Skip Navigation
High School Guidance Counseling
NCES: 2003015
August 2003

Selected Findings

This E.D. Tab report presents national data from the 2002 FRSS survey on guidance counseling in public high schools and selected comparisons with the 1984 supplement to HS&B. To highlight key dimensions of high school guidance counseling in 2002, data from the FRSS survey are presented for guidance program goals, activities, and staff.13 Comparisons between the 1984 and 2002 data are based on questions about guidance program goals and written plans, the availability of 15 selected guidance activities, and student participation in those activities.

Guidance Programs

To provide a description of the focus and content of guidance programs, the 2002 FRSS survey and the 1984 supplement to HS&B asked schools to indicate the extent to which selected goals were emphasized by the school?s guidance program and whether the school had a written plan for its career guidance program. In addition, the FRSS survey asked about written standards for guidance programs, the availability of selected school programs and features, and the impact of those programs and features on the school?s ability to deliver guidance services.

Program Goals

In the 1984 supplement to HS&B and the 2002 FRSS survey, public high schools reported the extent to which their guidance programs emphasized four goals: helping students plan and prepare for their work roles after high school, helping students with personal growth and development, helping students plan and prepare for postsecondary schooling, and helping students with their academic achievement in high school.14

  • In 2002, helping students with their academic achievement in high school was the most emphasized goal of public high school guidance programs; 48 percent of the schools emphasized this goal the most (Table 1). Fewer schools reported that the most emphasized goal of their guidance programs was helping students plan and prepare for postsecondary schooling (26 percent) or helping students with personal growth and development (17 percent). Schools were least likely to report that their most emphasized guidance goal was helping students plan and prepare for their work roles after high school (8 percent).
  • Between 1984 and 2002, the proportion of public high schools indicating that helping students with their academic achievement in high school was the most emphasized guidance goal increased from 35 percent to 48 percent (Table 1). During this time period, no significant differences were detected in the proportion of schools reporting any of the other goals as their most emphasized guidance goal.
  • In 2002, the proportion of public high schools indicating that helping students with their academic achievement in high school was the most emphasized guidance goal differed by enrollment size, locale, and the number of vocational courses offered per 100 students (Table 2). The proportion of schools reporting this goal as their most emphasized guidance goal was positively related to enrollment size but negatively related to the number of vocational courses offered per 100 students. In addition, rural schools were less likely than schools located in urban fringes or cities to report this goal as their most emphasized guidance goal (39 percent vs. 59 percent, respectively).
  • In 2002, there was a negative relationship between enrollment size and the proportion of public high schools reporting that helping students plan and prepare for postsecondary schooling was the most emphasized guidance goal (Table 2).

Program Plan and Written Standards

Both the 1984 supplement to HS&B and the 2002 FRSS survey asked public high schools whether they had a written plan for their career guidance program. The FRSS survey also asked public high schools with written plans whether their plans included written standards.15

  • Between 1984 and 2002, no significant difference was detected in the proportion of public high schools with written plans for their career guidance programs. Fifty-six percent of public high schools in 1984 (not shown in tables) and 61 percent of public high schools in 2002 (Table 3) had written plans for their guidance programs.
  • In 2002, the proportion of public high schools with written plans for their guidance programs was positively related to enrollment size and the percentage of college-bound students at the school (Table 3).
  • One-half (50 percent) of all public high schools had guidance plans with written standards in 2002 (Table 3). No differences were detected in the proportion of schools with written guidance standards by enrollment size, locale, the percentage of college-bound students, or the number of vocational courses offered per 100 students.16

School Programs and Features

In 2002, public high schools indicated whether six selected school programs or features were available: a school-to-work program, small learning communities (e.g., houses or academies), block scheduling, a team approach to career development (e.g., among counselors, teachers, and parents), a curriculum aligned around career clusters/paths, and a required state academic assessment for high school graduation. In addition, schools reported their perceptions of the overall effect of these features on their ability to deliver guidance services.

