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High school counselors need support. Here’s how universities can help.

Findings from EAB’s latest survey of high school guidance counselors

February 11, 2022, By Madeleine Rhyneer, Vice President of Consulting Services and Dean of Enrollment Management

It’s not getting any easier out there.

That perception came through clearly in EAB’s most recent high school guidance counselor survey. Following our 2020 survey where we learned how dramatically COVID-19 had impacted counselors’ work and the students they support, this year we checked in to see what had changed. High school counselors are working harder than ever, and in many cases, their jobs have expanded. One counselor referenced sitting down with a student to create their FSA ID and complete the FAFSA rather than simply hosting a financial aid workshop. The counselors we surveyed shared their can-do spirit-and some things they would like their college admission colleagues to know as they collaborate to open the doors of college opportunity.

Survey Methodology

We surveyed more than 800 high school counselors in Fall 2021. The counselors we surveyed have an average counseling caseload of 100 students, and 97% of survey respondents counsel high school seniors. Counselors identified the key barriers that students face as they are considering going to college and in applying to college-and shared helpful advice about what they need from colleges and universities to help them support their students.

Cost remains the most common barrier to students considering college

It comes as no surprise that counselors identified issues related to paying for college as top-of-mind for students considering college. These include tuition and cost of living, student debt, financial aid paperwork, and justifying college cost vs. working. Cost issues are perennial but emerged as a higher concern this year than last, especially among students in rural areas.


How can colleges help students overcome concerns about cost? To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, show them the ROI. Counselors were clear that colleges must articulate a meaningful value proposition to win students over. Do you have my major? What support is there of career discernment? What do your alums do? What internships are available? Will I get a job that enables me to live independently and pay my college loans? Answering these questions proactively will show your value to students.

Students seek more information about college options

When asked about the barriers that students experience when applying to college, 38% of counselors indicated that lack of awareness of schools inhibits student applications, closely followed by challenges completing the FAFSA (36%). I’m sure this is discouraging news for enrollment teams who are pulling out all the stops to introduce their institution to prospective students. After limited awareness, the next most common barriers were visiting campus (37%) and preparing essays (36%).


One counselor suggested doing introductory programs where schools with similar programs or affinities (e.g., women’s colleges, HBCU’s, or STEM institutions) collaborate to get the word out virtually. Counselors – and students – are more likely to participate if they can learn about multiple opportunities in one sitting. And in a world where in-person visits to high schools and local college fairs are either not possible or lightly attended, virtual collaborations may open some new doors.


Ninety-nine percent of counselors continue to recommend that their students make campus visits to determine if an institution is the right fit. However, when an in-person visit is not possible, counselors highlighted the power of connecting prospective students with current students via a platform like Wisr. This provides immediacy, the opportunity for meaningful connection, and the authenticity that Gen Z prefers.

Virtual tours are also extremely helpful to give prospects a sense of the campus community and culture, and counselors appreciate the range of opportunities currently available. Colleges may wish to combine student interaction and a virtual tour by asking a student ambassador to virtually walk a student around campus while addressing their questions.


Counselors rely on schools to proactively share information

Counselors need to have current information to do a good job for their students, and 69% of counselors prefer to get that information in-person during a visit to their school. 62% like emails from colleges, and 55% enjoy face-to-face counselor events. The counselors shared they are less likely to use college websites because they (like prospective students and parents) find them difficult to navigate. “It’s hard to find the information I’m seeking quickly,” stated one counselor, “So I’m much more likely to email or pick up the phone.” That same counselor shared that they appreciate when admission counselors respond promptly, and when there is someone staffing the admission office phone who has the information they need.

Counselors are asking for communication from colleges that is clear, transparent, timely, and meaningful. They feel that schools do a good job sharing information with students and parents about things like application deadlines and the notification timeline but provide counselors with less context and detail.


According to the counselors we surveyed, many institutions did a mediocre job communicating about test-optional policies. It’s of no help to a student when you are test-optional for admission, but tests are required for entrance into certain programs or specific scholarships. One counselor stated that their interpretation of “test-optional for admission should mean test-optional for everything.”


Recognizing that admission teams may not control testing decisions, counselors hope you will communicate to campus decision-makers that exceptions and asterisks are not helpful to students already stressed about testing. Be very clear about how you are using testing data and the why, and let counselors know so they may best advise their students. The more admissions teams can communicate proactively about testing policies with high school counselors, the better.

Finally, counselors appreciate all the communication from schools that helps them do their job better and more efficiently. They also appreciate the new virtual opportunities colleges have created over the last two years to engage students who may not have the time or resources to visit in person. They love the expanded virtual visit opportunities, chances for informal conversations, one-on-one financial aid meetings, and connecting high school teachers and classes with college professors and classes. They remind us that their students love getting letters from colleges, probably because so much of the engagement is digital. And don’t forget to value of celebratory rituals that lift students up when admitted and/or when they commit.

Madeleine Rhyneer

Vice President of Consulting Services and Dean of Enrollment Management

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