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Counseling and Navigation Support 

This pillar is a part of the Pathways to Progress: A Federal Roadmap for College and Career Pathways.

Career and college counseling can help students understand the link between academic achievement, high school, postsecondary education, and career opportunities.1Trusty, J., & Niles, S. G. (2003). High-school math courses and completion of the bachelor’s degree. Professional School Counseling, 7(2), 99-107. Counseling helps students identify their strengths, interests, and values, leading them to clear career goals and paths that match their profiles.2Gysbers, N. C., & Henderson, P. (2006). Developing & managing your school guidance and counseling program. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association. Through counseling, students get better information about college options, admissions processes, and financial aid, increasing their likelihood of enrolling in postsecondary  education.3Savitz-Romer, M. (2012). The gap between influence and efficacy: College readiness training, urban school counselors, and the promotion of equity. Counselor Education and Supervision, 51(2), 98-111.  Career and college awareness might motivate students to stay in school, especially if they see the long-term benefits of a diploma.4Bridgeland, J., Dilulio, J., & Morison, K. B. (2006). The silent epidemic: Perspectives of high school dropouts. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Counseling teaches students to gather information, evaluate options, and make informed decisions about their future.5Gordon, V. N. (1998). Career decidedness types: A literature review. The Career Development Quarterly, 46(4), 386-403. It supports students as they navigate the transition from high school to college and career, making the process smoother and less stressful.6Mattanah, J. F., Ayers, J. F., Brand, B. L., Brooks, L. J., Quimby, J. L., & McNary, S. W. (2010). A social support intervention to ease the college transition: Exploring main effects and moderators. Journal of College Student Development, 51(1), 93-108. Beyond academic and career choices, counseling can support students and develop durable skills like time management, communication, and interpersonal skills, which are essential for both college and career success.7Robles, M. M. (2012). Executive perceptions of the top 10 soft skills needed in today’s workplace. Business Communication Quarterly, 75(4), 453-465. 


Individualized Planning 

College and career counseling sessions should be tailored to each student’s strengths, interests, and goals. This includes helping students identify their passions and potential career paths. 

Academic Advising 

Guidance on course selection, academic achievement, and study skills is a cornerstone of college and career counseling. Counselors can help students create a rigorous and relevant academic plan. Technology and online resources can provide up-to-date information on colleges and careers to enhance the counseling process. 

College Exploration and Preparation  

Learners need assistance in researching colleges, understanding admission requirements, and preparing for standardized tests like the SAT or ACT. Students also need advisement on the financial aspects of higher education, including Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) applications, scholarships, and grants. This is crucial for making college more accessible. 

Career Exploration 

Learners should explore various career paths through assessments, informational interviews, and internships. Doing so allows them to make informed decisions about their futures. 

Goal Setting and Monitoring 

Students should have support in setting realistic short-term and long-term goals academic and career goals and regularly monitoring progress towards these goals with their counselors and families. 

Social and Emotional Support  

Learners need a safe space for students to discuss personal issues, stressors, and mental health concerns. This is essential for their overall well-being. 

Family and Community Engagement 

Collaboration with parents, guardians, and community organizations is crucial for ensuring a holistic support system for students. 

Data-Driven Decision Making 

Students and their families should have access to and guidance on using data to identify trends in many areas, from their own academic performance to opportunities in the labor market.  

Professional Development for Counselors

Counselors need continuous training to update their skills and knowledge so they are well-equipped to provide the best support to students. 

Evaluation and Assessment  

School districts should regularly assess the impact of counseling and navigation support programs on student outcomes to allow for continuous improvement. 

Well-supported pathways are educational approaches that aim to create concrete choices for students, give them clear, road-maps to achieving their goals, and provide integrated support services to help them stay on track. It is essential for these supports to simplify, clarify, and integrate all components of a student’s education experience. They should facilitate a seamless transition from enrollment to graduation and beyond, whether to employment or further education. Students and their families need integrated planning and advising, embedded and customized support to ensure learning, and offer transfer and employment alignment. 

When implemented well in high school settings, strong navigational systems can offer a range of benefits. They can lead to better academic outcomes, such as higher graduation rates, more timely degree completion, and improved student performance.8Jenkins, D., & Cho, S. (2014). Get with the program… and finish it: Building guided pathways to accelerate student completion. New Directions for Community Colleges, 2014(164), 27-35.  


The costs associated with pathways programs can vary widely depending on location, type of institution, and specific program requirements. For learners, the fees can include:

●            Books and Materials: Students may need to purchase textbooks and other materials.

●            Certifications: Some programs may require safety or other job-specific certifications.

●            Equipment: Tools or other specialized equipment may be necessary.

●            Lost Wages: Learners may forgo earnings from a traditional part-time job if the program is unpaid.

●            Technology: A laptop or other equipment may be required.

●            Transportation: Learners may incur transportation costs if the program or work site is off the high school campus.

