Terri Tchorzynski
Terri Tchorzynski

In the Midwest state of Michigan, one counselor may advise up to 750 students at a time about going to college.

The American School Counselor Association says it should be 250 to one.

“Some school counselors are probably in a spot where maybe they cannot provide the individual services ... getting the students exactly what they need,” says Terri Tchorzynski, who earned the American School Counselor of the Year award in 2017.

A study this year asked 22,087 Americans about their college experience and where people received advice about what to study and whether the advice was helpful.

Only 64 percent said “formal” sources of advice - such as school counselors, websites and print media - were helpful. More helpful were social networks, like friends and family, 83 percent said. Informal work-based sources, like bosses and co-workers, were the least used, said 20 percent.

Brandon Busteed said he was surprised by the results. Busteed is the executive director of education and workforce development at the Gallup research company, which conducted the poll.

“It’s a call to action on a number of fronts, certainly to think about how we improve the formal advising that happens in and outside of schools,” he told VOA. “But also to think about how we can ramp up the number of touch points between employers … and students.”

Johnny C. Taylor Jr. is the president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which supports historically black colleges and universities, across the United States. Taylor helped connect Gallup and the Strada Education network, a nonprofit organization that supports the growth of higher education within minority communities.

First lady Michelle Obama hugs 2017 School Counsel
First lady Michelle Obama hugs 2017 School Counselor of the Year Terri Tchorzynski, after her final speech as First Lady at the 2017 School Counselor of the Year ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Jan. 6, 2017.

In addition to being overworked, Taylor says, school counselors focus on education and might be less informed about how to become a chemical engineer or graphic designer, for example.

Schools need to strengthen relationships with local employers and national professional organizations, Taylor says. These connections can help counselors help students know more about what and where to study to prepare them for careers. It also gives students chances to meet professionals and ask questions a counselor might not think about.

Taylor says this is especially important for poor and minority students. Both socially and professionally, they are typically less exposure to people with high skilled jobs.

“Many of them are first generation. And as first generation students, they simply don’t have engineers, doctors, lawyers in their families to give them this advice,” Taylor says.

“The result is that they make really, often times, poor … college-going decisions and ultimately have a certain level of regret about what schools they chose, what majors they chose when they did go to school, and, ultimately, what careers they found themselves in.”

Also, Taylor notes, school counselors should realistically speak with their advisees, noting difficulties in finding a job in some fields or the consequences of heavy student debt, he says.

Tchorzynski says she uses many tools to help her students. She makes regular presentations on financial aid, gives special tests to help students connect their characteristics with fields of study or career paths and directs students to websites that provide information on colleges and universities.

Tchorzynski, Busteed and Taylor all agree that students need to put time and effort into their search to result in the best outcomes. But students need help to head in the right direction.

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