Just a few recommendations

No fire and/or brimstone about anything or anyone this time, just some credit where credit is due. (A slightly different version of this entry can also be found on NACAC’s website at Admitted Blog)

Coming from the college side of college admission, I didn’t realize how much counseling was involved in college counseling until I started meeting with students and their parents, their divorced parents, and/or their divorced and remarried parents; with students who refused to meet with their parents in the room, with parents who refused to meet with each other, and with children who refused to speak in their parents’ presence. (I won’t mention the times I had to ask parents, as politely as possible, to let their children get a word in edgewise or to review their records a bit more objectively as they considered college possibilities.)

I quickly realized I had stepped into a cultural maelstrom, especially at my very highly competitive school. “College” affected everyone day to day, so knowing the mechanics of the process was only the beginning. Attending to psyches and personalities in the throes of college selection kept me plenty busy.

Now that I work with adults who counsel low-income and first-generation students, I’m in a whole different arena, but the goals are the same. As a result, I often rely on two organizations that have significantly shaped my college-counseling outlook: the National Runaway Switchboard (NRS) and the American School Counselors Association (ASCA). NRS taught me how to listen actively and enable students to express themselves; ASCA has provided an essential framework for joining counseling and college counseling.

I’ve volunteered at NRS, a teen crisis line, for over ten years. “Liners” complete an extensive training that teaches them to listen actively, help callers develop options, and, most important, put callers in the “driver’s seat” as they talk through the reasons they ran away or want to. As a result I’m committed to “guiding without steering.” (I didn’t know how much I’d incorporated this methodology until one of my students who had been through the NRS training came in and asked I thought about his college list. “Well,” I replied, “What do you think about it?” He laughed and said, “Aww, Mr. Dix, you don’t have to do that NRS stuff with me!”)

The ASCA addresses primary and secondary school counseling topics. Its “strengths-based” perspective means being alive to students’ potential and reaching out to students, especially valuable in first-generation contexts. It informs my sessions with counselors and teachers.

Two ASCA publications are important reading: ASCA School Counselor magazine and the Professional School Counseling Journal. The former is for a generalized readership; the latter is “research” oriented (not always rigorous) but full of excellent commentary from practitioners and academics. (Here is one particularly helpful article. For the full publications you need to be an ASCA member.)

The ASCA also has just published two new reports in conjunction with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) and the College Board: “A Closer Look at the Principal-Counselor Relationship” and “Finding a Way: Practical Examples of How an Effective Principal-Counselor Relationship Can Lead to Success for All Students” that are worth taking a look at. They are publicly available for download here.

My college counseling, as well as my professional development opportunities for colleagues, has benefited immensely from these resources. I highly recommend them.

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About Will Dix

I am currently writing a book about college admission. I'm interested in the intersection of the college process and American culture. I attended Amherst College in the 1970s, taught high school English and theater at The Hill School in the '80s, returned to Amherst in the '90s as an admission dean, and began the '00s as a college counselor at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. I then joined Chicago Scholars as Program Director. Currently, I blog about college admission for Forbes.com. I also help community organizations serving low income students understand the college admission process so more students can consider gaining access to higher education. I have a few private college counseling clients that I take by referral only. The views expressed in this blog are mine alone.
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