Counselors have many roles to fill in today’s high schools.
In High School, students need guidance in a number of areas in their life, including which courses to take, which career paths to explore, which colleges or trade programs to pursue, how to manage their physical and mental health, and how to maneuver complicated social situations.
Counselors help students navigate these complexities, playing a pivotal role in the social-emotional, character, academic, and vocational development of the student populations they serve. In addition to helping individual students, counselors also strive to create a welcoming, inclusive school environment where students can put their best foot forward.
It’s no surprise then that counselors’ activities vary day-to-day. As school counselor Tawnya Pringle tells U.S. News, “You can have a student walk into your office and they could be homeless.” In that same day, a counselor could also encounter a student stressed out about their grades or asking how to interact with a bully.
High school counselors have many roles they are expected to fill, and as such, they have become an indispensable part of the educational team. Although their skills are in high demand, the ratio of student-to-counselor remains far higher than the 250-1 ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA).
This could be, in part, due to the dated idea that some people have about what school counselors truly do, believing in a stereotype that counselors are simply there to help students with their scheduling.
“The absolute biggest misconception, without a doubt, would be that we’re just there for scheduling,” counselor Shelby Boisvert writes.1 Rather, the training that school counselors receive allows them to counsel individuals on any number of important life decisions. Below, we highlight just a few of the many ways that high school counselors make a difference in the lives of their students.
Providing Academic Support
While academics are typically thought of as the teacher’s territory, high school counselors can offer academic support for students as well. In fact, many schools ask that counselors step up to the plate to improve academic achievement for their students.
One direct example occurred in the Wake County, North Carolina school system, where counselors were asked to identify 30 at-risk students and develop programs that would increase their academic performance. But there are plenty of ways that school counselors can help promote achievement in a less-direct manner.3
When meeting with students who are struggling with their school work, counselors can bridge the gap between students, parents, and teachers, helping all parties to identify the root of the problem and come up with alternatives as necessary.
They can also help to create an environment that fosters academic integrity and teaches students how to establish good study habits that they can take with them throughout their academic endeavors.
Improving School Climate
Bullying and violence have become an epidemic in today’s schools, threatening the quality of the school environment which can drastically change outcomes for students who are directly or indirectly involved.
The Centers for Disease Control recently reported that 28 percent of students in grades 6-12 have been the target of bullying, while another 30 percent admitted that they have been complicit in bullying other students.
Counselors provide a critical role in combating this disturbing trend. They do this, in part, by diligently working to improve their school climate.
According to research compiled by ASCA, schools that have positive climates benefit students greatly, and their academic performance and social well-being are drastically improved. Schools that fail to have policies of inclusion have students who are increasingly disengaged with their school work, and in the worst cases, choose to lash out violently.
School counselors work constantly to improve the school environments for their students, both for high achievers and for those who might need an extra nudge.
They do so by urging fellow educational staff to maintain positive relationships with their students built on trust and care, developing programs and policies that foster educational development, and recognizing students’ efforts and accomplishments, and encouraging them to continue aspiring to greatness.
Helping Students Develop Socially
Students in high school are at a critical point in their social development. For many students, navigating social scenarios at this age can be complicated, especially as technology continues to expand means of communication.
Counselors can provide an important role for their students, helping them to better navigate tough social situations in ways that parents and teachers may not be able to.
Having been trained to counsel, listen, and provide honest feedback and support puts counselors in a unique position to positively influence those who may be struggling with gossip, body image issues, bullying, dating, and other common factors that high school students struggle with.
Counselors can also determine whether or not students need to seek help from another mental health professional. Their close and personal relationship with the students they serve may give them insight into a student’s mental health that parents or teachers simply don’t see.
“School counselors do much of their work behind the scenes,” writes Lakilia Bedeau. “We work with students experiencing a family crisis, contemplating suicide, coping with an unplanned pregnancy, or being bullied.”
Their help behind the scenes helps students from a number of backgrounds to be more successful in their school environments.
Providing Parental Support
High school isn’t just tough on kids, of course. Parents and families have to deal with a number of life changes as well.
Counselors can help offer families strategies on how to manage parenting, school applications, homework, and how to better connect with their children.
“I’ve had a lot of parents come in over the years that just have said, ‘I don’t know what to do. How do I handle when my teenager is doing this, this and this at home?’ Pringle tells U.S. News.1 Whether solutions involve family therapy, workbooks, or simply a different means of communication, high school counselors are trained to help families iron out difficulties they may be having.
Counselors can also help parents navigate other difficult processes, including the college application process, providing training for parents on how to fill out the FAFSA, or even how to access further counseling for their children.
Preparing Students for Life After High School
High school counselors have many important roles, but perhaps most important is providing students with information so that they can plan for their life after college, whether it be college, trade school, or entering the working world.
It’s important that students have access to counselors during this transitionary phase. High school counselors complement the work of other educational staff, giving students information and support so they can make a well-informed decision about their future.
Recent studies have shown that access to school counselors in high school actually increases college enrollment.
“Research shows that comprehensive school counseling programs do indeed affect student success and achievement,” Robert Bardwell writes in a column featured on the New York Times. “Data also indicate that students who have access to quality school counseling do better on standardized achievement tests, one predictor of success in college. The percentage of students bound for higher education increases when they have access to highly-trained school counselors…”6
Regardless of the path students choose, the counselor provides a critical role in helping students transition into their next life stage, from hosting career fairs to helping students fill out college applications, or simply listening to their struggles during this time.
Today’s high school counselors have a wide swath of responsibilities. Not only do they help students adequately transition into adulthood, but they also help parents and students cope with these new life changes. They are an indispensable part of today’s education team, and their importance will only grow in the years to come.
For those interested in helping adolescents transition into adulthood, are concerned about students’ social and mental well being, and are passionate about helping people, earning a Masters in Counseling from Wake Forest University is a stepping stone to accomplishing your goals.
US News, “How High School Counselors Can Help Students, Parents”
Counseling.org, “Improving Academic Achievement: What School Counselors Can Do” (PDF)
Stop Bullying.org, Facts About Bullying
NEO Today, “With New Roles, School Counselors Are More Indispensable Than Ever”