Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Important College Question That Goes Unanswered

By: Patrick O'Connor

School has just started, and I’m already disappointed.

It’s not because this is going to be a difficult year for my students applying to college. Admission to well-known colleges will be a challenge, but with a small decline in the size of this year’s senior class, opportunities for admission may just go up a bit.

It has nothing to do with families needing help paying for college.  Even with the ups and downs of the stock market, colleges are finding ways to offer more assistance than ever before to families in need.

And it certainly isn’t the quality of the students I’m talking with.  They’re more involved, more focused, and as a whole, more calm about college than most students I’ve known in past years.

So what is the cause of my disappointment?  I didn’t get an answer to my question.

There I was, in the Detroit studio audience of the MSNBC special “Making the Grade” that was broadcast live to the nation last month.  The topic was getting America’s students college-ready, and they asked for questions from the audience.  I raised my hand, told the producer my question, and 30 seconds later, I was on national TV.

“We all realize college is important” I said (I was a little nervous, so I think that’s what I said).  “Yet out of all the school counselor training programs in America, only one requires counselors to take a course in college advising.  What’s it going to take to get everyone else on board?”

To be sure, someone said something after my question—it’s just that what he said didn’t answer my question.  He talked about how getting into college wasn’t a problem anymore, thanks to so many colleges offering online classes.

Since you don’t get to rebut anyone on national television, I took my seat, knowing I’ll have to wait a little longer for a real response.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened.  For the better part of six years, I have talked to counselors; the counselor educators who run counselor training programs; state legislators, and Congress and asked them the same question.  If college is so important, why don’t we train counselors how to help students prepare, apply, and pay for college?

If two-thirds of the young adults in a recent poll said their school counselor was of little or no help choosing a college, why aren’t we helping counselors give better help to our students, the future citizens and workforce of our country?

If 95 percent of the new counselors in a 2007 poll said they thought a college counseling class should be part of counselor training, and over 60 percent said the class should be required of all counselors, why isn’t college counseling taught to every counselor, now?

Like every school counselor, a big part of my job is giving answers to students and families when they don’t know where to turn for college help.  If no one shows me where to find those answers, how much of a difference can I make in the life of a young person, no matter how much I care?

Everyone I talk to understands this is a problem, but no one seems to want to do anything about it.

Come next spring, college-bound seniors will have an answer to their biggest college question, “Where will I be going next year?”

By that time, I sure hope I have an answer to mine.

Patrick O’Connor’s new college guide, College is Yours 2.0, offers a better way to apply to college.  It’s available now through, and discounts are available for school group purchases.

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