Counselor Responds

I would like to respond to an article, "Counseling For College: Ethics Issue," appearing in your newspaper on Feb. 25.

Getting into college is a theme, sometimes submerged and other times more clearly articulated, which preoccupies educators, high school students and their parents. A recent survey by the National College Counseling Project, as reported in the Boston Globe, concluded that "many students do not get the kind of information and advice they need to pick colleges that fit their needs and abilities." Moreover, the article points out that "the average caseload for a college counselor is 174 students and the average time spent with each student per year is 20 minutes."

Twenty minutes per year with a counselor to work on what is perhaps the most important issue to date in a young adult's life--this fact strikes me as a deeply tragic example of how we blur our priorities and gravely shortchange our students and children.

High school counselors, most of them, are doing their jobs well; there is, however, only so much one can do, with only so many students, amid the bells and meetings and paper work and phone calls that punctuate the normal school day. Counselors, public and private alike, have the same goal--to help students find appropriate schools to meet their academic, career, and personal needs--and share the same hopes for the young adults we help and serve. Rather than our being "grudgingly accepted by peers," I have found high school counselors to be remarkably supportive of our work. Our work is likewise accepted by college admissions offices, which value the screening and marketing services we provide in an increasingly sophisticated and competitive college admissions process.

The fact that affluent families are more likely users of the services concerns us, and I personally encourage minority and financially disadvantaged families and, with my sliding scale fee structure, have never turned away a client for lack of funds.

Staff writer Scott Harris attacks the ethical issue by focusing on the college application essay. I am quoted as having helped a Yale applicant through five rewrites. As a former English professor, I have often asked my students to rewrite essays several times and ethical questions were never raised about revision. Good writing requires revisions and students, as a result, learn how to write. The article does not mention that the client in question is an Asian-American who grew up in a Chinese-speaking household and learned English as a second language. As an educator and counselor, I have always maintained meticulously high ethical and professional standards and I resent any inference that my professional behavior is anything but that.

During our interview of several hours, I shared with Mr. Harris materials that I hoped would provide an overview of the college selection and admission process. I feel that the article did not accurately reflect the nature of our discussion. The choice of college can mean the difference between realized potential and frustration or failure; it is too important to leave to fate or chance or whim. Families therefore need all the information and advice they can obtain, from whatever source.

Stanford and Berkeley provide substantially different educational experiences, as do Yale and Dartmouth, or Pomona and Reed. Good counselors know the nuances and match up the "whole person" with the "whole school." Thus, many parents appropriately choose to hire trained professionals, enabling them to get through a difficult and tense period with dignity and peace of mind.


San Diego

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