Way back in 1970, when I began my career as an international educator in Japan, the furthest thing from my mind was becoming a high school guidance counselor. Think back to how you started in the profession and just how prepared you felt. I remember when it all happened to me. The high school principal approached me and asked if I would be interested in the job. It was a K-12 school for boys in Tokyo and I would be responsible for helping 70 or so seniors with their college applications, working on schedules, and teaching a course and a typing class—not keyboarding, but on actual, non-electric machines. But that is another story.
My background was in social studies and I had just completed a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction that included a few personal counseling courses, but nothing to do with university applications. I was very fortunate in that I was able to take a one-week summer course on college counseling at the University of San Francisco, followed by the College Board Summer Institute for international counselors, before I began my job.
Let’s not be naïve. The reputation of most private and many public schools depends on where their graduates attend college. This was certainly the case in my international school, and we were no exception. We ask ourselves, “Are we doing a good job finding the right fit for our students? Are the parents and students happy with the results?”
If this “reputation” is true, why don’t high schools put more importance on having well-qualified, professionally trained college counselors on staff? I realize the staffing implications, but as more and more international students, especially from Asia, are applying to U.S. universities, the need for well-qualified counselors to help them is paramount. And just where do they receive this training? We all know that on-the-job training is important, but the basics need to be taught!
Imagine you are attending a workshop and one of the presentations is on how to write the prefect letter of recommendation. I can guarantee that there will be standing room only, and if a representative from a major university presents it, they will be turning people away. Now, just why is that? Why, even after 40 years of writing recommendations, do I still go to these presentations? It is because we all want to do what is best for our students, and that magic bullet must be out there somewhere.
If you want to have a career as an international school counselor, having the background in college counseling is a must. Take that course while you are in college, and if there isn’t one, ask the head of the education or counseling department why there isn’t one. If you are in the profession now and feel you need help, take an online course or find out if your nearest university is offering one. Work through your local NACAC affiliate. Perhaps even volunteer to teach a course yourself.
Several of the state and regional NACAC affiliates offer mentorship programs. Don’t be afraid to ask—after all, you are in a profession that helps students, so you should not be shy about asking for help yourself. I am still so thankful for that one-week course in San Francisco.