ERIC Identifier: ED304625
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Hayden, Thomas C.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
College Counseling in Independent Schools. Highlights: An
The number of students in independent schools today makes up scarcely ten
percent of the nation's high school population. Nonetheless, these students
comprise a significant minority because they tend to be highly motivated,
intelligent, and in many cases able to pay the high costs of attending the
nation's colleges and universities. Very often independent school students
aspire to attend selective colleges, and their presence in freshman classes
averages about thirty percent, a number which considerably exceeds their
percentage in the national pool of college-bound high school students.
Independent school students are exposed to a rigorous high school curriculum
which prepares them well for the challenges of the college classroom. They are,
moreover, encouraged to take part in a variety of extracurricular activities at
their schools and to develop an appreciation for a shared core of community
values. They are also urged to develop leadership skills which will eventually
enable them to play dynamic and useful roles in our society as adults.
Most independent schools are deeply committed to providing an education which
is noted for its quality as well as the diversity of its student body. The
charter of Phillips Exeter Academy, for instance, enjoins the school to seek
"youth from every quarter," so that it may adequately instruct them in the
"great and real business of living." In recent years the quest for diversity has
led to the inclusion of a number of minority and disadvantaged students in
independent schools. Alumni support and endowment funds have enabled many
schools to assemble diverse student bodies which are similar in percentages to
that of many colleges.
The diversity, ability, and ambition of independent school students
inevitably focuses their attention on gaining admission to selective and
challenging colleges. Consequently their college counselors have multiple roles
to play as they assist them on their way.
THE COUNSELOR AS ANALYST
The initial role of the counselor
is that of an analyst, who must understand the pressures of the present college
admissions system. Colleges have launched intensive marketing campaigns to
attract a greater diversity of students. Ten years ago fifty percent of the
freshman classes of the most selective colleges were composed of independent
school students. Today that figure is thirty percent or less. The resultant
pressure on independent school students to find places in selective colleges,
and on their counselors who try to assist them, has risen markedly in recent
A second pressure which elicits the analyst's skills comes from the economic
realm. The rising cost of a college education in the past decade has further
intensified the pressure on college counselors in independent schools to make it
possible for their students to be admitted to very selective colleges. The
pricing strategy on the part of colleges is to enhance their prestige by raising
their prices. From the point of view of students' families, the increased cost
of a college education has engendered an attitude that a college education is
something of special value and, therefore, measurable by the name of the
particular college or university. The college cost factor produces a
simplification of the college admissions process into a sort of service for
which the parent is paying, the result of which will be the delivery of a
prestige college by the college counselor at the end of the student's education
at an independent school.
THE COUNSELOR AS ADVOCATE
The independent school counselor,
like all counselors, is also an advocate who desires to support his/her
intelligent, motivated, and well-intentioned counselees vigorously as they seek
to gain admission to challenging colleges. In independent schools the
counselor-to- student ratio is often low enough for the counselor and student to
spend a good deal of time together and come to know each other well. The
relationships which are often established enable the counselor to secure the
trust of the student and to play an influential and educational role in shaping
the student's attitudes toward academic, personal, and moral questions. In turn,
this relationship enables the counselor to represent the personal and academic
qualities of their students very vividly to college admissions officers. On the
other hand, independent school college admissions counselors are generally
deeply committed to the idea of educating the "whole" student and encouraging
counselees and families to resist the competitive impetus of the marketplace and
look at the broader question of which colleges or universities would best suit
the needs of the student.
THE COUNSELOR AS ADVISOR TO PARENTS
In addition to the
pressures of the college admissions marketplace on independent school counselors
and their extensive involvement with students, these counselors are generally
more involved with parents than their public school counterparts. In this role
as advisor to parents, counselors have to keep in mind that, on average, seventy
percent of the annual budget of an independent school is provided for by tuition
paid by parents! More important is that parents often choose to send their
children to independent schools because they are deeply committed to the notion
that the development of human values, as well as intellectual skills, is an
important part of their child's education. Counselors and parents frequently
find themselves discussing together these shared values and the challenges of
parenting along with college admissions strategies.
When an independent school is a boarding school, college counselors
frequently function, along with other faculty, as surrogate parents. Counselors
are directly engaged in helping students inventory their academic and
extracurricular interests, evaluate their personal strengths, and search for,
choose, and gain admission to appropriate colleges and universities.
Whether the counselor is operating in "loco parentis," or as an advisor to a
student who attends an independent school by day and lives with his or her
parents in the evening, the counselor needs to understand what the parents
expect of both the student and the school. In addition, the counselor must
ensure that parents are made an integral part of the decision-making process.
Newsletters, telephone calls, and office conferences are invariably a part of
THE COUNSELOR AS TEACHER
Many college counselors are also
classroom teachers and bring from that experience a deep commitment to college
counseling as an educational enterprise. Many work extremely hard as counselors
to stress the skills and the insights which can be gained by students as they
move through the college selection process. Independent school counselors want
students to develop self assessment skills, and to be able to analyze college
literature and audio-visual materials critically. Counselors must help students
analyze the objective data about the difficulty of admission to particular
schools, and then establish a range of choices. They also want students to match
themselves with the academic and extracurricular programs, as well as the
philosophies of the respective colleges they choose, and to learn to present
themselves cogently and effectively in interviews, in correspondence, and in
their admissions applications.
College counselors in independent schools frequently find themselves involved
in teaching extracurricular activities such as sports, music, or drama. Boarding
school counselors are able to describe students as individuals on the basis of
knowing them in their dormitories, and watching them interact with other
students. This invariably redounds to the student's advantage in the college
THE COUNSELOR AS INTERMEDIARY
The final role of college
counselors in independent schools is as intermediaries in the relationship
between school and college. Many independent schools have had a longstanding
tradition of sending a number of their graduates to particular colleges or
universities. That pattern has now changed, but the contacts with colleges and
universities endure. The result is that many independent school counselors are
well known and respected by admissions officers. College admissions officers
tend to rely on the judgment of counselors known to them in occasional instances
where a student is at the margin of their admissions criteria.
Beyond the formal admissions process, many college admissions officers are
invited to speak to students and parent groups at independent schools. The
result of these relationships between counselor and college admissions officer
sometimes results in a misconception on the part of parents and the public. They
may view the counselor as a broker in the admissions process, and expect him or
her to be able to guarantee admission to a particular college with which the
school has a supposedly "close" relationship. These expectations are almost
never fulfilled. College admissions officers across the nation have constructed
a very fair and open admissions process. Counselors in independent schools often
have to spend a significant amount of their time and energy educating parents
about this reality. They must convince parents to take a broader view and not
connect the cost of their child's education with a particular "result," i.e.,
entry to a prestige college.
Counselors in independent schools invariably
argue that the result of an independent school education should be an education
of the "whole" person rather than admission to a particular college, and that
both school and parents should focus on ensuring that the student's self esteem
be protected, if not expanded, in the process of clearing the college admissions
hurdle. As America continues to seek new ways to preserve democracy and provide
quality within its educational system, college counseling in independent schools
provides a fascinating challenge and opportunity.
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