To gain a deeper understanding of the unique challenges independent school counselors face, prevalent student concerns, effective approaches, and current needs, SAIS conducted a pulse survey among member school counselors.

Survey Highlights

  • Student anxiety was identified as the current concern most impacting their schools.
  • Many counselors find partnering with families, including both parental involvement and education, successful strategies.
  • Even though most describe their caseload as manageable (39%) or somewhat manageable (26%), “more time with students” was named as one of their greatest needs.

Demographic Snapshot

We received feedback from 174 school counselors from a variety of school sizes and in roles serving lower to upper grades: Thirty-two percent of the responding counselors primarily work with students in grades 9-12. Additionally, twenty-six percent of the counselors represent schools with a total enrollment between 301 and 500 students.

Top Health and Well-being Concerns

Counselors were asked to identify up to five health and well-being concerns most impacting their students from a list of 19 options. Overall, student anxiety emerged as the number one concern (89%). This was followed by peer relationships (60%), academic stress (59%), coping & reliance (56%), and attention & focus (47%). Other issues included belonging, family issues, overscheduling of student time, depression, and impulsivity and defiance. Areas receiving less than 10% of responses included (in decreasing order): mental health related absenteeism, sleep difficulties, bullying, vaping, substance abuse, supporting marginalized groups, eating disorders, cyberbullying, and suicidal ideation.

Students struggling with issues related to anxiety, coping and resilience, and peer relationships appear across all divisions. Additionally, counselors in the lower grades also see a greater need to support students with attention and focus issues. Both middle and upper school counselors report increased student concerns related to academic stress.

Student Caseload

How would you rate the current student workload and caseload expectations for counselors in your school?

Counselors were asked how they would rate their current student workload and caseload expectations. On a positive note, 39% rated their workload as manageable with an additional 26% at somewhat manageable. Only 9% chose overwhelming to describe their workload.

In comparing current caseload to the previous one to two years, a slight majority (40%) indicated their caseload was about the same, while 37% have experienced a slight increase. Few have seen a decrease, with just 8% describing their current caseload as slightly or significantly decreased. Unfortunately, 15% of counselors have seen a significant increase in the number of students requiring services.

How does your student caseload compare to the previous 1-2 years?

Reflecting on caseload, counselors charged with student well-being in a single division describe their workload as manageable or somewhat manageable. In contrast, those overseeing multiple divisions, or the entire school, were more likely to report their caseload as somewhat challenging.

Comparing the number of students needing additional counseling services to the previous two years, counselors working with upper grades and those who work with the entire school were more likely to report a slight or significant increase. Those working in lower and middle grades experienced more stable caseloads described as about the same or slightly increased.

Successful Strategies

The survey presented nine strategies and asked counselors to select up to five that they find most effective. Almost three quarters of responses identified a family partnership, including both parental involvement and education, as the most successful strategy. Following closely was the establishment of a referral system for ongoing external counseling services. More than half (66%) of counselors indicated that they found success with mindfulness and stress reduction techniques as well as advisory or homeroom workshops (52%).

While all divisions noted parental involvement, mindfulness, and external referrals as successful strategies, those working with younger students also noted the effectiveness of physical activity. Middle school counselors highlighted advisory and homeroom workshops and health education programs among their additional trusted strategies.

The option to share strategies not included in the survey list highlighted the effectiveness of individual sessions with the counselor. Success was also indicated in a variety of support models including peer support, academic support, skill building, and a multi-tiered approach involving additional trusted adults on campus.

Less frequently used strategies overall included digital check-ins (4%) and nutritional guidance and support (5%).

Areas of Greatest Need

The needs shared by school counselors are diverse and multifaceted, reflecting the complex challenges they encounter in supporting student health and well-being.

The most frequently mentioned need is for more time. This includes time for meeting with students, implementing programs, balancing responsibilities, administrative tasks, and engaging in professional development.

Many counselors expressed the need for additional counselors and asked for support from both teachers and administrators in their school. Counselors emphasized the importance of support from school administration, including clarity of role, recognition of expertise, and understanding of workload. They also mentioned the need for teacher involvement and training.

Counselors shared a desire for ongoing professional development to stay updated on best practices and strategies, as well as opportunities to connect with other counselors working in similar schools and divisions.

While many counselors indicated the need for more time, especially time with students, those working in lower grades also noted a desire for greater parent partnerships. Middle and upper school counselors specifically requested more professional development and support from their school administrators, including the need for additional staff.

Counselors in smaller schools, with enrollment less than 300, indicated a greater need for partnerships with parents and support from their administrators. Those in mid-size schools (from 300-700 students) highlighted the need for additional staff. Counselors in larger schools, with enrollment of 700-1200 students, seek to expand their current offerings indicating the need for additional programming, resources, and professional development. Finally, those in schools with more than 1200 students requested more support from administrators and additional staff to address their larger caseloads.

We will continue the conversation on how best to support both our counselors and the students they serve. Areas identified in this survey will be addressed in future roundtables, webinars, and workshops.

Strategies that schools might consider to support their counselors include:

  • Initiate intentional conversations with the counseling department to ensure that they have a clear understanding of their role, responsibilities, and expectations within the school community.
  • Foster a collaborative environment where counselors can work closely with teachers, administrators, and other school staff to address student needs comprehensively.
  • When possible, consider resource allocation, additional staff, and professional development opportunities to support the work of the counseling department.
  • Take proactive measures to address counselors’ workload and time management challenges by providing administrative support, streamlining processes, and minimizing non-essential tasks.
  • Ensure counselors have sufficient time and resources to focus on direct student interactions and counseling services.
  • Encourage open communication and solicit feedback from counselors regarding school policies, programs, and initiatives that impact their work to ensure that their perspectives are considered and valued.
  • Promote a school culture that prioritizes mental health and well-being, fostering an environment where students and staff feel supported and empowered to seek help when needed.

By supporting our counseling professionals, schools can create an environment where counselors can thrive in their roles and effectively support the diverse needs of students within the school community.