They are our mentors, who guide us through the marathon of college applications. They are our friends, who do so much for us, from meeting with us again and again to sitting down together to edit essays. High school counselors play an integral role in every high school student's senior year. But what is it really like to be a high school college counselor?
Andi O’Hearn from Beijing City International School, and Susan Baker from Johnston High School in Iowa agree that there is no typical day in the life of a high school counselor. Their day can start at 8:00 a.m. and go all the way into midnight with no break.
“I start every day with a list of what should and needs to be done, but if a student is in a crisis, that will take precedence over everything else.” Baker said. “What I try to focus on during application season is meeting with every one of my assigned seniors to make sure they are on course for graduation and what they intend to do after high school. This varies from student to student; most will be going on to some type of schooling, four year, two year or vocational. A few will enter the military and others may enter the workforce or take a gap year.”
On top of a high school counselor’s regular responsibilities, as a counselor in China, O’Hearn also works with the students’ parents, some of whom may not speak English. She also prepares her students for the ACT and SAT, which are not as accessible in China, in addition to the TOEFL or IELTS.
Another additional responsibility for O’Hearn is to understand the role that the IB grading system plays into the college application process, and more generally, how different countries’ universities value different components of the application. While 80% of her students go to the US, 20% go elsewhere. O'Hearn must also learn a lot about universities in the UK, Canada, Korea, Hong Kong, China, Australia, and adapt her approach to each country’s expectations for admission.
Each counselor has her own way of approaching the application process. O’Hearn said that she tries to begin working with students as early as grade 9 “to help them understand that they will be telling a four-year story, not a one-year story.”
Baker, on the other hand, becomes most involved with the students in their senior years, focusing on application-specific advising, materials and essays.
Both O’Hearn and Baker are driven by the ultimate goal of all their work.
“I believe the purpose of my position is to support students and help them make good choices as they prepare for the next step in their lives, ” O’Hearn said.
“I am here to help them by answering questions, filling out forms and following up as an admissions counselor when needed. But since students are about to go out into the world on their own, I hope they have learned the skills to navigate and advocate for themselves," Baker added.
O’Hearn and Baker feel that is the most rewarding thing to get to know their students, see them grow and mature through the process, and finally achieve their dreams.
Our high school counselors guide us through every step of the process. They share our anxiety as we refresh our emails, and share our tears when the email headlined “Congratulations” finally arrives. According to O'Hearn and Baker, life as a high school counselor is an extremely exhausting, but fulfilling endeavor. Nothing makes them prouder than to see their students develop a deeper understanding of themselves through the process, and the joy on their student’s faces when the long-awaited email finally comes.