During the 2021-22 academic year, each public school counselor was responsible for overseeing 405 students, on average,1 which exceeds the 250-to-1 maximum ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA).2

Importance of School Counseling

School counselors play a key role in assisting students through the transition to postsecondary education. By collaborating with school administrators, teachers, community representatives, government officials, and parents, school counselors can be significant assets throughout the college application and admission process. Counselors serve an important role in advising students as they progress through secondary school and prepare for college. In fact, a NACAC study showed that high school seniors who talked one-on-one with a school counselor were:

  • 6.8 times more likely to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
  • 3.2 times more likely to attend college
  • 2 times more likely to attend a bachelor’s degree program

Variation by State

Student-to-counselor ratios also vary widely by state. Only two states—Vermont and New Hampshire—had ratios below ASCA’s recommended threshold (186 and 208, respectively). The states with the highest number of students per counselor included Indiana (694), Arizona (651), Michigan (615), Minnesota (570), Illinois (522), Utah (516), and California (509).

Staff Time for College Counseling

Postsecondary admission counseling is one of many functions of school counselors. On average, the time that counseling departments in secondary schools spend on various tasks is as follows. The division of time among these tasks differs substantially based on school type, particularly for postsecondary counseling.3

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What do you think is the most common misconception about the role of a school counselor?

That we don’t lesson plan and have standards like teachers! Counselors have standards just like a teacher, and we have to implement them in various arenas within our schools. The work of counselors needs to be seen and held in that same high regard.

Christina McDade, NACAC Member and High School Counselor, Lincoln Community School Accra

That we work in only one of three domains of counseling: academic, social-emotional, or post-secondary planning. Depending on the school/community, school counselors might be associated with grades and transcripts, or with kids sobbing in their offices, or with letters of rec and giving feedback on resumes, but, in reality, nearly all of us work across all three domains of counseling every day.

Lara Sandora, NACAC Member and Counselor, TIDE Academy, Menlo Park, CA

That we are only providing guidance and not trained to do the therapeutic, college/career counseling, and academic support that we do. I would say a 61 credit master’s degree is comprehensive training! Also, the perception that we are just sitting in our offices waiting for students to come to us all day. I wish!

Sharon Veatch, NACAC Member and School Counseling Department Chair, Housatonic Valley Regional High School, Falls Village CT
Public Private
Personal needs counseling 29% 12%
Helping students choose and schedule high school courses 24% 14%
Postsecondary admission counseling 22% 51%
Academic testing 9% 9%
Occupational counseling and job placement 6% 3%
Other non-counseling activities 6% 5%


  1. US Department of Education. (2021). Common Core of Data State Nonfiscal Survey Public Elementary/Secondary Education: School Year, 2021–22 Version 1a. Washington, DC: NCES. Note: Calculation includes all students and counselors in the state (pre-kindergarten, elementary, and secondary counselors) except for adult education.
  2. American School Counselor Association. (2023). The role of the school counselor. Alexandria, VA: ASCA.
  3. Joint NACAC/EAB survey of high school counselors. Report forthcoming.

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How would having a low student-counselor ratio positively impact your students?

To have a lower rate evens the playing field between the haves and have nots. A lower rate means that you can make space for those discussions not driven by the timeline of applications. A lower rate makes space for the needs of students, who need us now more than ever.

Christina McDade, NACAC Member and High School Counselor, Lincoln Community School Accra
In much the same way as a teacher will be more effective with lower class sizes, the student to counselor ratio allows us to effectively and efficiently support students in our 3 domains: Academic, College & Career, and Social-Emotional. When our ratios are inflated above the 250-1 recommended numbers, it reduces *some* of our ability to ensure effective comprehensive school counseling programs. I do believe we can be a positive impact no matter our ratios, but we usually fall into reactive roles and end up putting out fires and are neck deep in non-counseling duties.
Jeff Ream, NACAC Member and School Counselor, North Tahoe High School, Tahoe City, California

Having a smaller caseload allows me: more time to work with first generation college students through the admission process; time to find, work with, and transition students who need outside therapeutic support to help them be more successful overall; a better ability to attend conferences and professional development that ultimately help me better serve my students; and to meet with every student in my caseload at least once a year individually.

Sharon Veatch, NACAC Member and School Counseling Department Chair, Housatonic Valley Regional High School, Falls Village CT