Availability of School Programs and Features

  • In 2002, three of the school programs and features were found in a majority of public high schools, required state academic assessment for high school graduation (70 percent), school- to-work programs (65 percent), and a team approach to career development (56 percent; Table 4). Fewer schools had a curriculum that was aligned around career clusters/paths (45 percent) or block scheduling (42 percent). Schools were least likely to have small learning communities such as houses or academies (15 percent).
  • The proportion of public high schools offering a school-to-work program was positively related to enrollment size (Table 4).
  • The proportion of public high schools with small learning communities differed by enrollment size, locale, the percentage of college-bound students, and the number of vocational courses offered per 100 students (Table 4). For example, the likelihood of schools reporting that they had small learning communities was positively related to enrollment size and the percentage of college-bound students. In addition, the proportion of schools indicating that they had small learning communities was negatively related to the number of vocational courses per 100 students.
  • The proportion of public high schools with block scheduling differed by enrollment size, with large and medium schools being more likely than small schools to report that they had this feature (48 and 51 percent vs. 31 percent, respectively; Table 4). In addition, the likelihood of public high schools having block scheduling was negatively related to the number of vocational courses offered per 100 students.
  • The proportion of public high schools using a team approach to career development was positively related to the number of vocational courses offered per 100 students (Table 4).
  • No significant differences were detected in the proportion of public high schools with a curriculum aligned around career clusters/paths by any of the selected school characteristics? enrollment size, locale, the percentage of college-bound students, or the number of vocational courses offered per 100 students (Table 4). 17

Perceived Effects of School Programs and Features

In 2002, public high schools typically perceived overall positive effects of the listed school programs and features on their ability to deliver guidance services (Table 5).18 For every school program and feature examined in the survey, public high schools were more likely to report mostly positive effects than no effects, and they were least likely to report that the effects were mostly negative.

  • A team approach to career development was the most common of the listed programs for which public high schools reported positive effects on their ability to deliver guidance services. Of schools that reported this program, 91 percent felt that it had mostly positive effects on the school?s ability to deliver guidance services, and the remaining 9 percent reported that the program had no effects (Table 5).
  • Among public high schools with a curriculum aligned around career clusters/paths, 84 percent perceived that this feature had mostly positive effects on the school?s ability to deliver guidance services, 16 percent reported no effects, and 1 percent reported that this feature had mostly negative effects (Table 5).
  • Of public high schools with small learning communities, 83 percent perceived that the program had mostly positive effects on the school?s ability to deliver guidance services, 16 percent reported no effects, and 1 percent reported that the effects were mostly negative (Table 5).
  • Of public high schools with block scheduling, 76 percent felt that this feature had mostly positive effects on the school?s ability to deliver guidance services, 16 percent reported no effects, and 8 percent reported mostly negative effects (Table 5).
  • Among public high schools that had a school-to-work program, 75 percent perceived that the program had mostly positive effects on the school's ability to deliver guidance services, 23 percent reported that the program had no effects, and 2 percent reported that it had mostly negative effects (Table 5).
  • A required state assessment for high school graduation was the least common of the listed programs and features for which public high schools reported positive effects on the school?s ability to deliver guidance services. Of the schools that had this requirement, 58 percent felt that its effects were mostly positive, 28 percent reported no effects, and 14 percent reported mostly negative effects (Table 5).

School Guidance Activities

The 2002 FRSS questionnaire asked about 15 of the 16 selected guidance activities examined in the 1984 supplement to HS&B.19 In both years, public high schools indicated whether each activity was available to students during the school year and the percentage of students in grades 11 and 12 who participated in the activity. The 2002 survey also asked about the extent to which a second set of selected activities were available and required of students.

Selected Guidance Activities: Availability and Student Participation

In the 1984 supplement to HS&B and the 2002 FRSS survey, public high schools were asked about the availability of and student participation in 15 guidance activities: school courses in career decisionmaking, occupational information units in subject-matter courses, exploratory work experience programs, career days/nights, vocationally oriented assemblies and speakers in class, job-site tours or visits, tours of postsecondary institutions, job shadowing, testing and having tests interpreted for career planning purposes, individual counseling sessions, group guidance/counseling sessions, training in job seeking skills, the use of computerized career information sources, the use of noncomputerized career information sources, and use of college catalogs.

