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McCauley on Building Enrollment: What Counselors Really Want

    I used to think I knew what counselors wanted and had a good idea of how to “help them help me.” Then I got this bright idea: Maybe I should ask them. Turns out that while I was on target in some respects, I was off base on others. Here’s what they had to say when I asked them “How can we, as teachers of elective courses, better connect with counselors to “promote” our programs and classes?”

    Not surprisingly, each emphasized communication. And the key seems to be “regular and relevant’ communication. In other words, don’t just inundate them with materials right before they begin to schedule students. Rather, try a “drip” approach. Instead of dumping the entire bucket at a time when they’re already overwhelmed with demands related to student scheduling, spread your information flow out over the entire year. Literally, build a schedule of contacts or “touch points” for the entire year. The methods and content should vary, and the frequency of contact should be sensitive to other demands on their time.

    Following are their suggestions for both the medium and the content of the communications:

    • Face it, food works. Make arrangements to join them for lunch – and pick up the tab. Make the lunch memorable with a creative location or an interesting menu. As in any marketing effort, it has a lot to do with differentiating your program from the competition. Doesn’t have to be fancy. Just find a way to get them out of the cafeteria. Buy a pizza, hit Subway, pack a brown bag for each. Doesn’t matter. Be sure they know up front that your intention is to provide them with information about your program over lunch. It’s not about the food; it’s about the time with your counselors. Right?
    • Get hard-copy print materials in their hands. Although I’m a digital thinker and believe everything should be online, everyone does not feel the same way. Make your collateral materials (brochures, course descriptions, college major options, employment data, alumni endorsements, alumni case histories, etc.) attractive and different from the “typical” stuff lying around their offices. While I still feel you should have your course descriptions, course outlines, videos, etc. online counselors want things they can pick up on the fly and hand to a parent or student.
      Keep your counselors well-supplied with your handout(s). They are often very busy and it is convenient for them to be able to hand a student or parent a promotional piece to further explain your classes. It is also important to update these descriptions each year. Be sure to include any prerequisites or course sequences. HINT: If they have a waiting area for students, take it upon yourself to keep a stack of brochures available and if they have a typical out-of-date bulletin board full of last year’s announcements, see if you can’t own a piece of it.
    • As for the content, counselors want to know what and how. What do you teach, and how do you teach it. This allows them to explain to students what they will experience in the class. Put it in writing and better yet, in pictures with meaningful captions. HINT: If your program is using the national Business Administration standards, flaunt it! They can give your program a lot of credibility.
    • Your counselors want to know when you or your students accomplish something significant or receive recognition or awards. They are proud of the school—including both staff and students—and enjoy the opportunity to share success.
    • Repeat: Testimonials matter! Encourage testimonials from former students and forward them to your counselors.
    • Here is the one that somewhat surprised me: Every counselor I interviewed mentioned inviting them to stop in when there’s something out of the ordinary or particularly creative or interesting happening. Yes, they could just stop in on their own, but how many actually do? Being invited makes them more comfortable and eliminates the big-brother feeling. And, there’s value in the invitation itself – even if they can’t stop by, it’s a way to remind them that something special is going on down in the Business Administration end of the hallway.

    Consider this direct quote. “The one killer is when a teacher comes to the counseling department and asks them to recruit students to their classes or complains that counselors are killing their programs. For some obvious and some subtle reasons this will turn counselors to another direction.” That hurts, but what would you expect? Counselors don’t see themselves as having any responsibility for filling your classes. Rather, they look for ways to meet students’ needs.

    These ideas, straight from high school guidance counselors, should not surprise anyone. But we each need to ask ourselves how sensitive we really are to the counselors’ needs. How many of us are actually implementing ideas like these?

    One word of caution: Never put the success of your program and by extension your own success, in the hands of someone else. Don’t count on you counselors, the vice principal in charge of scheduling, your department chair or anyone else to take care of you. Work with them all, but in the end, the success of your program rests in your hands.

    Work on your schedule of activities and contacts. Be creative when you can, but above all do something!