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Ask a REL Response

High school counselors and college and career readiness — December 2017


Could you provide research on the efficacy of high school counselors in terms of supporting students' college readiness and access?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on high school counselors and students’ college and career readiness. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

Belasco, A. S. (2013). Creating college opportunity: School counselors and their influence on postsecondary enrollment. Research in Higher Education, 54(7), 781–804. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “School counselors are the primary facilitators of college transition for many students, yet little is known about their influence on college-going behavior. Analyzing data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, this study employs coarsened exact matching and multilevel modeling to examine the effects of student-counselor visits on postsecondary enrollment, as well as determine whether the effects of such visits vary by socioeconomic background. Results suggest that visiting a counselor for college entrance information has a positive and significant influence on students' likelihood of postsecondary enrollment, and that counseling-related effects are greatest for students with low socioeconomic status.”

Bryan, J., Moore-Thomas, C., Day-Vines, N. L., & Holcomb-McCoy, C. (2011). School counselors as social capital: The effects of high school college counseling on college application rates. Journal of Counseling and Development, 89(2), 190–199. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “Using social capital theory as a framework, the authors examined data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 to investigate how student contact with high school counselors about college information and other college-related variables influence students' college application rates. In addition to some college-related variables, the number of school counselors and student contacts were significant predictors of college application rates. Implications for school counselors and counselor training are included.”

The College Board National Office for School Counselor Advocacy. (2010). Eight components of college and career readiness counseling. New York: Author. Retrieved from

From the report: “In today’s global, knowledge-based economy, a college education is the gateway to social mobility and better lifelong opportunities. The vast majority of America’s high school students (86 percent) expect to attend college, but many lack the support and guidance they need to prepare for enrollment and success in college. (U.S. Department of Education, NCES 2010-170). Furthermore, college-going rates differ disproportionately by family income, parent education level and other demographic characteristics. Too few students are graduating from high school ready for college. This education deficit is an urgent concern for the future of the nation as a whole and for our most underserved communities. The Eight Components of College and Career Readiness Counseling chart a comprehensive, systemic approach for school counselors’’ use to inspire all students to, and prepare them for, college success and opportunity — especially students from underrepresented populations. The eight components build   aspirations and social capital, offer enriching activities, foster rigorous academic preparation, encourage early college planning, and guide students and families through the college admission and financial aid processes. By implementing these eight components, school counselors provide information, tools and perspective to parents, students, schools and their communities that build college and career readiness for all students.”

Domina, T. & Woods, C. S. (2014). The school counselor caseload and the high school-to-college pipeline. Teachers College Record, 116(10), 1–30. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “Background: Advising students on the transition from high school to college is a central part of school counselors' professional responsibility. The American School Counselor Association recommends a school counselor caseload of 250 students; however, prior work yields inconclusive evidence on the relationship between school counseling and school-level counseling resources and students' college trajectories. Focus of Study: This study evaluates the relationship between access to school counselors and several critical indicators of student transitions between high school and college. Research Design: The study utilizes the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 to explore the relationships between the school counselor caseload and students' progress throughout the high school-to-college pipeline. The key indicator is the counselor caseload for students at a given high school, measured as the number of 10th graders per counselor at the high school at which each student is enrolled. The outcome variables are students' college expectations, whether students spoke with a counselor about college, taking the SAT, and college enrollment. Logistic and multinomial logistic regression analyses are applied to examine the relationships between these variables. Findings: Students in schools with small counselor caseloads enjoy greater success at navigating the high school-to-college pipeline. Controlling for student- and school-level characteristics, students in schools where counselors are responsible for advising a large number of students are less likely to speak with a counselor about college, plan to attend college, take the SAT, and enroll in a 4-year college. Conclusions: The findings support the claim that a smaller school counselor caseload may increase students' access to key college preparation resources and raise 4-year college enrollment rates.”

Fitzpatrick, D. & Schneider, B. (2016). Linking counselor activities and students’ college readiness: How they matter for disadvantaged students. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness annual conference. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Students' college readiness has important links with their access to and success in postsecondary education. College readiness measures appear to be malleable based on high school counselors' work. Unfortunately, the research-to-date provides only minimal guidance for what high school counselors should actually do in order to help their students. Discussions of college readiness often merge college eligibility and college knowledge. College eligibility refers to basic skills, academic skills, and content knowledge, including students having taken courses and earned grades that earn them entry into a typical 4-year college. College knowledge refers to awareness of the steps (e.g. taking the SAT/ACT, applying to colleges, seeking financial aid) between aspiring to attend college and actually doing so. Counselors can mediate both factors, and this paper uses the High School Longitudinal Study (HSLS) data to illuminate how. In this paper, researchers investigate how four "specific" advising activities impact two "specific" demonstrations of college readiness for all students and for disadvantaged students.”

