You know those backpacks kids carry around? They might have a few notebooks, a couple of books, but they’re sandwiched in between their tablet or laptop.
And don’t even get us started on smartphones.
Remember this? “If a tree falls in the forest when no one is there, does it make a sound?” Maybe more relevant today: “If what you say can’t be found online, do you even exist?”
Paper Doesn’t Cut It
Go ahead, hand out all your flyers and memo’s and forms and directions. Get good at it – because you’ll be doing it over and over. Half of those papers will be lost or tossed before they make it to the bus stop.
School counselors have a tremendous impact on the path students choose in life. The information they have to offer – not just to kids but for parents too – needs to be readily available. Anytime someone wants to find it.
Welcome to the internet, my friends. Here are the top seven reasons every school counselor needs a webpage.
1. Let’s Talk FAFSA
A Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) should be low-hanging fruit for families planning for college. But let’s be honest – a lot of parents and students procrastinate on getting the paperwork filled out and submitted.
Your web page becomes your classroom and your soapbox. You can use it to help nudge parents and kids through the process. You’re a trusted source – you know the typical stumbling blocks. Sure, they could just go to the FAFSA website, but your involvement makes the whole thing less intimidating.
You can create an FAQ, highlight the significant benefits of completing the application early on. Parents might not realize that many colleges use FAFSA as criteria for their scholarship programs. And though student loans will always be available, pools of school-specific financial support won’t be.
A link to the forms to the instructions – a list of all supporting documents you’re going to need – your web page becomes a simple to read and credible resource for encouraging college attendance.
2. Reach Multiple Audiences
The nice thing about your web page is that you can communicate with kids and parents in one spot. Both of them need information on similar topics, but it’s going to be processed differently. Chances are good you’ll want to communicate it creatively.
You can create separate sections for parents and students. With your expertise, you’re the perfect person to know the questions each group has and how to answer them. Your page becomes a resource on priority topics and offering links to resources, forms, and in-depth information.
Parents, in particular, will appreciate the one-stop shop for the information they need. The majority of parents work outside the home and have to catch up in the evening. When they visit your page, they can catch up quick – which makes life a little easier.
3. Add Available Tools
The other nice thing about your web page is you might be able to cut down on some of the repetitive tasks that bog down your day. If you get ten phone calls a week asking the same question – answer it on your website.
Chances are good your page is part of the school site. Take advantage of any approved tools or apps. For example, something like Bookio lets people see when you’re available for appointments. Free bulk emailing tools, like MailChimp, can be used to let parents subscribe to a FAFSA newsletter.
Include a calendar (or list) of application deadlines by schools- even if it’s just a spreadsheet. Link to local programs that provide support for college prep or intern opportunities.
And don’t forget the trade or technical schools. For a lot of students, a four-year degree isn’t part of their life plan. Your web page can provide them with the support they need to move forward.
4. Communication Alternative to Social Media
The push to engage on social media is pretty intense. But the downside for educators only gets talked about when something creepy happens. Social media is becoming increasingly unsocial.
It is extremely easy for posts and tweets to be misinterpreted. You can put something up on Facebook and come back two hours later to a whole mess of angry comments about it. Even if people just misunderstood what you were saying – drama spreads like wildfire. And fires can be hard to put out.
The other reality is that kids rarely like sharing their social media experience with parents. So, chances are good you will only get half of your target audience. That brings us to the whole student piece, which has pitfalls of its own.
Maintaining a professional distance can be difficult in social media. Students can’t be your “friends” and interacting in an uncontrolled environment has its risks. For you and the school.
5. Get in Front of Your Kids
Most school counselors have much larger caseloads than the recommended ratio of 250 kids per counselor. The average is closer to 450. It isn’t always easy to give them face time you wish you could.
But your web page allows you to connect in a controlled environment (unlike social media in which you can’t curate). You can share useful quality information about colleges, financial aid, work-study programs, reports on campus safety.
See if you’re allowed to add videos to make your site more interesting and personal. Always stick to professional topics and please, please, please avoid any joking around. Humor can backfire in a heartbeat, and the last thing you want is to find yourself as a hashtag on social media.
6. Incent and Affirm Achievements
Good news isn’t always easy to find. Kids are under tremendous pressure to achieve. Your website can be a place where their achievements are noticed and applauded.
Work with your colleagues for an ongoing stream of information on academic successes, special events, community projects and volunteer efforts by students. Announce scholarship recipients, awards. Don’t miss art, music and theatre success stories.
Make sure you refresh yourself on privacy rules at the school. If you can’t name individuals, you can push out statistics: “WOW! 33 members of the senior class have been accepted to college during early admissions!” Think about a FAFSA apps submitted section.
One other suggestion – don’t try too hard to be cool. It creeps the kids out and can backfire with parents. And make sure you share achievements across all groups – college bound or not.
7. Use Your Powers for Good
School counselors typically have an excellent understanding of what’s going on in their school. Meeting one on one with students, or facilitating groups lets us gain insights into issues that might not be obvious at first glance.
Your page can be helpful in providing inspiration, motivation, support, and encouragement. You can share resources you know are needed to assist specific segments of the school population who are at risk. It doesn’t even have to be unique content – you can use school-sanctioned media to share the message.
Sadly, issues like bullying, suicide, substance abuse are a far too familiar part of student experience. Every opportunity to encourage kids to come forward needs to be taken, but kids hate to snitch. Your web page can reinforce the notion that you’re here to protect them from any harm.
Don’t Let the Code Scare You
If you’re unfamiliar with how web technology works, you may hesitate when it comes to building your web page. Remember, you are most likely going to be adding your page to the school’s site. There’s going to be some degree of technical support, as well as page templates to help you get started.
Start with what you know. You want to communicate with students and parents for sure, but what about other members of the community? Pull together lists of resources and get them organized by topic.
This is about communication – an area where school counselors typically excel. One suggestion – it’s better to start smaller and grow than to plan some colossal opus that you can’t maintain.
Look realistically at what you have time to do and move forward with that. Ask for feedback too to see if there’s something else people need.
Shoot for Phone Friendly
How often do you see a kid walking around engrossed on a piece of paper? Not usually. But those phones – their eyes are glued to the screen. If you’re going to have a web page – you want it to be responsive.
Responsive in the web world means merely the information on your web page responds to the size of the screen it’s viewed. The content you offer – pictures and text – will automatically re-size to fit every device.
You may not have any control over this aspect, but we encourage everyone in school administration should advocate for mobile-friendly websites.
For kids in lower income homes – their phone may be the only access they have to get online. School websites need to make every effort not to leave them behind.