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Too much time in the counseling office

By ivega
Thursday, October 30th, 2008 at 8:39 pm in college, Isabel Rodriguez-Vega.

Well I’ve finally started the college application process. It’s something I’ve been preparing for and anticipating for a while now, but the one thing I didn’t anticipate was the fact that I am going to have to rely on others to do their part in order for me to accomplish my goals. This complicates things very much because now problems can arise that are beyond my control.

My main problem comes from the counseling office. I am applying to mostly private colleges and universities, which all require a counselor evaluation. I knew far in advance that I would have to have some evaluations completed by my counselor for college, but I did not expect it to be such a complicated process. After all, this is why the counselors are there, right?

After giving an evaluation form to my counselor I expected it to be done fairly soon and it wasn’t, so I found myself having to visit the counseling office at least twice a week to remind her. When she finally did write the letter there were a few grammatical mistakes, and now I’ve discovered that the college hasn’t received any of the information.

I know the counselors are extremely busy and overloaded with students, but this places a huge burden on me. I’ve been missing class due to time spent in the counseling office and now I have to consistently check with the college to make sure it’s done. Luckily I haven’t waited until December, weeks before the applications are due, but this is only one college. What will happen when I need transcripts and evaluations for the other eight? And not to mention, in about a month the counseling office will probably be full of students needing letters from their counselors.

I think the main problem here is that the counseling office is understaffed. We only have four counselors for a student body over two thousand. Naturally the counselors have a lot on their mind and its hard to keep track of everything, but this is my future.

I’ve been working very hard for four years in high school just so I would have the option of attending an institution of higher learning, and I would appreciate some support. Applying to college is stressful enough.

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  • ex OUSD staff

    Isabel,
    Your problem didn’t just happen, it is the result of a decision by the district during the last contract negotiations to increase the workload of counselors to an unrealistic number. That is, their workload was increased so much that there is no way that they can actually do what needs to be done.
    By starting the process early and staying on top of it, you are doing what you need to do, but you shouldn’t have to do this.

  • Nextset

    How many of the two thousand classmates are applying to a 4 year college? Are any of the 4 counselors detailed to work with the 4 year applicants only?

  • Sue

    Lets do a little simple math
    2000 students
    divided by
    4 grades
    equals
    500 students per grade

    So we’re talking about 500 seniors who might possibly be applying to college.

    Let’s use a conservative estimate that only a quarter of them are applying to private colleges and in need of evaluation forms from the counselors. That brings us to 125 students. If a counselor is spending only one hour per evaluation (I’d expect that to be a very serious underestimate) we’re talking about more than three weeks of eight hour days doing *nothing* but evaluation letters.

    Counselors have a lot of other responsibilities, and can’t dedicate all their time to just this one task.

    To answer Nextset’s question, no, there’s no counselor dedicated just to college-track seniors. At Skyline, one of the counselors is dedicated about half-time to the Spec Ed students, but they all have to support students in all four grades.

    I’ve known for years that cutting counselors was harming students. I went to a high school with half the student population of Skyline. We had a dozen counselors, and still I had to be early as dedicated to planning for my future as you are, Isabel. There’s truth in the cliche “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” You just have to keep being the squeaky wheel – keep showing up in the counselling office, keep asking the counselor for what you need, keep your face and name in his/her mind all the time, don’t allow yourself to be forgotten or neglected.

    It’s a pain, but keep on doing what you’ve been doing. No one else will do it for you, because no one else has as much interest or investment in your life and your future as you have.

    In the mean time, we adults have a responsibility to do something about the counselor shortage. I just hope we can shoulder our responsibility and fix this problem for future seniors, half so well as you seem to be shouldering yours.

  • Jose, Former Student

    When did 9th, 10th and 11th graders start applying for college. How many 12th graders are at Skyline this year? The 9th grade has always been to largest number of students. It gets smaller in the 10th, even a smaller numbers in the 11th and by the 12th grade we had less than half of my 9th grade class. That is “a little simple math.”

    Only about 100 of my classmates at skyline went to college a couple years ago. Most of them at a community college and they did not need a letter of recommendation.

    Sounds like the counselor needs to get on the job and a proof reader. I’m in the same boat when it come to grammer.

    I am not a techer or a counselor, however, I am an immigrant to this country.

  • Nextset

    I had dinner with friends outside of the Bay Area who have two teens. They have retained a professional college placement counselor to handle the college selection and apps, financial aid applications and strategy, and to walk the older kid through the entire process to get him placed in the best 4 year college for him with the most financial aid. He’s going somewhere back east, they’re concentrating on a certain private 4 year college. The plan is for law school in 4 years. They’re already lining up his first law job – a competitive one – with family connections.

    Dinner was great. They didn’t mention how much the college admission service was costing them exactly but they said that the payoff in having all this done by professionals was tremendous. The cost was significant and it didn’t matter. That child does go to a public high school. They probably have a combined family income of $250k+ plus benefits with 2 children – which is to say they are middle class.