Availability of Selected Guidance Activities

  • Among the guidance activities examined in the survey, the following were the five most commonly available at public high schools in 2002: use of college catalogs, individual counseling sessions, use of computerized career information sources, testing and having tests interpreted for career planning purposes, and use of noncomputerized career information sources. These activities were available at 92 to 100 percent of all public high schools (Table 6). The proportion of schools with 9 of the remaining 10 activities ranged from 73 percent for career days/nights to 87 percent for vocationally oriented assemblies and speakers in class. School courses in career decisionmaking was the least available activity, although it was available in 57 percent of all public high schools.
  • In 1984, the proportion of public high schools with a particular guidance activity ranged from 69 percent for school courses in career decisionmaking to 100 percent for individual counseling sessions and the use of college catalogs (Table 6).
  • Public high schools in 2002 were less likely than schools in 1984 to report that 3 of the 15 guidance activities were available?career days/nights, tours of postsecondary institutions, and training in job seeking skills (Table 6). No significant differences were detected between these years in the proportion of schools indicating that the remaining guidance activities were available.
  • In 2002, few differences by school characteristics were detected in the proportion of schools that had the guidance activities examined in the survey (Table 7). Differences that were found include the following:
    • The proportion of schools with exploratory work experience programs differed by enrollment size, locale, and the number of vocational courses offered per 100 students. The proportion of schools with this program was positively related to enrollment size but negatively related to the number of vocational courses per 100 students. These programs were also less likely to be offered in rural schools than in schools in other locales.
    • Large and medium schools were less likely than small schools to offer tours of postsecondary institutions, but they were more likely than small schools to have group guidance/counseling sessions.
    • Computerized career information sources were more often available in schools with a high or moderate proportion of college-bound students than in schools with a low proportion of college-bound students.

Student Participation in Selected Guidance Activities

Student participation in a guidance activity is reported for all public high schools regardless of whether the activity was offered by the school.20 In the 1984 supplement to HS&B and the 2002 FRSS survey, schools reported the percentage of 11th- and 12th-grade students who participated in each of the 15 guidance activities. This information was used with enrollment data for grades 11 and 12 to calculate the number of students who participated in an activity at each public high school and the percentage across all public high schools.21 Enrollment data for the 2002 FRSS survey items were obtained from the 1999?2000 Common Core of Data (CCD) School Universe file, and enrollment data for the 1984 supplement to HS&B items were taken from the 1980 HS&B data.22 Thus, national estimates for the percentage of 11th- and 12th-grade students who participated in an activity were calculated by dividing the sum of 11th- and 12th-grade students who participated in the activity by the sum of students enrolled in those grades.

