College Counseling 101

5 min read

Julia Sachs

College counselors play a crucial role in helping students get the most out of their college experience and stay healthy while they're there. One issue that counselors in the field face are that they're often not given the tools they need to ensure that students are well taken care of and given enough attention to help them with the issues they're facing. Studies suggest that counselors play a key role in student success, but making sure they're well-equipped is another story.  

College counselors exist: to guide students in making key decisions on their education that will impact their careers and give them the tools they need to take care of their mental health better while on campus. While not all guidance counselors offer mental health services, most—if not all—can help students find the right services that can address their concerns adequately. Without either of these services, students are left to navigate their education and mental health blindly. 

What Do College Counselors Do?

College counselors offer various services depending on what they specialize in—or what they're expected to do. In high school, counselors are an invaluable resource and help students choose the right college to recommend extracurriculars that can help get them admitted to the school of their dreams. In both high school and college, counselors often help students achieve their educational goals by enrolling them in the classes they need, learning more about career paths they may be interested in, and offering mental health support. 

To help college counselors, and your students, consider asking counselors what issues they face the most and how you can split that work to ease some of the pressure. Whether it's splitting each job into three hyper-focused positions (which we'll break down below) or further defining the roles and expectations that come with a counselor position, here are some ways to support college counselors to help your students succeed beyond their education. 

Career Counseling

Career counselors can help students discover new career paths or ask questions about the careers they're working on getting into in their education. In many settings, they help students figure out how to apply their skills best to match them with career paths that they can feel accomplished in. They may look at their current interests and how they align with their existing skills and grades to make suggestions or help students consider how they can apply themselves in high school and college to achieve their goals. 

In many cases, students may not know what they want to do after they finish their education. Career counselors use aptitude tests to hone each student's skillset to make suggestions and open their eyes to the many paths they have, making career counselors key players in student success. 

Mental Health Support

College can be challenging in more ways than one. Students are often faced with new levels of responsibility they never had before on top of rigorous school expectations and pressure to make life-altering decisions regularly. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many students were suddenly faced with even more challenges in an environment that had never been navigated before. Counselors play a key role in offering students mental health support and services, either by being mental health professionals themselves or helping students find the resources they need to care for their mental health. 

Without these services, students may put off getting help or not know they need help, as counselors can also be trained to notice patterns that can signal mental health issues. Unlike career counseling or departmental advisory, mental health support is a form of counseling that works alongside other counselors to provide key student support. 

Departmental Advisors

Departmental advisors help students figure out which classes they need to meet both their degree requirements and the career they want to go into. These advisors are usually employed by each department within a college and help students organize their schedules based on their personal needs—both in their personal lives and in their education before the start of each semester. 

Counseling for International Students 

International students face a particular set of needs when moving to a new country to attend school. Therefore, they should be given a unique set of tools to acclimate to their new environment. We wrote previously about the role that counselors can play in helping international students succeed and suggest that international students are given counselors educated specifically in the culture and language of the country those students are from. 

Counselors & Admissions

Counselors play an essential role in determining which students make ideal candidates for admissions. Career and college counselors use career aptitude tests to assess both a student's ability to keep up with rigorous requirements in their education and whether they are interested in the skills they'll learn in college. This can save both students and colleges time and money by helping students find the right schools to apply to based on their qualifications, needs, and goals. 

Without these services, students are often left to navigate these tasks alone and can make the wrong decisions without proper guidance. 

How Students Use Counselors 

The need for school counselors has only increased tenfold in recent years, as things like school shootings and the global COVID-19 pandemic have played a role in impacting student stress around the world. Schools in places like California have increased their counseling services in recent years only to find that they still cannot keep up with demand—whether that be for mental health support or assistance with the logistics of education itself.

In other words, demand for student counselor services is likely there. Work with your existing counselors and students to determine where your school can increase its counseling efforts and find out what tools students lack that they would like to have. If your services are being under-utilized, consider polling students to find out if they were aware that the services exist already. 

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