Friesenhahn-Soliz, G., Bain, S., & Maxwell, G. (2015). Rural Hispanic counselor and student perspectives and their roles in providing improved secondary guidance counseling. Journal of Case Studies in Education, 8, 1–14. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “School counselors can serve as agents of change in our nation's schools, particularly for marginalized students whose voices are frequently not heard. Historically, the role of the school counselor has been under-utilized and inaccurately defined. Research available on counselor role definition has been primarily quantitative. Research on counselor efficacy is not abundant, especially since a clear definition of the role has only recently been clarified by the American School Counselor Association and the national Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs. This qualitative study involved asking students who graduated from rural, low SES high schools, as well as counselors who served in those same types of schools, to share their perspectives regarding whether the role of the counselor factored into student college success. Results from this study provide information for a variety of stakeholders because it shares the little known perceptions of students and counselors regarding how their high school counselors influenced their postsecondary experiences.”

Hines, P. L. & Lemons, R. W., with Crews, K.D.  (2011). Poised to lead: How school counselors can drive college and career readiness. Washington, DC: Education Trust. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The quality of the coursework students take in high school powerfully affects their life options after graduation. School counselors can guide students through the course selection process. They also can help schools identify policies and practices that propel all students toward success, as well as those that hold some students back. The problem? Too many of today’s school counselors do not serve this function. This paper outlines what states, districts, and schools can do to help school counselors become leaders and advocates in the effort to prepare all students for college and career.”

Hurwitz, M. & Howell, J. (2013). Measuring the impact of high school counselors on college enrollment. New York: College Board. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This brief examines high school counselor staffing counts relative to four-year college enrollment rates. Recent evidence from a national survey of counselors provides support for claims by counselors and school administrators that current counselor staffing levels are suboptimal. An additional high school counselor is predicted to induce a 10 percentage point increase in four-year college enrollment. A technical appendix is included.” 

Robinson, K. J. & Roksa, J. (2016). Counselors, information, and high school college-going culture: Inequalities in the college application process. Research in Higher Education, 57(7), 845–868. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “While socioeconomic inequality in postsecondary outcomes is well documented, limited research explores the extent to which seeing a high school counselor can help to reduce inequality in college destinations. In particular, previous research rarely considers the high school context in which counselors and students interact as well as the other sources of social and cultural capital available to students. Using the Educational Longitudinal Study (ELS: 2002), we find that seeing a counselor plays a significant role in predicting application to college, and while this relationship is attenuated, it remains strong even net of other sources of information. Moreover, the relationship between seeing a high school counselor and whether and where students apply to college is largely similar across high school contexts, with some indication that high school counselors may be most relevant in schools with moderate college-going culture. Finally, presented analyses provide insights regarding the extent to which different factors contribute to socioeconomic inequality in the college application process.”

 Stephan, J. L., & Rosenbaum, J. E. (2013). Can high schools reduce college enrollment gaps with a new counseling model? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 35(2), 200–219. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Despite planning to attend college, disadvantaged students enroll in two-year or less selective colleges at disproportionately high rates. Beyond cost and academic achievement, previous research finds that a lack of college-related social capital poses barriers. However, little research investigates whether schools can change students’ social capital. The researchers examine whether, how, and for whom a new counseling model aimed at creating social capital improves college enrollment. Following nearly all Chicago public school seniors through the fall after high school, they find that coaches improve the types of colleges students attend by getting students to complete key actions, with the most disadvantaged students benefiting. This suggests that targeting social capital might improve the high school-to-college transition for disadvantaged students.”

Stone-Johnson, C. (2015). Counselors as policy actors: Challenges to systemic involvement in college and career readiness policy in secondary schools. American Secondary Education, 43(2), 27–43. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “Enacting college and career readiness policy in secondary schools requires systemic involvement of all school professionals, but identifying the specific roles that should be played by teachers and counselors remains a challenge. The study reported in this article used qualitative interviews with counselors and teachers to describe this challenge in one suburban high school. Findings suggest that enactment of college and career readiness policy serves not to encourage systemic involvement but rather to marginalize counselors from meaningful participation. Implications for practice are discussed, including improving pre-service preparation and professional development.”

 Temple, MichellM., Roy, J., Gonder, T., & Whisenhunt, J. (2015). School counselors’ role in college readiness for students with disabilities. Georgia School Counselors Association Journal, 22, 49–59. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This article discusses the importance of the professional school counselors' participation in the development of self-determination skills students with disabilities need to transition from high school to college. An intervention is proposed to guide high school counselors' involvement. Strategies to promote college readiness through the development of skills associated with self-determination (i.e., self-awareness, identifying social supports, and effective social skills) are offered. Implications for school counseling practice are discussed.”

 Vela, J. C., Flamez, B., Sparrow, G. S., & Lerma, E. (2015). Understanding support from school counselors as predictors of Mexican American adolescents’ college-going beliefs. Journal of School Counseling, 14(7), 2–28. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The impact of high school counselors' support on Mexican American adolescents' college-going beliefs was examined. We used a quantitative, predictive design to explore predictors of Mexican American adolescents' college-going beliefs. Perceptions of accessibility and expectations from school counselors positively impacted college-going beliefs while perceptions of appraisal negatively impacted college-going beliefs. In addition to a discussion regarding the importance of these findings, implications for school counselors and researchers are offered.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

(“High school counselors”) AND (“college readiness” OR “college access” OR “career readiness” OR “careers” OR “efficacy”)

Databases and Resources

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally-funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally-funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government.