●            Tuition Fees: Many programs offer free or reduced tuition, but not all.

●            Uniforms/Workwear: Certain jobs may require specific attire.

●            Miscellaneous Fees: Lab fees, test fees, activity fees, and more may apply.

Promising Policy & Programs:

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP): GEAR UP is a discretionary grant program from the Department of Education that aims to increase the number of students from low-income families prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. It provides funding to increase the number of students from low-income families who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. GEAR UP offers services at high-poverty middle and high schools, such as college counseling, tutoring, mentoring, and financial education. 

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): ESSA provisions that allow for the use of federal funds for college and career counseling programs in high schools. 

Title IV, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): Known as the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, this section of ESSA provides flexible funds that districts can use for various purposes, including hiring additional school counselors. These grants aim to improve students’ academic achievement by increasing the capacity of schools to provide all students with access to a well-rounded education and improve school conditions for student learning. 

Federal Student Aid (FSA): While primarily known for managing financial aid for college, FSA also provides resources and tools to help high school counselors guide students through the financial aspects of college preparation. 

The Federal TRIO Program: These are a set of educational opportunity outreach initiatives designed to support and assist students from disadvantaged backgrounds in their pursuit of higher education. Administered by the Department of Education, these programs target individuals from low-income families, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities, providing services such as academic tutoring, personal counseling, mentoring, financial guidance, and assistance in applying to college. The goal of TRIO is to increase college retention and graduation rates for participants and to foster an environment of academic achievement. 

Educational Opportunity Centers: These centers primarily serve displaced or underemployed workers from families with incomes under $36,000. They provide counseling and information on college admissions to qualified adults who want to enter or continue a program of postsecondary education. 

Talent Search: Talent Search aims to identify and assist individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds who have the potential to succeed in higher education. The program provides academic, career, and financial counseling to its participants and encourages them to graduate from high school and continue on to complete their postsecondary education. 

Upward Bound: Upward Bound provides support to participants in their preparation for college entrance. The program provides opportunities for participants to succeed in their precollege performance and ultimately in their higher education pursuits.

Wrap-Around Supports 

Learners cannot engage in any type of learning effectively if their basic needs are unmet. Food insecurity, housing instability, poverty, and physical, psychological, and emotional health challenges create barriers for young people nationwide.  

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we must first fulfill a learner’s basic physiological and safety requirements before they can effectively engage in learning.9Maslow, A.H. (1943). “A theory of human motivation.” Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396).  Research also shows that socio-economic disadvantages, often indicative of unmet basic needs, significantly hamper academic achievement.10(Sirin, S. R. (2005). “Socioeconomic Status and Academic Achievement: A Meta-Analytic Review of Research.” Review of Educational Research, 75(3), 417-453). Moreover, students with unresolved health issues are less likely to perform well academically, highlighting the need for adequate healthcare as another fundamental prerequisite for learning.11(Basch, C.E. (2011). “Healthier students are better learners: A missing link in school reforms to close the achievement gap.” Journal of School Health, 81(10), 593-598)  In the pursuit of educational equity, addressing these foundational needs is essential to ensure that all students, regardless of their background, can benefit from education’s opportunities. 

Benefits Cliff

The benefits cliff occurs when a modest increase in income, often from part-time or work-based learning opportunities, leads to a disproportionate loss of public assistance benefits. This issue particularly affects students from low-income families who rely on these benefits to support their basic needs. 

For students trying to balance education and work, the benefits cliff creates a perilous financial paradox. On one hand, work-based learning programs offer invaluable practical experience, skills development, and a path to economic self-sufficiency. However, the earnings from these programs can cause a sudden and substantial loss of essential benefits such as food assistance, housing vouchers, or healthcare subsidies. This loss often outweighs the financial gains from their work, leaving students in a worse financial position than before. 

This situation not only undermines the very purpose of work-based learning programs but also perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Students facing the benefits cliff are often forced to make the difficult choice between valuable work experience and the immediate needs of their families. It disincentivizes educational and professional advancement, trapping students in a cycle where seeking better opportunities can lead to immediate financial hardship. 

Career exploration and paid work-based learning opportunities should be steppingstones toward financial independence, rather than a financial risk to a student and their family. It is crucial to support students holistically, acknowledging that financial stability is integral to their academic and professional success. 

Promising Policy & Programs:

Full-Service Community Schools Program (FSCS) This program provides flexible funding for wraparound services, including nutrition, dental, vision, and mental health.  

Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Program: This program provides funding to train and diversify the pipeline of school-based professionals such as school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists.1 

School-Based Mental Health Services Grant This program provides funds to state departments of education and school districts to increase the number of credentialed mental health services provider.2  

Title IV of ESEA At least 20% of Title IV is required to be used for activities to support “safe and healthy students”, including school-based mental health services and other wraparound services

Rebeca Shackleford

Director of Federal Government Relations

Meet Rebeca