Counselor resources

Time-saving tips and tools for counselors

Time management can be the most important skill for counselors. Planning the academic calendar, communicating effectively and reducing repetitive tasks can help them save time. Here are some ways in which counselors can stay on top of things.

Richard Lord
October 10, 2022
3 min
Time-saving tips and tools for counselors
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Time-saving tips and tools for counselors

The demands on the time of a college counselor are many and varied, and it can feel like you’re being pulled in numerous directions. There is limited time that a counselor can devote to meeting students and parents, and building relationships. 

However, you can take plenty of steps to gain control of your schedule and free up your time, from communicating more efficiently with students to automating repetitive tasks and embracing the time-saving features available on Cialfo. 

Connecting with students: creating a safe space

Rather than always having to reach out to students, it’s easier to get them to come to you. The best way to do that is to create a space they want to visit – somewhere that feels warm, inviting, and safe. Providing them with a big table to sit at, bean bags to relax, along with facilities for refreshments can be surprisingly effective in persuading them to hang out in the counselors’ office.

That’s the approach that’s been adopted by Jeff Neill, Director of College Counseling at Graded – The American School of São Paulo in Brazil, and it’s been a great success, he says. He has taken steps to make the space comfortable for students, from playing Mario Kart with his students occasionally, to throwing away all paper materials in the office to make space for them.

“The kids show up. They identify this as a safe and comfortable space. It has created a palpable difference in terms of the culture surrounding college counseling. Kids come in and ask questions all the time, which is really wonderful.”

Jeff Neill, Director of College Counseling at Graded – The American School of São Paulo

He points out that not all students are at their most comfortable in a face-to-face meeting, so he suggests providing alternatives. In particular, meeting such students outdoors and walking with them can lead to a more fruitful interaction than sitting across the table.

Creating a master calendar

To be a successful counselor, you need to keep track of endless dates. The most efficient way to do that is to collate all of your meetings, deadlines, and events into a single master calendar, then share it with everyone who needs to see it. This will not only spread useful information but also promote your counseling program.

Several counselors use their Google Calendar for this. Neill says he prefers to use appointments software Calendly to schedule meetings with students, parents and peers. He asks students to click a link in his email signature and book his time, giving them the choice of 15, 30, and 60-minute meetings. 

He expects students to set the agenda for the meetings when they book them, setting out what they want to achieve from the discussion; if they fail to do so, he’ll delete their booking and ask them to do it again. Counselors can also use the Meetings feature on Cialfo to meet students. It is simple to book meetings and even parents can stay updated about the student’s progress. 

Counselors can put up a ‘major events’ poster or flyer in their office for best visibility. In addition to scheduling, it’s a good idea to automate as many processes as possible, from transcript requests to teacher recommendations to final college lists.

How Cialfo helps you to save time

Time management is actually about managing your tasks and optimising efforts. One of the most effective ways to save time as a counselor is to use the numerous enabling features on Cialfo. 

  • Having all documents at one place can be a boon for counselors and cDocs makes this possible. 
  • With Tasks, you can allocate and follow up on a number of tasks with all students through a single platform.
  • Put students into a group by creating Broadcast lists and send messages with a single click.
  • The Resume Builder feature helps to keep the portfolio of the students updated.  
  • The option to schedule virtual visits to global university campuses using College Visits.
  • Keeping Notes about the meetings and any follow-up action to be taken.
  • Students can apply to universities across the globe in five simple steps with Cialfo’s flagship feature Direct Apply. This application significantly reduces the time that you need to devote to filling forms, managing documents, keeping track of deadlines and sending applications.

Counselors from over 2,000 schools benefit from the features and are able to support students with greater success. 

Communicating optimally

Communication gaps can waste a lot of time and effort. Neill’s school sends out a monthly newsletter with information of long-term relevance, along with a weekly newsletter that’s more focused on forthcoming events. A whiteboard with daily updates helps to augment this.

It’s always worth embracing technology to communicate more efficiently with students. That can mean, for example, using screens around your school for disseminating information, from deadlines to university representative visits. It can also mean using social media and meeting your students in their preferred territory. 

“Graded’s Instagram is popular with its students not because they’re all clamoring to get college counseling information but because it shares the daily schedule and, crucially, the lunch menu. An increasing number of schools are choosing to have their Instagram and TikTok platforms managed by senior students, and Graded is no exception.”

Jeff Neill, Director of College Counseling at Graded – The American School of São Paulo

The students who do this should be well acquainted with the latest trends and preferences of their peer group. Connecting with students by engaging them can be much more effective than traditional forms of communication.

Working backwards on deadlines

An effective way to manage the multitude of deadlines you, students, and their parents will inevitably face is to track them backwards. Tim Munnerlyn, Senior Director, Education Partnerships, Cialfo, suggests keeping weekly milestones when working on the calendar and back calculating the time you have for a deadline.

For each due date, start with the last date when students need to submit a task or form, working through to the starting week. It’s an effective way to provide students with a structure. 

“We have a two-week rule,” says Neill. “We expect our students to submit applications two weeks before posted deadlines, and that’s the point from where we work backward. The parents and the students certainly appreciate it.”

Making a checklist

Checklists are another invaluable tool to help students and their parents stay on top of the application process. They can be digital, but the physicality of paper can also make it a particularly effective medium. If you want to go old-school, the same information can also be presented on a wall planner, with the names of students down the left, the tasks they have to complete along the top, and stars used to mark off the ones they’ve completed.

Group work sessions for students

While it would represent an ideal scenario for many counselors, time dictates that it’s impossible to deliver a college counseling curriculum individually to each student. But working with them in groups can also have its advantages. When a student asks a question, they’re probably speaking for many of their peers. It’s important to segment them into groups that are likely to care about the same things. For instance, you can group students based on the countries where they’re applying, or by the subject they’re applying to study.

Get help from peers

As a counselor, you probably have a network of people who do the same job as you – so ask them for their experiences, whether informally or through an organized group. You can also deploy internal resources, asking other departments within your school for help in promoting what you do, including the communications department, the head of school, the development office, and the alumni office. Working with subject teachers and wellness counselors is also highly recommended.

“It’s just about advocacy and learning from each other: tapping into resources,” says Neill. “I don’t believe in having a mentor – I believe in having mentors. Different people can contribute different things to your professional growth and development.”

Make your network work in your favour. Alongside the other tools and techniques described here, including of course Cialfo, it can be a powerful way to help you get the most out of your counseling time. 

Cialfo is thankful to Jeff Neill, Director of College Counseling at Graded – The American School of São Paulo, for sharing valuable time saving tips for our counselor community.

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