If you’re a counselor, you may have noticed a shift in attitude from your students as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some remain enthusiastic about life after high school, others may feel less optimistic with so much change and uncertainty. So how do you get your students motivated about the future? Throughout my career as a college and career counselor, I’ve worked diligently to create effective ways to help my students become more interested and excited about planning and preparing for their college experiences and future careers. Here are some of the ideas I’ve executed to get students more engaged in the process, plus tips for in-person or online events.
College and career bootcamp
A few years ago, I planned a College and Career Bootcamp (“Building Our Outstanding Teens”) for high school students in grades 9–12. The first was held for a week in the summer with mornings that included speakers on various topics such as completing college applications, interview preparation skills, preparing for collegiate athletics, finding your best-fit college, resources for completing a successful college search, financial aid and scholarships, writing college essays and high school résumés, and successful strategies for college success. During the afternoons, we traveled to four local colleges for admission presentations and campus tours. Lunch was provided by all of the colleges during our visits.
The second Career and College Bootcamp was held on a Saturday afternoon. It was comprised of two workshops: “College and Career Planning” and “Financial Aid and Scholarships.” The afternoon session was a college and career fair in which students played a career and college bingo game, which encouraged them to feel comfortable speaking to representatives who had gathered to present information.
I’ve also hosted scholarship parties at various local libraries. With the pandemic this year, I’m planning a virtual scholarship party—and that’s something you could try too. These events include a presentation about scholarship search strategies, scholarship essays tips, and several examples of helpful scholarship websites, smartphone apps, etc. Additionally, student attendees play career- and college-related games (i.e., bingo, scavenger hunts, and college Jeopardy), with prizes awarded.
Another great idea is a virtual or in-person volunteer fair. Many students are in need of community service hours—especially right now during the pandemic. Try gathering representatives from several community agencies or organizations to explain to students what needs they have and offer them opportunities to help. This could be delivered virtually or in person. Many community organizations may also have a list of various volunteering opportunities specifically for high school and college students. One caution is that students may have to be 18 years old for certain volunteer projects, or they may require a parent to accompany the student.
One important piece of advice to remember is students need to keep track of their volunteer hours in an organized format. You may want to suggest that they check out volunteercrowd.com. This is a great way to keep track of hours and have everything verified for college applications.
Zoom career interviews
To give students some exposure and information regarding different career paths, I recorded 60+ career informational interviews with career professionals through Zoom. Included among the interviewees were students who were graduating from their bachelor’s or master’s programs in various majors. This type of virtual career fair can be shared with students to help them gain information and learn about professional experiences.
Opportunities for learning and fun
It’s important to develop ways for students to have fun and learn at the same time. If you plan a scholarship and financial aid workshop or a career prep information session with various professionals from the local area, try asking various businesses if they’d be willing to donate small prizes or gift cards for attendees. If the event is virtual, gift cards can easily be sent electronically or mailed to game winners. Try to get feedback from students and parents on their interest in these types of events and what would make them more likely to attend.
If you’re looking for fresh ways to get and keep students engaged in the college search and career prep process, these ideas could be exactly what you’re looking for. Counselors are also encouraged to reach out to me with any questions or additional information on any of the ideas I’ve suggested.
Still worried about a lack of engagement? Share our blog Connect With School Counselors During COVID-19 with your students and let them know you’re here to help.