Published March 03, 2021
By CASSIE GORMAN
Before my brother graduated from Carmel High School in 2018, he was initially unsure of where he wanted to go to college, so he met with his assigned college counselor. Every week for the first semester, he received guidance on where he should apply and feedback on his application. Now a junior at U.C. Berkeley, he still tells me how the college counselor provided valuable insight to the application process.
As my own senior year rapidly approached, I hoped for that same quality of assistance from the counseling department at CHS, but I quickly found that it was incredibly difficult to get any appointments with my counselor, and the feedback I did get on some of my college essays was often vague and not critical enough.
In my junior year, I can only recall one in-class presentation pertaining to college. This year, amid distance learning, some of my friends even hired college counselors outside of school, as their counselors were often unavailable and did not know them well enough to give personalized assistance.
Though U.C. applications and admissions have remained steady in the past two years, the percentage of CHS seniors applying to four-year colleges has dropped 9.5% and those applying to private universities 9%, despite the fact that both numbers had been rising steadily prior. Admissions to top colleges like Stanford, Boston University and Ivy League schools dropped sharply from 2017 to 2020 as well.
So what happened?
In fall 2019, CHS reverted to an outdated counseling model which splits up students alphabetically among three counselors, resulting in less college assistance for seniors. It’s time to rethink our counselor model and make college counseling a distinct service again.
From 2011 to 2019, CHS made a distinction between academic counselors, who helped with course scheduling and enrollment, and college counselors, who specifically helped seniors with the college application process from start to finish.
There was even a two-year period where we had four counselors — two academic counselors and two college counselors — and students would be assigned one of each. In spring 2018, one counselor moved from the district, and CUSD decided not to fill that position. In 2019, now-departed CUSD Superintendent Barbara Dill-Varga and CHS site administration made a decision to revert back to the alphabetical model.
In an article published in The Sandpiper that year detailing this change, Principal Jon Lyons explained the newly implemented model would make the workload for counselors more equitable by making them all equally responsible for academic, social and college counseling. This has proved to be a drawback of this model, not a benefit, as not all counselors are equally equipped to handle the same services.
Some counselors specialize in the college application process, while others understand and enjoy assisting students in scheduling their courses or providing other support. The current model gives counselors certain responsibilities that may not be their specialty, so the quality of assistance is more dependent on which counselor a senior is assigned.
This broader set of responsibilities also explains the decreased availability of counselors. Seniors have a harder time getting college application assistance when their counselor is simultaneously concerned with the diverse needs of freshman, sophomores and juniors. When seniors get less undivided attention from a counselor, they will not be pushed as hard to reach outside their comfort zone, which may explain the drop in seniors applying to four-year colleges and universities.
When college counseling is not a distinct service, underclassmen and juniors are also affected, as they have a harder time contacting their counselors at times in the year where seniors tend to rush to counselors — like right before U.C. application deadlines.
College-bound students need critical and timely support and guidance, but our current model is limiting counselor availability and impeding the quality of assistance seniors receive. We should be rethinking the counseling model in order to help seniors step into their future confident and informed.