According to some estimates, children make an average of 3,000 decisions in a single day. That might sound like a lot until you learn that adults make an average of 35,000 decisions in a day – which makes the period between those two states, namely high school, a time of rapid acceleration.
Few people know this reality quite as well as school counselors, who bravely buckle in for the ride, helping adolescents navigate some of their first major decisions and prepare to handle far greater responsibility in an ever-changing world.
One of our key roles at Granite Edvance is supporting school counselors in this work. Here are some of the ways NH school counselors are meeting the changing needs of students, and some of the ways we’re coming alongside them to lend a hand.
The conversation around college and career options has been changing in recent years, and young people have taken notice, said Keira Christian, a counselor at Fall Mountain Regional High School in Langdon. Students are increasingly interested in looking at the various paths to a desired career such as nursing – exploring options such as career and technical education, early college, community college, and apprenticeship programs.
“A lot of students are very aware of the financial impact that college is going to have on them and thinking hard on what is going to be an affordable way for them to get the career they need,” she said.
Counselors are also making sure students get to explore the careers that interest them. “We do a lot of work with our high schoolers, getting them to try an assortment of things – classes, sports, extracurriculars,” Christian said. “We start the process pretty early: We actually meet with them during middle school to do course selection. We’re having these open discussions not just about, ‘What classes do you want to take?,’ but, ‘Have you thought about what you enjoy doing?’ ”
Granite Edvance helps contextualize and continue these conversations. Our in-school presentations offer ways for students to explore their future education, college, and career options, helping them see the full range of opportunities that are out there. Our career aptitude appointments help students find good-fit career options so they can choose a pathway that will lead to success. And resources such as our Admissions Insider provide thoughtful guidance for the various decisions students will face along the way.
Financial Aid Education
While finances usually figure into any conversation about future plans, financial aid is a challenge of its own. This year, school counselors are preparing for a new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will have fewer questions, some new terminology, and a new formula for calculating aid.
At the same time, a new law goes into effect this year, requiring all NH high school seniors to complete the FAFSA (or sign a waiver) in order to graduate.
Both are requiring some extra preparation from school counselors as they field questions from families and prepare for the changes.
“If you go on [the FAFSA website] as a kid who’s never done it, you’re probably going to need some help,” said Kate Kulacz, a counselor at Bow High School. “I think we’re going to have an influx of kids needing help.”
And while the goal of both initiatives is increased college access through the range of financial options the FAFSA unlocks, counselors want to make sure young people understand all the realities of financial aid – which includes loans as well as grants and scholarships. “I think there needs to be a lot more education around paying back loans and what that looks like,” said Ayla Steere, a counselor at Mascoma Valley Regional High School.
Granite Edvance counselors are already in that space. Through their in-school presentations, publications, and individual appointments, they explain the differences between grants, loans, and scholarships and encourage students and their families to make decisions that fit their budgets.
Balancing It All
While they’re preparing for the next steps in life, high school students are also juggling numerous other responsibilities and challenges – from part-time jobs to sports to any number of personal issues. On top of that, they have a dizzying amount of information coming at them all the time, Kulacz said. Recent data finds that a growing number of young people are struggling with mental health issues – and she believes the constant pressures on today’s high school students are part of the problem.
To help students stay on top of things, Kulacz works with them to prioritize their responsibilities. She also makes sure she’s providing them information in an easy format and repeating it often through multiple channels.
Of course, the added pressures on young people translate into added pressures on the counselors who support them. “It can be a little challenging to juggle all the different roles,” Christian said.
For some counselors, those roles have expanded even further in the face of staffing shortages. Numerous schools around the state have unfilled school counselor roles, said Heather Machanoff, a counselor at Oyster River High School and president of the New Hampshire School Counselor Association. Many others are dealing with high turnover, which means new counselors are scrambling to get up to speed.
While Granite Edvance counselors don’t take the place of school counselors, they can provide specific types of support that may help ease some of the stress on young people and counselors.
“Having [Granite Edvance] available to provide time and expertise is really helpful,” Machanoff said.
Photo information: Moira Valenti (left) and Karen Collins, senior education and career counselors at Granite Edvance, present information about the FAFSA to school counselors at the New Hampshire School Counselor Association Annual Meeting at Saint Anselm College in October 2023.