  • The guidance activity in which 11th- and 12th-grade students participated most often in 2002 was individual counseling sessions; 78 percent of all public high school students participated in individual counseling sessions at least once during the 11th and 12th grades (Table 8). Fewer students (ranging from 44 percent to 61 percent) participated in 8 of the remaining 14 activities?group guidance/counseling sessions, use of computerized career information sources, testing and having tests interpreted for career planning purposes, use of college catalogs, occupational information units in subject matter courses, use of noncomputerized information sources, career days/nights, and vocationally oriented assemblies and speakers in class. The activity in which students participated least often was job shadowing (17 percent).
  • As in 2002, the guidance activity in which 11th- and 12th-grade students participated most often in 1984 was individual counseling sessions (79 percent), and the activity in which they participated the least was job shadowing (5 percent; Table 8). The proportion of students who participated in the remaining 13 activities ranged from 15 percent to 55 percent.
  • Between 1984 and 2002, the proportion of 11th- and 12th-grade students who participated in a guidance activity increased for 5 of the 15 activities?occupational information units in subject-matter courses, exploratory work experience programs, job-site tours, job shadowing, and the use of computerized career information sources (Table 8). During this time period, no significant differences were detected in the proportion of students who participated in the remaining guidance activities.
  • In 2002, the proportion of 11th- and 12th-grade students who participated in an activity differed by enrollment size for 10 of the guidance activities examined in the survey23 -career days/nights, vocationally oriented assemblies and speakers in class, job-site tours or visits, tours of postsecondary institutions, job shadowing, testing and having tests interpreted for career planning purposes, individual counseling sessions, training in job seeking skills, use of noncomputerized career information sources, and use of computerized career information sources (Table 9). In most instances in which differences were detected, there was a negative relationship between the proportion of students who participated in the activity and enrollment size; for example, 73 percent of students in small schools, 62 percent of students in medium schools, and 49 percent of students in large schools participated in testing and having tests interpreted for career planning purposes. The one exception was individual counseling sessions; a greater proportion of students in medium and large schools participated in this activity than did students in small schools.
  • The proportion of 11th- and 12th-grade students who participated in an activity differed by school locale for four of the activities examined in the survey24 -job-site tours or visits, tours of postsecondary institutions, job shadowing, and testing and having tests interpreted for career planning purposes (Table 9). For example, the percentage of students who participated in job- site tours or visits was higher in rural schools than in schools in other locales, and the percentages of students who participated in tours of postsecondary institutions and job shadowing were higher in schools located in rural areas and towns than in schools located in cities or urban fringes.
  • For two of the activities?use of computerized career information sources and the use of college catalogs, the proportion of 11th- and 12th-grade students who participated in the activity was positively related to the percentage of college-bound students at the school (Table 9).
  • The proportion of 11th- and 12th-grade students who participated in an activity was positively related to the number of vocational courses offered per 100 students for 7 of the activities examined in the survey?vocationally oriented assemblies and speakers in class, job-site tours or visits, tours of postsecondary institutions, job shadowing, testing and having tests interpreted for career planning purposes, training in job seeking skills, and the use of computerized career information sources (Table 9).

Other School Activities: Availability and Requirements

In 2002, public high schools were asked about the availability and requirement status of four school activities that had not been included in the 1984 supplement to HS&B: regularly scheduled group guidance sessions led by teachers or other school staff, a written career plan, a senior project based on the student?s career of interest, and the selection of a career major or path to guide the student?s selection of courses. These activities were examined separately from the 15 guidance activities discussed earlier to explore the extent to which they were required of high school students. Thus, schools indicated whether each activity was available during the 2001-02 school year and whether it was required of all, some, or no students.

  • Sixty-three percent of public high schools reported that regularly scheduled group guidance sessions led by teachers or other school staff were available during the 2001?02 school year (Table 10). Thirty-five percent of all public high schools required all students to participate in the activity, 20 percent of schools required some students to participate in the activity, and 8 percent did not require any students to participate in the activity.
  • Sixty-four percent of public high schools indicated that written career plans were available to students during the 2001-02 school year (Table 10). Forty-seven percent of all public high schools required that all students participate in the activity, 15 percent of schools required that some students participate, and 2 percent did not require that any student participate.
  • Thirty-one percent of public high schools reported that senior projects based on the student?s career of interest were available during the 2001-02 school year (Table 10). Fourteen percent of all public high schools required that all students participate in the activity, 15 percent of schools required that some students participate, and 2 percent did not require that any student participate.
  • Seventy-seven percent of public high schools indicated that selection of a career major or path was available to students during the 2001-02 school year (Table 10). One-half (50 percent) of all public high schools required that all students participate in the activity, 23 percent of schools required that some students participate, and 4 percent did not require that any student participate.
  • The survey data allow for an examination of public high schools that had both written career plans and the selection of a career major or path available during the 2001-02 school year. A majority of schools (57 percent) reported that both written career plans and the selection of a career major or path were available (Table 11). Of the schools that had both activities available, 58 percent indicated that they required those activities of all of their students.

Guidance Staff

In 2002, public high schools reported the number of full- and part-time guidance counselors assigned to high school students, the number of counselors who were certified, the number of guidance paraprofessionals, and the percent of time that all of the school's guidance counselors spent delivering selected services to high school students during the entire school year.

