Early college counseling—as early as middle school—is essential to students’ aspirations for attending college, according to new study from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). The study, “Preparing Students for College: What High Schools Are Doing and How Their Actions Influence Ninth-Graders’ College Attitudes, Aspirations and Plans,” found that instilling positive attitudes about postsecondary education is critical to increasing college and career readiness at the high school level.
“With an increasingly diverse student population, it’s more important than ever to start early with good counseling about post-secondary options,” said Jim Rawlins, NACAC president and executive director of admissions at Colorado State University. “College admission counseling can give students and their families the knowledge and confidence they need to make the best choices about postsecondary education.”
The report finds that among ninth graders whose parents have not earned a bachelor’s degree:
• The amount of time counselors spent on college readiness activities was positively related to students’ belief that their families could afford college.
• A family member’s talking to a counselor about college was positively related to students’ plans to enroll in college.
• A student’s talking to a counselor about college was positively related to students’ plans to enroll in college and take an admission exam, such as the ACT or SAT.
The report was written for NACAC by Alexandria Walton Radford and Nicole Ifill of RTI International. Walton noted that, despite the benefits of early contact, only 18 percent of all ninth-grade students have spoken with a school counselor about college. Forty-eight percent of high school counselors indicated that the first priority for their counseling program, while 13 percent indicated that they felt some counselors at their school had “given up on some students.” Eight percent of high schools required that students develop a college or career plan.
As the Obama administration and Congress work to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), or “No Child Left Behind” Act, school improvement data increasingly indicate the importance of college and career readiness at the high school level.
“Counselors play a significant role in supporting students as they navigate the college selection process,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education Deb Delisle. “The middle school years are vital in shaping students’ attitudes toward learning and higher education, and this report highlights the importance of providing systemic advocacy and support networks well before a student’s senior year. Achievement gaps can only be closed if we provide opportunities for all our children to be successful, and we hope more counselors will connect with students to build a system that will support them as they transition into college and beyond.”
Research reveals many barriers to success, particularly for low-income students and students who are the first in their families to consider attending college. Addressing those barriers to achievement, as well as instilling positive attitudes about postsecondary education, is a critical role of the school counselor.
“This report adds to the growing body of research that underscores the importance of school counselors in assisting students and families with educational and career planning,” noted Richard Wong, Executive Director of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). “Schools that enable their school counselors to coordinate and provide direct post-secondary planning assistance to students early, as suggested by the ASCA National Model for school counseling programs, stand to recognize a wide range of outcome improvements as a result.”
The report suggests that the transition between middle and high school can be an important time to reinforce positive attitudes and planning, particularly among low-income families and those segments of the population that will be essential if the United States is to reach President Obama’s ambitious goal to raise the nation’s college completion rate to 60 percent by the year 2020, adding at least 8 million college graduates.