Opinion: School counselors learn to prepare students for all careers

School counselors in Georgia are learning more about career options for students, including construction.
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Lee Edmondson Grimes is an associate professor of counseling at Valdosta State University. In this piece, she writes about the expanding role of school counselors in career exploration and development.

Grimes notes that school counselors are now trained in advising students about all careers, including technical, trade, apprenticeships, college, and university.

By Lee Edmondson Grimes

Two events this month, tomorrow’s National Career Development Day and the Manufacturing Expo and Technical College Cornucopia at last week’s Georgia School Counselor Association Conference, underscore the role school counselors play in the career development of students.

Starting in elementary school, school counselors set the groundwork for career development by making students aware of the connectedness of personal interests, skills, and talents. Elementary counselors provide classroom lessons to dispel career stereotypes and bring awareness of the wide range of careers available in the world of work.

In middle school, school counselors design career lessons in which students explore Georgia’s 17 career clusters, ranging from agriculture, food, and natural resources to manufacturing and transportation. They lead students through career assessments to help them identify career interests and abilities. At both levels, school counselors teach the soft skills or work habits needed for success in the workplace. When tied to academic skills, students learn that academics and work excellence lead to personal success.

Dr. Lee Grimes

By high school, counselors help students choose career pathways, guide them toward work-based learning and high demand careers, teach soft skills often based on content from Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education, organize dual enrollment, present college fairs, and coordinate workforce development such as apprenticeships.

This year school counselors from around the state participated in externships with local manufacturing to bring focus to career opportunities in growing areas of the state’s manufacturing sector. In the coming months school counselors from around the state will be invited to take part in a similar construction-focused day.

One area of evolution in school counselor training is the current approach to college and career development, no longer defined narrowly as the route to a four-year degree.

Similarly, the Georgia School Counselor Association supports a broad range of postsecondary options as a part of career development. Dr. Tinisha Parker, GSCA president, added a Manufacturing Expo and Technical School Cornucopia to this year’s conference so counselors could learn more about manufacturing and technical school opportunities.

Globalization and a multitude of economic and workforce changes mean the school counselor’s role in providing engaging career development is more important than ever. However, ratios of school counselors to students are often far above the American School Counselor Association’s recommendation of one to 250. The average ratio in Georgia is one to 450, and some schools have one to 1,000 students.

Keep in mind that career development is one aspect of the school counselor’s role. Counselors are on the frontline providing social/emotional lessons and short-term counseling for students experiencing typical developmental challenges. School counselors are often first to respond in situations involving bullying, chronic absenteeism, and school safety. In many cases, school counselors are the first to identify students experiencing a serious mental health crisis or the effects of abuse or neglect.

Many school counselors are unable to offer the full array of academic and career programs on which they are trained and that could benefit students. With manageable student numbers, school counselors report they would offer small group counseling to focus on academic skills and to correlate academic achievement to career success. They would collaborate with their local business and industry to plan unique mentoring and apprenticeships and to explore areas of job growth for students. In those Georgia schools with the highest student to school counselor ratios, such career development interventions may be abbreviated or even unavailable as school counselors respond to the needs of so many.

Ask a school counselor this week about the types of career development interventions he or she provides. Maybe, the school counselor is coordinating college and career events for National Career Development Day. Due to confidentiality, the counselors won’t tell you about the student who was suicidal or the student who was failing three classes until they stepped in to offer academic assistance.

But school counselors would be delighted to tell you about the knowledge and skills they possess to position students for success through career development interventions focused on a range of postsecondary options all leading into the world of work.




Reader Comments 0


I think she must be talking about counselors in private schools because I haven't seen/heard anything like this in public schools.


@gapeach101 I am one of her current students and here in the Georgia it is required by law that students receive education about college and career readiness at all levels. Google Georgia Bridge Law!


Seriously?  My high school Senior has had only one individual appointment regarding high school graduation / college, with her counselor and that was in September.  All that was covered was that she was on track for graduation, which level of diploma and the font her name will be in on her diploma.  The counselors are overworked and have too many students assigned to them to be effective.  All other sessions with the counselor were multiple kids in a meeting.  This could hardly be called post graduation planning/advising. 


If I showed this piece to any student in our high school, they would laugh. Two of the counselors there get barely passing grades, while the others are a complete joke. It’s common knowledge that they routinely tell the secretary to tell students and parents wanting to see them that they aren’t there. The academic advice they so infrequently share is often more detrimental than helpful. College and career planning is nonexistent because it seems that their main goal is getting students out of high school, regardless of whether they actually earned their diplomas. That’s our school’s real move on when ready (or not) program.

Kids miss out on career information, scholarships, and college preparation because the counselors are incompetent. I know there are great counselors; my friend’s son at another school has one who is simply amazing. I’m very lucky that she shares information with us about opportunities we’d never hear of otherwise.

MaureenDowney moderator

@kaelyn I asked the author to include the information on counselor to student ratios after I read her piece the first time as I, too, have not seen much of what she describes about counselors working with kids on career exploration. At our local high school, counselors seem focused on college applications.


Maureen, I realize that counselor to student ratios are extremely high. That still isn’t an excuse for not doing your job. I can point to schools with even more students where the counselors are organized, knowledgeable, and professional. You would honestly not believe what passes as acceptable behavior in some schools unless you witnessed it with your own eyes. Be very glad that your school focuses on college applications. I’d do the happy dance if I could say the same thing.