The Now Virtual Reality of College Counseling

By Francis Miller

Let’s skip the gratuitous hyperbole and get right to it: even though COVID-19 has disrupted schools, as college counselors, we still need to support our students. If you are a college counselor, I hope you can find some useful recommendations here to help you tough it out. We must believe that tough times never last, but tough people do!

I recommend you think of yourself as analogous to an airplane captain experiencing a sudden loss of cabin pressure. You must put on your own oxygen mask first before you can help your copilots and students. Make sure that you and your family have clear communication channels, informed sanitation practices, and established daily routines. This especially includes internet access, hand-washing soap, and a regularly scheduled stress-relieving activity. I’m not ashamed to say that I have played Ringfit Adventure every day for the past three weeks. Find something to help keep your sanity, whether it is reading, writing, exercise (I’m not recommending it for everyone, but Prisoner Workouts best utilize tight indoor spaces), or some other activity.

Now that you can spare a minute to think about something other than you and your loved ones:to the job. Most of us are just starting to experience school cancellations or are imminently expecting announcements from local education bureaus/ministries/departments. It has been almost two months since I came back to China, and for the duration of my time following my return, I have been working 100% online. For my region, the estimated start day for the spring semester has already changed at least four times, and currently, there is no announced start date for my school. Fortunately for us counselors, we have almost all the online tools we need to do our jobs.

In any crisis, the first step to overcoming the challenge is to first accept the new reality. Looking back at previous epidemics, it is almost certain the study-from-home model will be the new reality for the bulk of this academic year. As such, here are 7-simple steps to creating an online counseling experience for your students:

1. Create a to-do list for your students (To make sure the basics are covered!)

Tool: Cialfo Resources and Tasks

Although it can take you a little effort to learn, creating a Task List via Cialfo-Resources allows you to mass assign a task list to an entire academic level of students or custom group of students. An essential task list that would be especially relevant during this COVID-19 period should include:

  1. Registering your SAT/ACT test: Many tests are getting canceled, and before Collegeboard or ACT provides more test-taking opportunities, it may be advisable for students to register for upcoming tests. SAT registration/ACT registration
  2. Consider taking the Duolingo English Test (DET): With social distancing being the new norm, online testing is become more popular and accepted by world-renowned universities (Do check which university accepts the DET). Hence, consider scheduling for practice tests and taking the Duolingo test as an alternative to ELTS or TOEFL (Website link to DET).

     3. Research universities in Cialfo: You (the student) do not have to wait for summer to start researching the universities that best-fit you. Start exploring the Cialfo-School research feature, look out for the “English Test Requirements” filter under Entrance Exams category, it will allow you to search for US universities that are test-optional (Guide to School search).

    4. Online University Fairs & Webinars: This is an unprecedented time, universities are no longer confined to physical limitations of time and space to reach out to students, due to the series of online events and fairs. Make sure to check out the Cialfo Online University Fair, as well as this collation of webinar events

   5. Complete your assessments: (If the counselor has assigned assessments to the students),Students can start exploring career interests/options via the three assessments in Cialfo.The Personality Type and Multiple-Intelligence assessments include a comprehensive databank of career options that are easy to read and discover. Pay attention to the related-major, industry-prospect, and generally what the job entails in each career pathway (Guide to accessing Assessments).

    6. Start a Passion Project: Trapped at home and have some time on your hand? Why not start pursuing your passion project? What’s a passion project? Well, anything that you are passionate about, then explore widely, research deeply, express genuinely. Challenge yourself to be creative! (Article on starting a passion project).      

2. Schedule online meetings

Tool: Meetings (With Cialfo-Zoom integrations coming soon!)

Pro tip: Calendar Sync

You and your students will not only be able to arrange meetings (already available) through Cialfo,but in mid-April, you will also be able to automatically create online meetings with a Zoom integration (an online video and audio call tool). Additionally, in your Cialfo account settings, you can sync your calendar (for example, I use Microsoft 365) so that your Cialfo meetings automatically appear on your personal calendar.

The only downside here is no more meetings in your pajamas...

3. Remembering meeting discussions & Journaling

Tool: Notes

1-1 meetings are the bread and butter for most counselors out there. The Cialfo-Notes function allows you to not only type notes from a meeting (which is automatically saved and timestamped),but also upload files to easily share with a student and guardian. Viewing permissions are also easily adjusted to manage any “for your eyes only” information.

I’ve heard of some schools encouraging students to write a daily journal of their Study-From-Home experience in the Notes section. Waste no time to develop self-reflection habits!

4. Recommending schools and online events to students

Tool: School-Research

Finding the holy grail that we know as “fit” includes crunching many different numbers and factors to produce an appropriate school list. Cialfo’s school research tool allows counselors and students to quickly filter colleges by majors, location, acceptance rate, deadlines, average standardized test scores, financial aid types, and other requirements. Additionally, you can quickly view the application history for each school.

Tool: College visits & Explore events

“College events and fairs are canceled due to COVID-19. However, there are plenty of online webinars. I encourage everyone, including students and parents, to attend these webinars. Appreciate Cialfo’s webinar, Explore feature, and School search of 11,000 schoolinfo.”– Della Cheng, Ningbo Foreign Language School

5. Helping students brainstorm for essays, letter of recommendation requests, interviews

Tool: Surveys (Formerly “Questionnaire” in “Groups”)

Starting in May, Cialfo will be expanding its questionnaire tool into “Surveys”. You can currently create questionnaires and send them to specific recipients, but new functionality will enable counselors to more carefully assign surveys to specific groups of students (and even parents),create more diverse question types, and download survey responses for further analysis.

6. Sending reminders about upcoming online college fairs, webinars, deadlines, or other important information

Tool: Broadcast 2.0

Broadcast 2.0 allows you to send (or schedule) a tailored message by email, text, or Cialfo’s own“inbox” to an audience of your choosing. You can also filter recipients based on graduation year,schools on their list, or countries they are interested in.

“Bulk send emails/SMS to students and parents!” – John Liu, Yew Chung International School

7. Sending mid-year reports, final transcripts, and other documents

Tool: cDocs

It doesn’t matter what document you need to send to a university – Cialfo’s cDocs feature not only makes it easy to send, but also easy to track. With a way to officially sync with Common Application and a Parchment integration, you can send your school documents to almost all universities in the US, Canada, and more (Common App and Parchment member universities).Later, when you need to check, Cialfo has a clear record of which documents were sent where,and how they were sent.

“cDocs make it faster, easier, and more reliable to manage and send documents. Being integrated with Common App makes it much more streamlined for colleges to receive the documents.” –Echo Jin, Hangzhou High School

Thanks to John Liu, Della Cheng, Echo Jin, and the Cialfo Team for their contributions to this article.

Author - Francis Miller - Bio

Francis Miller is a full-time director of college counseling and foreign teacher at Xi’an Tie Yi High School in Shaanxi Province, China. He is also a member of International ACAC and serves on the International ACAC Membership Committee. He is also a member of ChinaICAC and serves on the ChinaICAC Professional Development Committee. He is also Citizen Liaison Volunteer in Xi’an for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He studied Chinese language at Tsinghua University in IUP as a Foreign Language Area Studies fellow supported by the U.S. Department of Education. He received his B.A. and M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania.

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