Did you know that on average, students share their school counselor’s time with 407 other students which is well below the recommended ratio of 1:225?
The American School Counselor Association recently released school counselor ratios for 2021-22, with the national average counselor-to-student ratio at 1:408, which is well below the recommended ratio of 1:225. This is a slight improvement from the previous year which was 1:415 but still falls significantly short of the recommended ratio. Such a low ratio translates into hardly enough time to address the varying needs of students.
Variation between states
A closer look at the ratio points to some wide variations between states as well as grade levels. State variations vary dramatically – Indiana has one of the lowest ratios with 694 sharing one school counselor and Vermont fairing best with 186 students to one counselor. California’s student-counselor ratio is 1:509, which is an improvement from the year before of 1:527, but overall, only two states met the recommended ratio. One of the main reasons for the lack of school counselors as well as the variation between states is inadequate funding. However, there have been some improvements, like for California, which has increased its budget to boost counselor numbers.
Variation between grade levels
Grade-level variations also differ, with higher national ratios in elementary schools and lower ratios in high schools. The national average for grades K-8 ranges from 613:1 to 787:1, while the national average for grades 9-12 ranges from 204:1 to 243:1. This offers some promising news for high school students who rely heavily on counselor services as they prepare for college. Still, the wide variation translates to inequalities at both the grade level as well as the state level.
What impact does this have on students?
The plain and simple answer to this question is that when students don’t get the help of a counselor they don’t perform as well in school or the years following graduation. A recent study found that lower school-counselor-to-student ratios led to lower standardized testing scores, lower graduation rates, lower college entrance rates, and higher rates of truancy and suspension. However many parents as well as students are unaware of the help student counselors can offer and therefore may demand less of their schools to adequately offer and fund these services.
The role of the school counselor
School counselors serve in a broad number of areas and their work shouldn’t be undervalued. Tawyna Pringles, a counselor based in San Diego describes her daily duties, from checking up on a suicidal student referred for mental health counseling, to meeting with 9th graders struggling with attendance and grades, to corralling juniors and seniors to review financial aid applications. The day might round out with a visit to the home of a struggling student. As we can see, the support offered by school counselors includes college and career advising, academic counseling, mental health support, and working to improve equity and access, achievement, and opportunities for all students. Let’s unpack some of these functions.
College and career counselors
When it comes time to choose and apply to college, students heavily rely on the services of their counselor. In this context, school counselors provide guidance on the college application process and other career avenues, such as apprenticeships or training programs. With regards to the college application process, this includes: creating a list of colleges that meet the students’ needs and interests, defining the different application requirements, sending high school transcripts to colleges, helping students apply for aid, and writing recommendation letters. The college application process itself is time-consuming (applications can take several weeks to complete) and can take over several months when applying to multiple colleges.
However, counselors who are stretched far too thin don’t have the time or resources to assist students with their college applications. In 2019, the National Association for College Admission Counseling estimated that on average, 19 percent of a school counselor’s time is spent on college counseling. If the ratio of student to high school counselor is 1:243, that translates into as little as 1.5 hours of college counseling for each student per year. Given their limited time, many parents choose to employ external help for their students.
Counselors also play a critical role in supporting students in their academic pursuits which can include a variety of activities. In fact, they play a pivotal role in working to improve academic achievement for their students. This can translate into the exploration of different avenues of study and individual course planning, academic goal setting, and organizing activities to improve study skills.
This is a crucial role among school counselors especially since mental well-being became a topic of heightened interest among education professionals during the pandemic and during its aftermath. While school psychologists are equipped to offer long-term mental health counseling to students, a report found that nearly 40 percent of all school districts did not have a single school psychologist—affecting 5.4 million students. Counselors were often required to fill this gap, despite already being stretched thin.
While school counselors do not provide therapy or long-term counseling in schools, they are prepared to recognize and respond to student mental health needs and assist students and families in seeking resources. They can also provide learning strategies, self-management and social skills. According to the American Association of School Counseling, counselors provide opportunities for students to:
- Enhance their self-efficacy beliefs and competence
- Develop attributional beliefs
- See the value in tasks related to achievement
- Develop mastery/learning goals; and
- Develop autonomy
Now that the case has been made of the critical role a school counselor plays in the education of our children, where does that leave our underserved students? What can I do if I think my student is not receiving adequate support from their counselor?
The benefits of external support
Many turn to outside support when their students’ needs aren’t being met. Subject-specific tutors can help a student with their coursework, test prep academies can prepare students for their SAT/ACT tests, and coaching can help students with time management, goal setting, and address learning differences or executive functioning disorders.
Empowerly College Counseling is unique in that it offers college counseling with all the trimmings (1-on-1 counseling, college list creating, essay editing, mock admission committee reviews, and more), but also holistic services that can address the needs of students more comprehensively. This includes:
- Startup Internship Program
- Test Prep Program
- Research Scholars Program
- AI Scholar Program
- Comprehensive Executive Functioning & Academic Support
Unlike other college counseling programs that only address the college application process, we offer the full suite of school counseling services AND go above and beyond these supports. We follow each and every step of your child’s learning addressing their unique needs with a personalized package of support. We do this to ensure that your students can make the most out of their learning experience throughout middle and high school and achieve the very best possible when it comes time to apply for college.
If you feel your student is in need of more support, then schedule a consultation with us to get started!