Webinar Recap: Helpful Ways to Engage Independent School Parents and Guardians

The road to helping students become college ready involves many twists and turns. At independent schools, counselors are co-navigators of this journey, playing a crucial role in your students’ postsecondary education planning. This involves having continuous conversations with students about their strengths and interests, as well as researching colleges with them and seeing them through the many steps of the application process. 

Ultimately, the goal is of course to help your students discover their best-fit college. But this can become difficult when roadblocks such as money and outside expectations enter the equation. Unfortunately, a student’s college preferences may not match those of her parents, or a guardian may feel left out of the loop.

To shine a light on some of these issues — and to share tips for how to tackle them — Hobsons conducted a webinar about how to improve parent and guardian engagement at independent schools. Hosted by Rudy Ruiz, a partner at Four Point Education Partners, the webinar features insight from two independent school professionals: Erin Gabriel of Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Pat Leonardo of Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft, New Jersey.

Together, Ruiz, Gabriel, and Leonardo provide three main takeaways:

1) Communication is key.

It’s never too early to start talking about college and the preparation process. Gabriel begins talking with her students right at the start of high school. “In the first semester we start by talking about the importance of being connected to the school, building their GPA, and the importance of getting involved,” she says. To ensure that families stay involved, Gabriel creates webinars and other videos that she records and shares with parents and guardians to view on their own time. Gabriel also uses email as well as Twitter and other social media platforms to share information with parents and families, a tip we’ve recommended in the past, along with others.

Leonardo, who is the Naviance site manager at his school, often reminds parents that it’s ok if their high school junior or senior doesn’t know what she wants to do with the rest of her life. Leonardo also likes tools like Naviance’s Student Readiness Report and eDocs because they allow parents and guardians to understand their students’ college readiness progress, and gives him a way to easily communicate the status of his’ students applications.

2) Families need to prepare for college visits, too.

Understandably, when it comes to college visits, counselors are focused on making sure their students are prepared. But Leonardo and Gabriel both emphasize the importance of preparing parents and guardians for these visits as well. Leonardo notes that while virtual visits are still typical and certainly can be effective, physically visiting a college can often provide a more realistic picture of the school. Visiting a campus also signals to the college a high level of interest. “For many schools,” says Leonardo, “this show of desire is critical in the actual admission decision.”

And because questions can be easy to forget, Gabriel helps families prepare by arming them with a list of important questions to ask during college visits. This way parents and guardians, as well as their students, can be sure they won’t walk away from a college visit missing key information.

3) Everyone must be on the same page about best-fit.

Leonardo often sees a fundamental difference between what parents want and what their students want, when it comes to choosing a school. It is crucial, he says, to make sure that “best-fit” does not translate to “best-name.” This way everyone can proceed with the college readiness process in agreement that it’s not about a school’s prestige or influence, but rather about how a school will ultimately best serve the student and her goals for career and life.

At Gabriel’s high school, students are required to do job shadows as part of their career exploration process, which helps narrow down best-fit colleges. Her students also often enroll in college credit courses offered at the local community college. Doing this helps further sharpen the focus on best-fit schools — and, she says, can lead to parents and guardians feeling assured that their child did indeed choose the right one.

We try to reassure parents that not knowing exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life is OK for high school seniors and for high school juniors. 50% of all college students change their major, so this is not set in stone.

Pat Leonardo, Counselor,
Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, New Jersey

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Topics college readiness K 12
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