Characteristics of Guidance Staff

  • In 2002, about 49,500 guidance staff (counselors and paraprofessionals) were assigned to students at public high schools. Across public high schools, there was an average of 249 students for every guidance staff member and 284 students for every guidance counselor, including counselors who were employed full and part time (Table 12).25 The ratio of high school students to full-time guidance counselors was 315:1 (not shown in tables).
  • The number of students per guidance staff was positively related to enrollment size but negatively related to the number of vocational courses offered per 100 students at public high schools (Table 12). For example, the number of students per guidance staff was 150 for small schools, 237 for medium schools, and 293 for large schools. The number of students per guidance staff also varied by locale; rural schools had fewer students per guidance staff than schools in other locales (196 students in rural schools vs. 261 or more students in other locales).
  • Most guidance counselors (90 percent) assigned to public high school students were employed full time (Table 13). The percentage of counselors who were employed full time was positively related to enrollment size, but negatively related to the number of vocational courses offered per 100 students. The percentage of counselors who were employed full time also differed by locale; rural schools had a lower percentage of full-time counselors than did schools in other locales.
  • Most guidance counselors (94 percent) assigned to public high school students were certified, with full-time counselors being more likely than part-time counselors to be certified (96 vs. 79 percent; Table 13). The proportion of certified guidance counselors was higher in large and medium schools than in small schools. In addition, the proportion of certified guidance counselors was positively related to the percentage of college-bound students.

Time Spent Delivering Services

  • In 2002, public high schools indicated the percentage of time during the entire school year that all of their guidance staff spent on the following services: the choice and scheduling of high school courses; postsecondary education admissions and selections; occupational choice and career planning; job placement and employability skill development; dealing with students' attendance, discipline, and other school and personal problems; academic testing; other guidance activities; and non-guidance activities.
  • The two services at which guidance staff were most likely to spend more than 20 percent of their time during the entire school year were the choice and scheduling of classes and postsecondary education admissions and selections; 49 percent of public high schools reported that more than 20 percent of their guidance staff?s time was spent on the choice and scheduling of classes, and 43 percent of the schools indicated that more than 20 percent of their guidance staff?s time was spent on postsecondary education admissions and selections (Table 14).
  • The third service at which guidance staff were most likely to spend more than 20 percent of their time during the school year was dealing with student attendance, discipline, and other school and personal problems; one-third of public high schools reported that more than 20 percent of their guidance staff's time was spent on this service (Table 14). Fewer public high schools indicated that more than 20 percent of their guidance staff's time was spent on academic testing (19 percent), occupational choice and career planning (17 percent), and other guidance activities (13 percent).
  • Public high schools were least likely to report that more than 20 percent of their guidance staff's time was spent on services related to job placement and employability skill development (2 percent) and on non-guidance activities such as hall or lunch duty, substitute teaching, and bus duty (5 percent; Table 14).

Professional Development for Guidance Counselors

In 2002, public high schools indicated whether their state or school district provided in-service training or professional development in selected topics for high school guidance counselors during the 12 months preceding the survey. The topics included training on state or local career guidance standards/frameworks/models, state or local academic curriculum standards/frameworks/or assessments, state or local occupational/vocational curriculum standards/frameworks or assessments, how to work with students with special needs, and how to interpret test scores and assess student achievement. In addition, each survey respondent (typically a lead guidance counselor)26 was asked to report the number of hours he/she spent on professional development in each topic.

