A 3-Step Approach to Evaluating your College Counseling Program

Any educator knows that their job is one of continuous improvement. Standards and best practices of college counseling change quickly–alongside shifting college admissions standards, new technologies, and increasingly complex graduation requirements. As a counselor, one of your many responsibilities is making sure that your college counseling program is optimized for student success and can adapt to fit the specific needs of your school or district.

Counselors conduct evaluations for the purpose of measuring the value of their program and the effectiveness of the staff who implement it. Insights from the evaluation can be used to determine how (if at all) the program should evolve to best serve students. Evaluations can also be a necessary part of demonstrating the value of the program to school or district leadership, often through quantitative data and statistics showing how students are improving, declining, or stagnating in their college preparation and academic performance due to their participation in counseling activities.

But how should counselors (or, more often, those in charge of a counseling staff) conduct these evaluations, and how do they make decisions based on the results? In this blog post, our college counseling experts have simplified the process into 3 primary steps.

Step 1: Collaborate with school leadership

The results of the evaluation will most likely be shared with school leadership (such as principals) or even district leadership (such as superintendents or directors). Since all of these stakeholders are invested in the results, it’s important to establish clear communication with them upfront about the purpose of the evaluation and how it can best be conducted.

Set up meetings with leadership to discuss the process of evaluating your program, and get their input about their vision and goals. What do they believe the college counseling program should be accomplishing? What specific metrics would they use to define a “successful” program? Can they help you find data sources or other resources that can demonstrate, in concrete ways, how your program impacts the student body?

The earlier you begin these conversations with school or district leadership, the smoother the evaluation process will go, and the more likely it will be that you can create actionable recommendations for improvement after the evaluation is complete.

Step 2: Divide and conquer as a counseling staff

If your school has multiple college counselors, you should organize them strategically so each can tackle a different component of the evaluation process. Meet as a group to discuss a plan and determine who will become the “expert” in each area of the evaluation. For example, you may have a standardized testing expert, who can assess the quality of the school’s test prep materials and build out additional marketing collateral to promote upcoming ACT/SAT deadlines. Or you may appoint a counselor to be the admissions expert, tasked with maintaining consistent communication with local college admissions representatives and ensuring that they regularly visit campus to meet with students and answer questions. During the evaluation process, this expert can research the latest admissions best practices and seek out ways to strengthen their relationships with local colleges and universities.

Counselors will take the lead in their designated area, building expertise with the best softwares and available regional, state, and national resources. Whether you are a single counselor in a small school or have many team players, becoming adept at a specialty area and sharing your knowledge with other educators will streamline your process, lead to comprehensive understanding of all areas of college counseling for your entire staff, and create a college-going culture other schools will want to emulate.

Step 3: Gather data

Data will show in concrete ways how your program affects your student body. Here are a few stats you may want to begin with:

  • 2- and 4-year college-going rate
  • Free/reduced lunch numbers
  • ACT/SAT average
  • Number of students taking the ACT/SAT
  • High school graduation rate
  • College matriculation details
  • AP participation numbers
  • AP exam results
  • Your school profile (which will usually be included in a student’s application to college)

Perhaps even more important than those metrics, though, is authentic insights from students and parents. Part of your evaluation should include gathering survey data from your constituents–students, faculty, parents, administration, and the larger community. These surveys may require some work upfront, but can go a long way towards demonstrating your program’s effectiveness. Survey questions will differ based on the population you’re surveying. If you’re seeking input from students, consider questions like:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how important has your counselor been to your college application experience?
  • What counseling events have you attended this year?
  • What counseling events do you wish we would have offered?
  • Do you take AP courses? Why or why not?
  • Do you have a clear understanding of the college application process?
  • What additional resources or programming do you wish the counseling office had available?
  • Would you prefer more in-class lessons about applying for college? Fewer?

Of course, these questions are just a jumping-off point; work with your counseling staff and school/district leadership to determine which groups of stakeholders to survey, and what insights you’d most like to glean from them.

It also may be helpful to gather usage data from existing counseling efforts. A robust college application platform like Transeo College can be instrumental in enabling you to pull reports and see at a glance how active your students have been throughout the application and admissions process.

Once you’ve gathered your data, it’s time to formalize the evaluation and begin thinking about how to adapt your program based on the results. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) has some great frameworks and resources for organizing your final assessment–download one of their sample assessment tables here.

Evaluations may take a little time and planning, but they are crucial to helping your school counseling program grow, scale, and most effectively meet student’s needs. For more information about evaluation resources, check out our Transeo College platform or get in touch with us today!