Redesigned SAT and PSAT; Wednesday-only testing dates for the PSAT; changes to the ACT scoring; a new Common Application website in the middle of application season… and the test scores are delayed.  There are issues with Naviance due to Common Application changes; prior-year filing for the FAFSA announced; Coalition Application announced; new test-optional policies; and the NCAA’s new eligibility requirements for Division I and Division II athletes.

Whew! How can parents navigate the the changing landscape of college education?  At Harrisburg Academy, we work to make sure that all of our families are receiving personalized attention throughout this process — moving targets and all.

Yearly changes in college admission are expected, but the 2015-16 academic year has proven to be the most challenging I have seen in my 13 years in the industry.  Every fall, fellow members of my profession and I gather for our annual National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) conference to not only renew relationships, but stay abreast of changes in our industry.  This year’s conference in sunny San Diego was more business than pleasure as each workshop highlighted new changes that would affect college counseling and college admission over the next few years.  Workshops were overbooked, with attendees watching TV screens in the hallways, and one workshop even had to change rooms due to over 800 attendees.

As you can see, it’s not just parents who are needing to learn about these changes to the college counseling and admission processes.

College counseling and guidance offices are bearing the brunt of these changes, as they are coming in fast and furious and require immediate attention.  At Harrisburg Academy, by virtue of having a full-time college counselor — me! — we can keep up with the madness when many public and private schools can’t.  And this is due to one significant organizational difference: we have Virginia Getz as the school counselor.

In other schools, including most private and public schools in our area, guidance offices are organized to meet a student’s emotional, academic advising, testing, and college counseling needs.  We agree these are all important factors in a student’s growth, but each need doesn’t receive equal attention due to large caseloads and counselors having to address crisis situations with students.

At the Academy, the clear division of labor between Virginia and I have allowed us to focus on what we each do best: Virginia supports our student’s emotional and social needs and I support our student’s higher educational goals.  As professionals in our respective fields, we are able to participate in professional development opportunities that help us stay informed and focused on our responsibilities to our students.

My sympathy goes out to secondary school counselors in guidance offices that have to do it all in this rapidly changing landscape.  As I come into the home stretch of the college application season with Academy seniors, I am relieved to know that no matter what changes come our way I will be informed in real-time and will be able to work with our families in a timely manner.  And I’m quite sure that Virginia is happy not to manage all of these crazy college counseling changes.

Our students, of course, are the beneficiaries of this advantage.  All because Harrisburg Academy approaches “guidance” in a nontraditional manner.