Competencies for School Counselors in College Counseling

Students and parents who are making college plans usually turn to their school counselor for help with everything from building a list of schools to visit to completing college applications to finding ways to pay for college.  Most of these families are surprised to discover most counselors have had little, if any, training in college advising as part of their graduate school training. 

One of the challenges in improving training in college counseling is deciding the best way to train counselors in this important area.  In 2015, counselors Trish Hatch, Bob Bardwell, and Patrick O’Connor developed these competencies as a way to begin the conversation.

At the completion of their pre-service training, school counselors should possess the following competencies in the field of college counseling:

General Competencies

  • Understanding and application of various college admission choice theories
  • Knowledge of psychological and family issues that may be present in the college admission process
  • Understanding the relationship between models of comprehensive school counseling programs (I.e., ASCA National Model) and the delivery of college admission counseling
  • Understanding of the importance of creating partnerships with faculty, school administrators, community leaders, and community-based organizations in delivering quality advice in college admission counseling
  • Awareness of the wide array of different kinds of colleges, including community college, research colleges, and liberal arts colleges
  • Admission requirements for community colleges and public and private colleges/universities
  • Understanding of alternatives to colleges, including gap years, postgraduate years, and deferrals
  • Ability to discern when to discussion postsecondary options other than college with a student
  • Knowledge of college application timelines and deadlines
  • Knowledge of the unique needs of special populations going through the college search and application process (i.e., multicultural programs, international students , students with disabilities, gifted students, student athletes)
  • Ability to find resources available to counselors in the college admission process (i.e, print materials, software, websites, and organizations)
  • Awareness of college admission testing options and the use (and misuse) of standardized testing
  • Ability to write effective letters of recommendation for multiple purposes—two-year schools, four-year schools, vocational training program or employment
  • Ability to support teachers in the writing of effective letters of recommendation for these same purposes
  • Getting the most out of visiting a college campus
  • Establishing strong relationships with colleges and college admission officers
  • Hosting a successful high school visit by a college admission officer
  • Awareness of legal and ethical issues confronting college counselors
  • Knowledge of financial aid applications and process, including the role of the FAFSA
  • Ability to collect, analyze, and synthesize college admission counseling data on the individual, school, state and national levels
  • Being able to identify, close, and eliminate the opportunity and achievement gaps for all students in regard to higher education
  • Understanding the professional organizations and resources available for school counselors
  • Being aware of and able to discuss current trends, issues, and controversies in college admission
  • The ability to develop, implement, manage, and evaluate a college admission counseling program that meets the needs of the students and families served byt eh school
  • Knowledge of how to evaluate the efforts of a college admission counseling program, and how to share those results with a wide variety of audiences.

 Specific Competencies

  • Assist a high school student through the college search and application process, including the online application process
  • Assist a student and family to complete the FAFSA, other required financial aid forms, and searches for funds for college
  • Work with a student who has applied via various typed of admission decision programs , minimally Early Decision, Early Action, and Restricted Early Action
  • Coordinate and organize a college tour, college fair, or other educational program for students and families
  • Work with a student from an underserved population (i.e., student of color, low-income, special needs, LGBT, homeless, or undocumented)
  • Use college or high school specific data to inform decision making
  • Apply the ethical standards of the National Association for College Admission Counseling

From the article Three Pillars of an Effective College Counseling Class by Patrick O’Connor, The Journal of College Admission, Summer 2015.

For more information, contact Patrick O'Connor here