Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Heick Symposium explores how guidance counselors can help students find the right college

The process of choosing a college has become more complex as high school students and their families deal with a slow economy along with political and cultural forces. So last weekend, about 100 guidance counselors and other college search experts gathered at Randolph College to share ideas on helping students navigate the search.

The 2012 Heick Symposium on College Admissions featured speakers and panelists who talked about the college search process. Guidance counselors from around the country participated in two days of speeches and question and answer sessions.

The symposium opened with an address by Kay Thomas, retired director of international student and scholar services from the University of Minnesota, and a former national president of NAFSA: Associations of International Educators. Thomas discussed trends affecting international students and study abroad programs.

Contrary to assumptions, U.S. students have continued traveling to foreign countries after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Thomas said. “There was a recognition in our culture that we didn’t know enough about the world, and our college students have picked up on that,” she said.

However, the number of U.S. students studying abroad has remained relatively flat over the past 35 years, while the number of foreign students studying in the U.S. has more than tripled.

Thomas said studying abroad is an important part of becoming a culturally competent global citizen. But most American students now study abroad for a few weeks at a time, while there are fewer study abroad programs allowing a semester or a full year overseas. “That is a major concern,” she said.

Guidance counselors asked Thomas questions about how to help international students find scholarships and higher education opportunities.

On Saturday, Robert Franek, author of The Princeton Review’s guidebook The Best 376 Colleges, addressed the group. Franek’s talk, titled “Finding the Best Fit College: Understanding Student Hopes, Worries and Needs in College Research, Testing and Financial Aid,” used data from The Princeton Review’s latest survey of high school students and their parents.

Franek surprised the audience with some of the statistics, such as the revelation that college-bound students said their biggest worry is that they will get accepted to the college of their choice and then not be able to afford the school.

He also said it is now easier than ever to get accepted to college—while it is also harder than ever to get accepted to a college. While the plethora of colleges in America means students have many places where they could be accepted, most students apply to the same handful of schools, causing an overly-competitive process, he said.

The symposium also featured a panel discussion with several experts, including Franek, Roland Allen, director of college counseling at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano, California; Carol Bernstein, director of college guidance at Chadwick School in Palos Verdes Peninsula, California; Patricia Cleary, college director at Stuyvesant High School in New York, New York; Maureen Delaney, director of college guidance at Rudolf Steiner School, also in New York, New York; and Jane Shropshire, educational consultant at Shropshire Educational Consulting in Lexington, Kentucky.

The panel answered questions about how guidance professionals can help students dissect nearly identical marketing messages from colleges, how to value college rankings, and how to best approach a visit to a college campus.

The event was paid for by Randolph College’s Heick Symposium Fund, an endowed fund created by the estate of Betty Jo Denton Heick ’45 for the purpose of bringing people to campus to discuss contemporary academic issues.

Randolph College's a cappella groups Voices and Songshine provided entertainment for the guests.