College-going rates could go up significantly if students in high school received counseling as freshmen, and not just when they are juniors and seniors, a new study from the National Association for College Admission Counseling  says.
The impact may be greatest on those in groups less likely than others to go to college. Among high school freshmen whose parents did not hold a bachelor’s degree, the study found positive correlations between:
- The time counselors expended on readiness-related activities and the students’ belief that their families could afford to send them to college.
- A family member discussing college with a counselor and a student’s plans to enroll in college.
- A student discussing college with a counselor and a student’s plans to enroll in college and take an admissions exam, such as the SAT or ACT.
According to the report, about 50 percent of high school counselors reported that they spent at least 21 percent of their time helping students with college readiness, selection and applications. Only 18 percent of ninth-grade students -- regardless of type of school or their school’s four-year college-going rate -- had discussed college with a counselor.
"Early counseling is important for students and families in that it addresses a deficiency in the college access continuum for many students, particularly low-income students and students who would be the first in their family to attend college," David Hawkins, NACAC's director of public policy and research, said via e-mail. "Specifically, students and families who are new to the college process are less likely to believe that college is within their reach, either academically or financially."
The problem there, however, is that “[i]n general, the schools most likely to have a robust college counseling program are those schools we already consider ‘advantaged’ — private schools and public schools in wealthy communities,” Hawkins said. “However, as college readiness becomes more of a focus for school reform efforts, we are seeing a greater emphasis on college counseling in schools serving underrepresented populations."
NACAC’s report makes several recommendations, particularly with regard to first-generation college students, including that counselors spend more time addressing college applications and preparedness, initiating discussions about college with ninth graders and initiating similar discussions with parents. “Holding these conversations with parents may in turn shape parents’ educational expectations for their children,” the report says, “which are also significantly related to ninth graders’ perceptions of college affordability and their bachelor’s degree plans.”