Providing good postsecondary guidance involves helping students identify their interests and aptitudes, learn about career and academic opportunities that match those interests, and select courses they need to take in preparation.

It includes encouraging students to set ambitious-yet-attainable goals and identify the choices they can make to help them achieve their ambitions. It also includes the related task of helping them navigate the application and financial aid process.

Most students’ awareness of career options, and practical steps to getting there, is limited. Some don’t realize the impact on their career goals of the courses they choose in middle and high school–and their academic effort and performance.

Many students only apply to one college–often the one that seems most accessible–without realizing that they are qualified to attend more selective institutions.

Students who choose to enter the workforce more directly need guidance to become aware of the opportunities in skilled technical fields, the mechanisms (e.g. certifications and apprenticeships) for success in those fields, and the in-school choices they can make to be better prepared for those opportunities.


(Click the above image for a PDF version of the resources on this page)

  • The reality is that school guidance counselors are often thwarted in their effectiveness by the sheer number of students they are responsible for. However, states and districts can mitigate this challenge to some degree: in the short term, by developing appropriate systems, tools, and training (see examples below); and in the long term, by allocating resources to improve the counselor-to-student ratio. Some practical recommendations:

~ Develop and implement appropriate state-wide guidance standards, tools, programs, and training
~ Have all students take the Holland Inventory or a similar career-interest survey in middle school or no later than freshman year of high school
~ Establish an expectation (and provide support) for all students to develop, and annually update, a career-focused, parent-approved personal learning plan by the end of 8th grade
~ Develop partnerships with regional public and private universities and colleges
~ Create a school or district team to develop career awareness, exploration, and immersion programs and activities
~ Develop and publicize systems to help students transition seamlessly into technical certification or apprenticeship programs

Note: In addition to the resources suggested below, you may wish to check out the extensive list available at University of Chicago.


Beyond College Readiness: College Awareness as a First Step
National Association of State Boards of Education
February 2016
Emphasizes state responsibility to set guidance standards; highlights Washington state High School and Beyond Plan and Idaho programs: personalized learning plan by 8th grade, Direct Admission to public colleges, Next Steps Idaho program.

Comprehensive Four-Year Postsecondary Plan
UChicago Network for College Success
Sample tool from Kelly High School outlining social-emotional, academic, and college/career skills for counselors to help students develop throughout the HS trajectory.

Counseling Department Retreat Facilitator’s Guide
UChicago Network for College Success
Sample retreat schedule, activities, and guiding questions from Kelly HS guidance department end-of-year retreat; excellent resource for equipping and encouraging counselors.

Academic and Career Planning
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
Website includes engaging intro video.

Fresno Unified increases applications to CSUs and UCs
July 2017
Report on Fresno experience: schools increased students’ awareness of options and breadth of college applications by providing information on public colleges and universities matching their academic profiles.  

For detailed information, see policy brief: Exploring Improvement Science in Education: Promoting College Access in Fresno Unified School District, Policy Analysis for California’s Education, June 2017

Problem Solving Incubator High: Design Your Personal Learning Plan
Seminole County Public Schools
April 2018
Student guide to personal learning and postsecondary planning at Problem Solving Incubator High, an innovative Florida public high school.



Ramping up for college readiness in Minnesota high schools: Implementation of a schoolwide program
June 2016
Randomized control evaluation of Minnesota program designed to improve students’ college readiness in five areas (academic, admissions, career awareness, financial, and social/emotional) in twenty rural high schools.


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