 407 students, on average.
  • In 2010, high school counseling staffs spent an average of only 29% of their time on postsecondary admission counseling.

High school counselors at both public and private schools wear many hats, helping their students with academics, personal and social development, and career exploration while mitigating the various teenage emotional crises that inevitably arise on a daily basis. Add to all of that the job of guiding them through the college admission process and it seems there aren't enough hours in the day.

Counselors who are juggling multiple responsibilities for hundreds of students may not be able to devote much time to one-on-one college planning. But there are several ways in which you can maximize the time you do have with each student by giving them the tools they need to explore and apply to colleges on their own.

Get online

Compile a list of your favorite college planning websites that your students can use to begin their college and scholarship searches. Consider printing out your list and giving it to your juniors and seniors at the beginning of the school year. Some useful sites include FAFSA, The Common Application, and of course, CollegeXpress, where they'll find all the information they need on thousands of schools and scholarships. You might also list the websites of the colleges and universities that students from your school most often attend, including direct links to their application and financial aid pages.

Communicate through the Web

While you may not have loads of time to spend with each of your students individually, you can communicate via e-mail to answer questions, check in on their progress, and even send out reminders about upcoming deadlines. If you haven't already joined the Twitter bandwagon, consider setting up an account that students can follow and use it to post things like scholarships you've come across, test-taking tips, SAT vocabulary definitions, or college-related news and advice.

Encourage social networking

Once your students have ensured their online presence is squeaky clean, social networking can be an excellent tool in the college admission process. Many colleges and universities now have Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts, allowing prospective students to connect with them and learn more about what they have to offer. Your juniors can use these sites to explore the schools they're interested in and your seniors can use them to interact with current students at the schools to which they are applying and to learn about the goings-on on campus once they've been accepted.

Offer group sessions

If your schedule permits, consider offering group counseling sessions. Determine the various categories your college-bound students fall into--such as private or public school applicants, two-year school applicants, and students in the top 10%--and then offer a few question-and-answer sessions specifically geared toward each group. Students in similar situations will have similar questions for you, so making yourself available to several of them at once will help you hit many birds with one stone while giving them the individualized attention they need.

Build your library

Fill your shelves with resources your students can turn to throughout the college admission process. Before the school year begins, request catalogs from the colleges and universities your students most often attend. Have a current set of comprehensive college guides, such as the College Admissions Data Sourcebooks, that you can your students can refer to as they narrow down the list of schools to which they will apply. Subscribe to magazines with a focus on higher education, such as Private Colleges & Universities, and make photo copies of articles that students can take with them. Most important, make your college planning library accessible for the times when you are not.

In your multifaceted role as a high school counselor, the time you are able to devote to college planning may be limited. And while there's no book, website, or Twitter feed that could ever take your place, these time-saving suggestions, along with a little hard work and ingenuity, will help put you and your students on track for success.

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