5 Ways to Improve College Search at Your School

This four-part blog series illuminates a range of strategies that independent school counselors can employ to help their students become college-ready.

To support you as you guide your students toward college readiness, we’re offering a series of strategies and tips to make the process more streamlined and more successful. In this first installment, we tackle the college search. It’s a process that can be time-consuming and overwhelming for students and counselors alike. As a counselor, your job is to help pave the way to a bright and successful future for your students, which includes helping them find their best-fit college. But some students haven’t had the opportunity to truly explore their own talents and passions or the full spectrum of possible career paths — and this makes it difficult for you to steer them in the right direction. To that end, let’s kick off with five ways you can help your students through the college search process.

1) Prioritize Student Self-Discovery Through the CCLR Framework

In order for a college search to be effective, students need to be aware of their likes and dislikes. So take time to help your students identify their strengths and interests. Create a questionnaire for them that helps draw out what gets them excited, what makes them curious, what holds their attention. Likewise ask what bores them, what makes them uncomfortable, and why. This kind of self-discovery plays a critical role in a student’s personal and academic development. It also creates a healthy foundation from which they are able to set and meet goals, foster and navigate positive relationships, and make responsible choices.

As a component of the Naviance CCLR Framework, personal exploration complements other important competencies — including academic skills, interpersonal skills, and understanding of college and career paths. This research-backed model helps educators drive student engagement and better outcomes through a whole-student approach. CCLR-aligned tools like Gallup’s StrengthExplorer, a critical part of Naviance’s college readiness platform, can help students explore who they are and set them up for long-term success after high school.

2) Identify Career Paths and Introduce Career Exploration Activities

Once your students begin to understand and comfortably discuss their strengths and interests, you’ll be better able to help them identify career paths that best align with those preferences. When you approach a college search through the lens of specific strengths and interests and the career paths that overlap with them, the most appropriate and fitting schools will begin to emerge.

By homing in on the professions that line up with their strengths and interests, students can then better recognize the colleges that will give them the training and skills they need to compete and be successful in those fields. One way to help your students identify their best-fit career paths is through career exploration programs and activities. According to Dr. Margarita Huerta at University of Nevada, and her colleagues, such activities — including job fairs, internships, and mentoring — play a significant role in preparing students for college and in optimizing postsecondary educational outcomes.

3) Illuminate the Details of Postsecondary Planning

Now it’s time to get your students up-to-speed on the many elements that go into choosing a college. Part of helping students with their postsecondary planning is to focus not just on the what, but also on the how. Students need to know that selecting a best-fit school is a multifaceted process — an appreciation for details like tuition, scholarships and early decision deadlines is important because this information will ultimately inform the college selection and application processes. In a report by MDRC titled, In Search of a Match, researchers suggest that counselors and advisers set up workshops for students and their parents to talk about applications, scholarships, interest rates, and more. By bringing these details to light and giving families the opportunity to ask questions and get on the same page. Add lessons from programs like Naviance’s college readiness curriculum as pre-workshop homework and families can come prepared with questions.

4) Deepen College Knowledge and Build a Decision-Making Matrix

Understanding the nuts and bolts of applying to college will benefit students as they move toward selecting the right school. Understanding what career path they want to follow will benefit them too. Armed with this information, you and your students can begin zeroing in on  the schools that best align with their preferred career paths, and from there build a decision-making matrix. Making a list of top-pick schools and the pros and cons of each can help bring into focus those that are worth pursuing, and those that are not. Tools like Naviance, which builds the mindsets and skillsets your students need for postsecondary success, help support this effort. U.S. News and World Report recommends weighing factors such as cost, potential debt, location, and institutional values to help inform final decisions.

5) Consider College Readiness Programs

College Readiness programs and solutions like Naviance simplify the process of helping your students in their college search. They also ensure that all stakeholders — from faculty to family members — stay informed and on track. This connection is important now more than ever as we continue to live and work in a pandemic. Availing yourself of tools like our research-backed CCLR Framework can transform what is inherently a large and sometimes unwieldy task into one that is manageable, enlightening, and rewarding.

We at Naviance know that finding the right college takes time, and that the process can be full of obstacles. But overcoming them is rewarding for both you and your students.

Looking for tips on engaging independent and private school parents in throughout the college search journey? Watch Helpful Ways to Engage Independent School Parents and Guardians an on-demand webinar.

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What does it mean to be ready for college? So much more than a state of mind, college readiness encompasses a constellation of skills and knowledge that students must possess in order to achieve postsecondary success. In addition to academic competency, students need an understanding of their strengths and interests in order to navigate their paths to college and indeed through life.

At Naviance, we recognize the many challenges that independent school counselors face as key figures in their students’ college preparation process. It’s why we developed our College, Career, and Life Readiness (CCLR) Framework — to help you understand your students’ interests, strengths, and needs, so you can individualize support to help them reach their goals.

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