A Colleague’s Words of Support and Advice…Just Start with the Heart

It’s been about three years since I walked the halls of a high school and was able to lend an ear and share sound advice with a student who is about to make a life changing college decision. In my role at myOptions®, this is a void in my heart. Students motivate me, and their stories inspire me to push through tough days.

April is usually an extremely stressful month for students. This year is different. The world’s axis tilted, and even for adults that typically have it all together, this is a very, very stressful time. There are many students and young adults seeking the support, direction, and reassurance that the sun will still rise tomorrow, and this level of encouragement may be absent in their home lives right now. I can empathize. So here are some personal and professional learnings and words of support after two decades of serving students and families as they build and chase their educational dreams.

First of all, school counselors and college counselors are some of the most loyal and hardest working individuals I know, and each is laser focused on one thing – their students. Right now, you are probably looking for new ways to stay connected with students, adapt to virtual counseling, and urging your higher education colleagues to think about how best to continue to meet the needs of graduating seniors and alumni. I am certain you are working long hours even if you are not getting “face time” in the hallways at school with students. In fact, you may now be more accessible for individual student counseling. Student need this more than ever right now.

This work is hard, and there is not a playbook for the times we are in right now. That said, I always reminded my college counseling team during times of crisis about our team mantra “the head and the heart” helps to keep us focused on the individual student.

Personally I have survived several life changing events, and this health crisis is another one of those times in which I can – we can – rise above and shine a light on how to beat the odds, and grow stronger together. As a college counselor, all my students’ life moments and challenges became mine as well. I walked along side my students and their families as they faced incredible adversity, and at times I carried them through. And I am certain you do this in your work with students.

It is in these times that I share some very simple advice to answer all the hard questions we may not be able to answer: counsel and advise from the heart. Start with your own heart, share your story and truths, and listen to your students’, and help them untangle all that is wound up inside. College counseling is all about helping students bring together “the head” and “the heart”. This means helping students to use their “heads” to sift through all the information and data to build a balanced college list and make decisions, but more important than ever, it is truly about the students’ hearts – how do they truly feel about college and life after high school? What are the challenges they face personally? This is our genuine work as college counselors.

Finally, here is my last piece of advice around what I’ve learned over the years. The 21st century is dynamic, and we have a front row seat in seeing “change”: changes in our workforce, economy, and how we lead our lives. This medical crisis has thrust our students into change and forced them to adopt new ways to learn, communicate, and socialize. This will not be their last crisis to manage. Students often asked me, “Mr. Contreras, what major should I pursue?” I always shared a list of majors with them, but I also pushed them to consider this thought: the 21st century problems and issues that confront our society will need 21st century thinkers and scholars, and honestly some of those jobs, careers, and majors just do not exist yet. This means you will forge your own path. How do you plan to do that?

We need 21st century college counselors to mentor 21st century scholars and trailblazers to “be the change they wish to see in the world”, and to help us create new solutions to address the global challenges that are touching us all. I realize that students and families have critical needs at the moment, which may not include college planning, however, let’s not lose sight that as a community of educators our moment to rise for our students is often embedded in these times of crisis.

From the team and family here at myOptions, we are here for your students and here to support you and your students as you continue to champion for your students. Encourage students to visit us at myoptions.org for free student resources and advice.