June 14, 2015

Guidance Counselors Often Need Help, Too

By Susie Smith

The role of a high school guidance counselor has evolved rapidly in the past few decades, becoming an even more essential component of a student’s path to education beyond high school. No longer simply about scheduling, high school guidance counseling is more about being able to advocate for and advise students as they make important transitions to postsecondary life. 

But with an average caseload for a Kentucky guidance counselor equaling 444 students, just how effective can he or she be?

And even beyond the daunting ratio, counselors have to contend with myriad tasks. On top of the duties of advising students on how to prepare and apply for postsecondary training or education, Kentucky’s school counselors are often saddled with administrative duties that relate to testing and data collection. These extra duties subtract from the precious time counselors spend with their students, time that students like me and so many of my friends cannot afford to lose. 

This public school guidance crisis prompts many people to hire private counselors to assist them in navigating the college admissions process. In Lexington where I live, families routinely shell out $3,000 and more to give their kids the college guidance that they need to apply to a competitive school or identify the most lucrative scholarship opportunities. 

But the students who cannot afford this bill are put at a major disadvantage, especially if their families cannot navigate the complicated and ever-changing admissions process. “There are kids out there whose family doesn’t know how to push them further or guide them,” said Paul Laurence Dunbar head guidance counselor Deanna Smith. “If there’s not anyone at home who knows how to push and guide them, then there has to be someone at school who can do that.” 

The fact of the matter is that the extra requirements and large caseloads assigned to guidance counselors stop them from effectively doing their jobs. “Expecting any one person to deal with that amount of kids and accomplish everything that they want us to do with each individual kid is unreasonable. There’s no way that you can get to know these kids, no matter how efficient you are,” Mrs. Smith told us.   

As a high school senior who will be attending Kentucky’s flagship public university on a full academic scholarship, I cannot begin to tell you how important the role of a guidance counselor is and how much I appreciate mine. But I enjoy a distinct advantage over almost every other Kentucky student I know: Mrs. Smith is not only my guidance counselor; she also just so happens to be my mother.

This op-ed originally ran as part of a package in the Courier Journal reflecting on the release of Uncovering the Tripwires to Postsecondary Success.

Susie Smith

Susie Smith

Susie is a Yoda Corps Advisor of KSVT and former member. She graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in 2015 and the University of Kentucky in 2019.