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School Counselors Underutilized, Survey Says

Although school counselors play an important role in students’ college and career readiness, a lack of training and focus on this task often impedes their work, according to the 2012 National Survey of School Counselors. This can directly impact student success, the survey found, since students in schools where counselors are trained and held accountable for college-related activities are more likely to go to college.

Virtually all counselors and administrators agreed that the mission of schools should be “to ensure that all students, regardless of background, have equal access to a high-quality education,” the survey found. Yet counselors, whose job is to help fulfill this goal, are often called on to be substitute teachers and test coordinators, positions which often do not require a degree. Nearly 70 percent say they are tasked with administrative and clerical duties.

“Counselors’ work with college and career readiness is incredibly needed,” says Mary Bruce, an education policy analyst with Civic Enterprises and co-author of the report. “Right now in many districts, they are being pulled away from being able to do the job they are ready and willing to do.” The survey, which covers a nationally representative sample of 806 middle school and 2,084 high school counselors, was conducted by the College Board, a nonprofit organization that administers the SAT exam and oversees the AP program.

Another issue is training: Counselors are among the most highly educated professionals in the education system—83 percent hold a master’s degree. Yet nearly three in 10 believe their training, both in graduate school and through ongoing professional development, did not prepare them well for their job, and more than half feel only somewhat well trained. “We need to look at how we can do a better job preparing counselors to do the jobs they think they can do and administrators want them to do, and, as a nation, we need them to do,” Bruce says.

Counselors are also left out of reform discussions, including Common Core State Standards implementation, though its focus on college readiness is closely linked to their work, the survey found. Counselors have expertise that “at this time in the education reform period, can impact the outcomes that every school is trying to reach by raising the academic achievement of students,” says Patricia Martin, assistant vice president of the College Board’s National Office for School Counselor Advocacy It is imperative, she adds, for administrators to use counselors’ skills to develop college- and career-ready students.

To read the report, visit