  • The most common topic for which public high schools reported in-service training or professional development for guidance counselors was academic curriculum standards/frameworks or assessments; about two-thirds (64 percent) of all public high schools indicated that their state or school district provided in-service training or professional development on this topic (Table 16). Fewer schools, about one-half, reported the availability of professional development on career guidance standards/frameworks/models (53 percent), how to interpret test scores and assess student achievement (52 percent), and how to work with students with special needs (51 percent). Of the five listed topics, the least available was occupational/vocational curriculum standards/frameworks or assessments; 43 percent of the schools indicated that their state or school district provided professional development on this topic for guidance counselors.
  • Thirty-eight to 51 percent of respondents spent 4 hours or less, or the equivalent of one-half a day or less, on professional development for a listed topic over the 12 months preceding the survey (Table 17). For example, 38 percent of the respondents spent 4 hours or less on professional development on training on state or local academic curriculum standards/frameworks or assessments, while about half (51 percent) of the respondents spent 4 or fewer hours on training on state or local occupational/vocational curriculum standards/frameworks or assessments, and training on how to interpret test scores and assess student achievement.
  • The proportion of respondents who spent more than 8 hours on professional development for a listed topic over the 12 months preceding the survey ranged from 18 percent for training on how to interpret test scores and assess student achievement to 30 percent for training on state or local career guidance standards/frameworks/models and for training on state or local academic curriculum standards/frameworks or assessments (Table 17).


13Although the summary tables present additional data on the availability of vocational education courses for high school students and activities pursued by high school graduates (tables 18 through 20), those data are included only as school characteristics in this section.

14The questionnaire asked schools to place 1 beside the goal with the most emphasis, 2 beside the goal with the second-most emphasis, and so on through 4 for the goal with the least emphasis.

15Plans for guidance programs include program description, program schedule, staff roles and responsibilities, program resources, budget, and management schedule. Standards are statements that provide a description of what students should know and be able to do at the highest level of expectation.

16Differences that appear large in the tables may not be significant because of relatively large standard errors for the estimates of college-bound students.

17Differences by school characteristics in the proportion of schools with a required state assessment for high school graduation are not reported because those differences may reflect variations at the state level.

18The reporting of effects of school programs or features on the school?s ability to deliver guidance services is based on individual assessments by survey respondents.

19"Simulations" was not included in the 2002 FRSS survey because pretesting suggested that this activity is hardly ever used in schools and respondents may have difficulty answering the question.

20For these analyses, schools that did not offer an activity were coded as having zero students participating in that activity.

21To retain comparability with the 1984 supplement to HS&B, the 2002 FRSS survey asked for the percent (rather than the number) of 11th- and 12th-grade students who participated in a guidance activity. For each activity, this percent was then converted to the number of 11th- and 12th- grade students for each school, which was then used to calculate the number and percent of 11th- and 12th-grade students across all public high schools, thus yielding a student-weighted estimate.

22See appendix A, methodology, for a description of the HS&B study

23Some differences by school characteristics in the proportion of students who participated in an activity are not reported because they did not follow a clear pattern. For example, while the proportion of students who participated in group guidance or counseling sessions was lower in small than medium schools, no differences were detected between small and large schools or medium and large schools.

24Some differences by school characteristics in the proportion of students who participated in an activity are not reported because they did not follow a clear pattern. For example, while the proportion of students who participated in group guidance or counseling sessions was lower in rural schools than schools located in urban fringes, no differences were detected among schools in other locales.

25It is important to note that the number of counselors and the student-counselor ratios from the FRSS survey are not strictly comparable to estimates from the Common Core of Data (CCD). The CCD estimates are based on a definition of secondary schools as schools comprising any span of grades beginning with the next grade following an elementary or middle school (usually 7, 8, or 9) and ending with or below grade 12 (Snyder 2001). In contrast, the 2001?02 FRSS study defined secondary schools as schools with a highest grade of 11 or 12. Thus, the CCD definition encompasses a broader range of schools than does the FRSS definition. Because the CCD data are reported at the district level rather than the school level (i.e., the counts reflect all guidance counselors in the district assigned to secondary grades regardless of whether the school is a middle school, a senior high school, or a combined school), the CCD data cannot be disaggregated to reflect a definition of secondary schools that is comparable to the definition used by the FRSS study.

26The survey cover letter addressed to the principal requested that the questionnaire be completed by the lead counselor or other staff member who was responsible for providing guidance counseling services at the school. Most (90 percent) of the respondents were guidance counselors, 7 percent were principals, and 3 percent were some other staff member.

Top