    The public schools should triage the students and have one of the four counselors work on the 4 year college candidates that have the best chance – ie the high scoring students. There probably aren’t that many of them.

    This won’t happen because of the official fantasy that all people are equal so the service needs to be equally bad. And you get what you pay for – public high school is “free”. Face it, people, the urban public schools are NEVER going to provide crucial service in this area. Their liberal thought process makes that impossible, they’re not allowed to “favor” individual students by placing the superior kids using a disproportionate amount of resources.

    Brave New World.

  • Meg

    When I was in high school I got letters of recommendation and made photocopies (with permission from the authors) that I just sent for schools and scholarships. I don’t know if yours have to be on official stationery or be mailed from the school, but this puts you in control of what’s sent out and when. Good luck!

  • cranky teacher

    250K+ is middle class?!

    Whoa. No wonder McCain was so confused about the Obama tax cuts.

    So, where does that put my single parent 40K-earning butt? Am I still clinging to the “lower-lower-lower middle class?”

  • Diamond Broussard

    Nextset: Your suggestion of having one counselor to work on the high scoring students isn’t a great one. My GPA is not the highest or really near it, but I am going to be accepted by great schools. You need to be more general and say that there needs to be a counselor to work on the college apps and recommendations for ALL of those students who are the most likely to be accepted to a university. Even though my GPA is not the highest, I have a decent SAT score, as well as took a rigorous course load. I am also involved in other community service programs.

    All students need a chance, whether they are applying to a private four-year university or a community college. Just please do not forget about those students who are trying their best and faced with many difficult home and social circumstances.

  • John

    Cranky: In an earlier (school tax) post you state that, “Oakland teachers make the same as we did in 1999, starting at 39.5K.”

    Your (above) comment informs us that you’re now “earning 40K!” in 2008 – a $500 increase from what beginning teacher’s were making nine years ago, in 1999!? No wonder you’re Cranky!

    You know Cranky, a frustrated & cranky friend with seven years OPS experience recently went looking for employment in solvent, better run better paying school districts. She had three offers in three different districts and is no longer cranky. Maybe it’s time to send out your resume and turn that frown upside down?

    If it’s a sense of mission and dedication to urban schools that keeps you teaching in Oakland stop complaining, for your reward will be in heaven – not in your pay check.

    By the way, is the $500 added to your annual OPS pay since 1999 enough to cover the increases in mandatory OEA union dues since 1999? I’m sorry if this question makes you Crankier.

  • Nextset

    Diamond: I’m glad you responded. Here is the problem you and we must face. There’s no money.

    That means that we will do without what we would want to provide.

    If you only have 4 counselors for the whole school, or whatever the number may be this month, the school has to help some people and cut some people off services.

    Exactly how the cuts are made I leave to the sound discretion of the school board who should delegate it to the school principal.

    There are many ways to allocate the scare resources. You can cut off the “rich” whatever that means and help only those who are good college prospects without financial resources (ie welfare and single mother kids). You can help those with the very highest scores. Or you can fire all the counselors in order to keep something else operating (heat & light) and tell the students they are on their own.

    Believe me, whatever happens it won’t be what you suggested.

    We are heading into a Greater Depression – at least the stats and trends say we are in terrible danger of doing so. You (your generation) need to understand how bad bad can get.

    We can see how such allocation operates in the criminal courts. Psychopaths (generally to disordered to ever keep a job) commit crimes constantly – say even a simple DUI/no license case – and always get a free lawyer. Working fathers supporting a wife and children in Oakland and making, say $70k (ie just holding things together) can turn up with a DUI and have to pay for a lawyer. Guess how many thousands a DUI costs through jury trial? So working Daddy pleads because he can’t even afford the time off from work. Unemployable congenital criminal goes to Jury Trial and manages a hung jury… This is how we allocate resources in our world.

    So I have little hope for college counseling at Skyline. My friends are using private counselors for college admission.

    The people of the US quite deliberately ran the economy into ruin (largely from the New Deal and Great Society programs excerbated by “affordable housing” government arm-twisting) and we are about to pay the price.

    Brave New World.

  • John

    Nextset: If only a meaningful percentage of the status quo had your understanding of history we would not have just elected a president whose political ideology complements the (growing) perfect economic/social storm we face in this country and around the world.

    It’s a lot harder to conduct a marshmallow roast for equality and social justice when you can no longer afford the marshmallows.

  • Isabel Rodriguez-Vega

    I considered hiring an outside counselor but the only thing they’re good for is advice. They can’t send in counselor recommendations or transcripts.

    I’ve done a lot of research on my own already and I know what I need to do so that option just seems pointless. The problem isn’t getting advice or counseling about college. There are plenty of free college workshops to help with all that if you keep your eyes open. The problem is the counselors are overworked and they don’t have time to do the bare necessities for students applying to college.

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