After graduating high school, there are endless amounts of opportunities that students can choose to explore—and in today’s changing workforce—these opportunities are better and more feasible than ever before. While most students typically graduate thinking that pursuing a four-year degree is the only option available, the reality is that students can pursue a number of paths that will better prepare them for entering the workforce and pursuing middle-skill career paths through community college and technical school training opportunities. Not only are these options numerous, but they are also cheaper, quicker, and just as likely to offer a great career with good wages.

However, students are often unaware of these valuable opportunities available to them because some high school counselors simply do not have the time or information to provide comprehensive career guidance, particularly around skilled trades and middle-skills careers. The National Office for School Counselor Advocacy stated that secondary students need better support from professional school counselors when making decisions regarding their postsecondary education and career. This qualitative study explored school counselors’ perceptions of competence in the area of career counseling, and resulted in the following themes: challenges to delivery, opportunity, self-doubt, reliance on colleagues, and the use of technology.

These themes suggest that counselors do not provide their students with comprehensive guidance for post-secondary opportunities, especially options that don’t involve going to a four-year college or university. This poses the question: What prevents high school counselors from providing career guidance?

  • Too many students; too little time: According to the Association for College Admission Counseling, one guidance counselor is responsible for nearly 500 students, but in some places the ratio is even worse—1000 students for every counselor. It is very unlikely that every student will have the opportunity to have a one-on-one talk with their counselor to discuss all of their after high school opportunities. Without this valuable face time, it is likely that the conversation would only revolve around college and scholarship options.
  • Insufficient Evaluations: Counselors are not evaluated on the students who forego college and become successful in a middle-skill career pathway. Many counselor evaluations are based on the value of college scholarships and the number of students admitted to prestigious universities.
  • Too Many Responsibilities: Guidance counselors are stretched far too thin—they’re responsible for helping with students’ mental health issues, scheduling, college counseling, testing, and making sure students have adequate care at home, as well as the countless number of personal issues students face. That leaves little time for career counseling and even less for professional development related to middle-skill career opportunities.

The guidance counselor crisis is not something that can be fixed overnight, but there are solutions that schools and communities can pursue to better advise students of all the opportunities available to them.

  • Counselors should not be evaluated solely on students’ scholarship values and college admissions: If counselors were evaluated on all kinds of student achievements, including those students who enter the workforce with a middle skills job and become successful, then there would be an incentive for counselors to promote community colleges, trade schools and middle skill jobs.
  • Spread out the responsibility: Guidance counselors need to enlist the help of retired counselors, offer externships to college students who are training to be guidance counselors, and spread out some of the responsibilities to qualified faculty and staff. This extra help will lessen the workload of the guidance counselor, allowing them to focus on providing students with all of the opportunities available to them.
  • Utilize Technology: When it comes down to it, students are ultimately responsible for seeking their own opportunities and finding help when they need it. Guidance counselors should inform their students of the best online career exploration tools and encourage students to take advantage of them.

If counselors are better positioned to guide students about a variety of  opportunities, then students will become more valuable as they enter the workforce.