“It’s like trying to drink a glass of water from a firehose.”
That was the sentiment shared by many of the high school guidance counselors we surveyed about how COVID-19 has impacted their work and the students they support. Much like their higher ed counterparts, high school counselors from across the country told us they are battling Zoom fatigue, struggling to stay on top of overflowing inboxes, and working long days to support students in different in-kind ways.
EAB surveyed 1,004 high school counselors from September 15 to October 12, 2020 about their approach to counseling (and any changes in their approach in light of COVID-19), their preferred interactions with colleges, and student concerns about college and the effects of COVID-19 on school safety, modality, and other issues. The counselors surveyed support an average of 100 students, 97% of whom are seniors.
In addition to describing how the pandemic has impacted their workflow, the counselors we surveyed shared the questions and concerns high school seniors and their families have most often—and what colleges and universities can do to support them throughout this unique application process. They also shed light on what colleges can do to better support counselors themselves. One counselor we spoke with echoed Jerry Maguire: “Help me help you.”
How can colleges support high school seniors who will be applying to college?
When asked about their approaches to counseling students about their college options, 80% of counselors surveyed said they encourage students to research schools independently and proactively. For many students, that includes attending a virtual information session. But long Zoom meetings can quickly become overwhelming. As one college counselor put it, “I don't need an hour-long webinar telling me that ‘things are crazy and we understand it's hard for everyone.’ I really appreciate it when the colleges get right to the point and are able to turn off their typical admissions spiel and talk to us like peers.”
Cut through the noise with short sessions (no more than 30 minutes) that highlight just a few key takeaways, including what makes your institution unique. Counselors and students alike also appreciate opportunities to hear from multiple colleges and once, so consider co-hosting admissions events with like institutions such as small liberal arts colleges or HBCUs. And if possible, offer virtual admissions events at varied times and on the weekends to reach as many students as possible.
Ninety-nine percent of high school counselors say they typically encourage students to visit a campus before they enroll. And in our digital world, 96% of high school counselors are recommending students take virtual tours. If your institution doesn’t already have a virtual tour in place, consider how you can create a virtual experience that will engage students and meet their high expectations for digital content.
But perhaps most importantly, counselors underscored that colleges need to address common student concerns proactively and clearly. Counselors report students and parents have more questions about the FAFSA than in years prior. Many families are delaying filing the FAFSA because their 2019 tax return does not reflect their current financial situation. Students and parents are unsure how or if colleges will factor in changed financial circumstances. And while there is no shortage of Zoom admissions events, counselors and the families they are support are struggling to find answers to these financial aid questions.
When possible, include a member from your financial aid office in your admissions events. Ensure your financial aid webpage includes answers to common questions prominently, along with clear ways to get in touch with your financial aid team.
High school counselors also reiterated how confusing test-optional policies can be for students and parents—and counselors themselves. The counselors we spoke to shared that students and parents often interpret test-optional to mean that test scores are required or at least preferred. As my colleague Michael Koppenheffer described, colleges and universities should be as direct as possible in describing their test-optional policy. Language like “test scores are not required” has proven to be the most student-friendly in our work with Enrollment Services partners.
How can college admissions teams support high school counselors?
We also asked high school counselors how colleges and universities can better support them and their work. Above all, counselors shared they seek direct communication from colleges and universities. Most counselors (81%) want admissions teams to send information about their institution to their high school proactively. And 91% of counselors say they want to receive information directed specifically to the counseling staff.
Enrollment leader should also consider counselors’ preferred communications channels. While 70% of survey respondents identify email as their preferred communication method, counselors report the are receiving more emails than ever before, with some universities sending multiple emails weekly. As one survey respondent shared, “So. Many. Emails. I would like it if the colleges minimized how many separate emails they are sending me as a high school counselor. There seem to be even more now that we are remote.”
Think about ways your team can bundle key information into fewer emails—and optimize your admissions webpage to address counselors’ common questions and concerns—to avoid overwhelming already busy counselors and still communicate need-to-know information about your institution. As always, succinct communications with bullet points highlighting key information are appreciated.
While survey respondents were eager to share ways colleges and universities could better engage and support students, families, and themselves, they were also quick to express gratitude to enrollment teams. The pivots admissions counselors and enrollment leaders made over the last nine months to support students and families are much appreciated.
More resources for enrollment teams
The advice counselors would give enrollment leaders
Listen to our recent panel of high school guidance counselors to learn more about the most effective ways enrollment teams can support students through the college admissions process.