Guidance counselors play a key role

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

"The role of the counselor is to guide postsecondary educational opportunities," said Pierre LaRocco, a counselor at South Philadelphia High School.

"They help [students] along the way with applying [to college], dealing with rejection from colleges, deciding which college is the best fit for them, helping with financial aid, filling out the FASFA … On occasion, we will call the university on their behalf."

LaRocco said one of his most important roles is sending student transcripts to the colleges because without the transcript, the application isn’t complete. He also writes letters of recommendations for students.

He advises that students meet with their counselors frequently. To have an effective meeting, LaRocco suggests that students come in having already considered what schools they may want to go to in terms of demographics, size, region, etc. Counselors often have hundreds of students to advise and may not be able to seek out students who need help, so ask for help when you need it.

LaRocco said students should not be deterred by high tuition costs at some colleges, as most students do receive financial aid.

"The biggest thing is to apply to college that is the best fit for you. Don’t let money stand in the way. That can be figured out later."

Juling Tejada, a counselor at the High School for Creative and Performing Arts, said counselors should start working with students on carving out a plan right away in high school. In 9th grade, they should show students sample transcripts and let them know what is expected of them. This will set a tone for them to make the most of high school.

In 10th grade, counselors need to find out what students’ interests are and help them shape a path for exploring post-secondary plans.

The 11th grade year should be reserved for scouting out schools and mapping a plan to get to specific ones. Tejada gives out PSAT scores and transcripts at this time to see where students fall. She also meets individually with every junior before the school year is out.

In 12th grade, Tejada suggests that counselors go to English classes and have students fill out a survey of where they are in their application process, then meet with students to discuss the process.

A good school counselor should:

  • Help explore options
  • Help research colleges and resources
  • Review student transcripts and what’s featured on them
  • Explain the SAT test and help with registration
  • Meet with seniors to review how to apply
  • Follow up with seniors who have not applied or met with their counselor
  • Write recommendation letters
  • Give guidance on the financial aid process
  • Present scholarship opportunities