Counselor resources

Discovering effective ways of engaging students

From whiteboards and social media messages to personal discussions, we look at ways in which students prefer to communicate with counselors and admission representatives

Richard Lord
July 25, 2022
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6 min

Table of contents:

  • How do students prefer to communicate?
  • Barriers to effective communication between counselors and students
  • How Cialfo helps to engage students and save time
  • Other tools for improving student engagement
  • Tips for new university counselors
  • Ideas from students for improving communication
  • The importance of diversity and inclusion
  • Conclusion

Efficient communication with students is a vital component of any counselor’s job. For a number of reasons, though, from lack of time to student reluctance, it can be quite a challenge. Fortunately there are some extremely useful tools that can help you improve student engagement and make the most out of your communication with them.

How do students prefer to communicate?

Students express a broad mix of preferences when it comes to methods of communication, so it can be a good idea to make the extra effort and use multiple channels.

South Korean school Branksome Hall Asia surveyed its Grade 10 to 12 students in 2022 about how they preferred to communicate with both university counselors and admissions representatives. The aim was to look beyond emails as the sole communication channel. As far as email is concerned, most students considered emails from university counselors to be more helpful (89 percent) than those from admission representatives (70 percent).  

However, students still prefer to meet counselors personally in one on one meetings. With admissions representatives, almost a quarter of students preferred email, followed by virtual meetings, while one on one meetings were far less popular. Download the report at the bottom of this article for the full set of data and suggestions from the survey.

What students think about email as a means of communication

Barriers to effective communication between counselors and students

By far the biggest issue preventing counselors and students from interacting was scheduling conflicts, according to the survey. Emotional factors including anxiety, fear of judgment, introversion, and either not knowing what to ask or having doubts about the validity of questions together accounted for about 20 percent; while language barriers were an issue for about 10 percent.

How can counselors use Cialfo to engage students and save time?

Cialfo is the ideal tool for counselors to foster more effective communication with their students. Its Meetings feature allows students to check counselors’ calendars and schedule meetings with them. Cialfo is also an excellent way of tracking student activity, providing a convenient interface that allows counselors to see at a glance which students have read and received the messages they’ve sent them.

“Being able to utilize some of the functions that Cialfo has in order to track activity within the platform is really useful,” says Francis Miller, Director of College Counseling at Xi’an Tie Yi High School in China. “It can show us which students have been using it and which students we need to push more forcefully to develop those better habits of use.”

Cialfo's Student Notes for counselors is equally handy, allowing them to access a whole range of resources related to a particular student in the same place: personal statements, CVs, test schedules, activities undertaken in class and course selections, along with links to important documents. Miller added that Cialfo has been particularly helpful to monitor the process of providing students with letters of recommendation.

“We have a contract that our students read and sign when they request a letter from a teacher. Cialfo is able to mesh with that kind of policy and workflow process. So, we require our students to request their letters of recommendation from their teachers through Cialfo, which is also conveniently able to limit the number of letters that students can request. I know some of our teachers have  appreciated it as a tool; it’s helped them communicate with students.

Francis Miller, Director of College Counseling at Xi’an Tie Yi High School, China

Other tools for improving student engagement

There are several other useful resources that counselors can deploy to improve student communication.

For International Baccalaureate students, there’s the advisory tab of the ManageBac platform, split into two sections, one aimed at teachers and the other at the student. Some schools also use tools such as Google Classroom to disseminate useful materials.

Says Kelley Christman, University Counselor at Branksome Hall Asia, “It’s about having a centralized location for them to access the resources that we would like for them to use when they are doing university counseling activities.”

For example, Christman created a video showing students how to fill out a UCAS application, while a colleague created one about how to fill out the Common Application and link it to Cialfo. Both were uploaded to Google Classroom so that all students could access them.

Robbie Shields, American Principal and former Director of College Counseling, Shanghai Qibao Dwight and Dwight School, says his school has adopted OneNote Classroom, which offers many of the same features as Google Classroom. 

“From the perspective of visual learners, we have to find the ways we can best communicate messages with them that are going to be effective.”

Robbie Shields, American Principal and former Director of College Counseling, Shanghai Qibao Dwight and Dwight School

The school also has its own SharePoint site, established after the school leaders realized that a lot of information had to be sent out repeatedly.  All students are allowed to access that information, watch videos and schedule meetings.

The four pillars for counselor-student communication

Make sure you’re drawing on all the available resources when it comes to maximizing your engagement with students.

Follow an effective counseling curriculum

  • Scheduled university counseling classes, which can start as early as Grade 9, are a guaranteed way to get regular engagement with students. 
  • In those classes, try assigning universities to students to research rather than letting them pick their own. Otherwise, students can tend to all choose the same ones, clustering around the obvious options at the expense of other universities that are excellent but not so well known. 

The Learning by Design framework

  • Follow the Learning by Design approach, where you begin with the end in mind.
  • This helps to scaffold information that students need to reach their goals.

Collaborate with parents, subject teachers and wellbeing counselors

  • Rope in as many allies as possible in your efforts to get students to engage. Colleagues such as social and emotional counselors can help to create as broad-based an impact as possible. 
  • Work in collaboration with subject departments: it can be a good way to show how knowledge comes to life outside the classroom – an effective way of encouraging students to be more enthusiastic about the university planning process. 
  • Parents can be a counselor’s best friend in encouraging children to interact. Bear in mind they will often have different questions from their children, though. So it can be useful to arrange classes or workshops for them, remembering to account for local language preferences and ask them to send in queries in advance.

Promote the benefits of counseling for students

  • Be vocal about the importance of counseling: if you’re not already, become an evangelist for counseling and the benefits it brings to students.

Lastly, be sure to take maximum advantage of the counseling time you have available. There is always limited time as counselors have so much on their plates. 

Ideas from students to improve communication strategies

When asked, students had lots of creative ideas for ways counselors could improve communication. Many of those suggestions were requests for more platforms where students can raise questions with counselors, including:

  1. Shared Google Docs where counselors can provide answers that everyone can read
  2. Dedicated in-person Q&A sessions
  3. A whiteboard outside the counselor’s office where students can write questions
  4. Effective use of social media, as it’s how young people like to communicate first and foremost

Plenty of students also felt they could use more help with the admission interview process, for instance with training to help them build their confidence in skills like listening and asking questions. They were also keen for counselors to respond to emails as quickly as possible. More use of translators to provide material in local languages, and of alumni to provide answers based on experience, were also common suggestions. 

The importance of inclusive communication

Make sure you meet the needs of the community in which you’re working. Mainly, that means that materials need to be translated into languages everyone understands – something that can often be as true of the teaching body as of the students and their parents. 

Being culturally sensitive is the key to understanding the audience. Remember that some parents might themselves have studied overseas, and have a mistaken expectation that the college landscape will have stayed the same since their days.

Performance at school is one of the most important factors affecting university admission, so it’s essential to provide students with constant guidance. That means getting smart about communicating with them, using all the tools at your disposal, including new ones like innovative electronic platforms, podcasts and social media. 

In particular, Cialfo can help counselors communicate simply and seamlessly with their students.  Students can schedule meetings with counselors conveniently through Cialfo’s Meetings feature, while counselors can use Cialfo to track students’ progress and provide customized guidance.

To view the complete insights and suggestions from the Student Engagement Case Study download the report below. You can also watch the speakers in action by visiting the glimpses of the webinar.

We are grateful to college counselors Francis Miller, Kelley Christman, and Robbie Shields for their inputs during the International ACAC Conference 2022

Get the report on the Student Engagement Survey conducted by Branksome Hall Asia

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