School Counselors and Administrators Can Influence College Choices

In 2010, Utah Women and Education Project researchers conducted in-depth research to discover why more young women around the state are not attending and graduating from college. The full set of results was published in a series of 12 research snapshots, which you can find on the Utah Women and Education website. In this blog, we look at the influence school counselors and administrators have on young women attending college.

School Counselors

One of the things we discovered during our research is that school counselors and administrators can have a powerful influence on a young woman’s college decision. However, in our sample we found that only 32% of counselors and only one lone principal seized the opportunity to do so with these young women.

Participants in this study who attended and graduated from college were more likely to have had a high school guidance counselor who was a “strong” or “very strong” influence.

How influential were counselors?

  • 25% No influence
  • 18% Little influence
  • 22% Moderate/adequate influence
  • 20% Strong influence
  • 12% Very strong influence

According to participants, proactive students receive much of the college-related time and attention of counselors. Many participants who did not attend college said they were tracked early by counselors as not being interested or college-bound. Those students who did not reach out and ask questions believe they were not given information that could have been helpful. Less educated participants now wish counselors would have more assertively encouraged and “pushed” them to attend college.

School Administrators

In this study we asked a specific question about the influence of middle and high school administrators on a young woman’s college decision. We were surprised to find that only four participants provided any data about administrators (the only question to have such a low response rate) and three of the responses were negative. It is clear that there are many excellent administrators in Utah who talk to students about college. Yet, the results from this study indicate that there is cause for concern. The participants who responded believe that administrators care more about rules and discipline (they called them “mean”) and not about student success and future decisions.


Participant Quotes

“My biggest influence was my high school counselor. He wanted me to get a good education and to really apply myself to the best of my abilities. He was supportive and wrote me many flattering and helpful recommendations for my Sterling Scholar and was in part a reason that I have succeeded thus far.”

“The counselor in high school talked about my goals for college (with my mom there). He asked what I wanted to be, and I told him a veterinarian. He then pulled up my grades (3.4 GPA) and told me that I should not waste my time because I did not have the grades for it. That was devastating to hear, and I believed him.”

“School administrators did not have an interest in my education.”

“My principal really made me feel excited about the idea of going to college. He encouraged me to do my best, and to keep going. I think one of the biggest things that made an impact on me was that he was willing to learn who I was by name and situation, and he took the time to give me advice.”

“My school administrators were apathetic towards me and felt like there was no point in talking with me since I had a bad attitude.”


The text of this blog was excerpted from a February 2011 research snapshot authored by Dr. Susan R. Madsen titled, “The Influence of School Counselors and Administrators on a Young Woman’s College Decision.” (Please see the entire brief for more information on research context.)

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