In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!
Counseling in a residential school may be the most unusual job described in this entire book. First, few students in our society are given the privilege of attending boarding schools. Most boarding schools will be very expensive due to the cost of purchasing, staffing, and maintaining such a facility. Students attending a residential school are likely, of necessity, to come from upper middle class to wealthy families. I have had a few students complete their internship in residential schools where the annual tuition cost exceeded $30,000!
Given the exorbitant cost in residential education, parents who send their children to such schools are likely to expect a lot in return. Counselors will provide career services (focused on getting the student into an elite private or public college) and personal counseling. Because most residential schools will have a low student-to-counselor ratio (likely under the 250:1 ratio that the American School Counselor Association recommends), counselors will likely be able to provide a lot of one-on one counseling. In many of the residential schools that I have visited, counselors have the opportunity to use therapy in creative ways. Many residential schools, especially those located in rural areas, may make use of wilderness-based therapy (or wilderness-based education, which likely has a therapeutic component). Counselors may also use challenge courses, ropes courses, climbing walls, and other creative venues to address developmental issues.
Counselors interested in working in residential schools will need to be prepared to address a plethora of issues related to removing adolescents from their family home and placing them in schools that may be a long distance from their home (many such schools will have a high number of international students). Depression, anxiety, homesickness, verbal taunting, homophobia, physical abuse, and eating disorders are all common issues. In addition, pluralistically oriented counselors may find it challenging to come to grips with the enormous wealth involved in many residential schools. Parents of students in residential schools may be less available for the counselor to dialogue with them regarding their children due to distance and time constraints.
Best Aspects of the Job
Counselors working in this environment may well have more resources than any segment of the counseling profession. Because many residential schools are costly, counselors will have a number of resources at their disposal that most counselors will lack (e.g., adventure-based therapy, challenge courses with the very best equipment, low student-to-counselor ratio, and motivated students). The students attending residential schools are likely to be very bright and motivated on average.
Challenging Aspects of the Job
There is an old adage that goes, “When much is given, much is expected.” This is definitely true with regard to residential schools. Parents spending more than $30,000 on a child’s education will expect the very best of everything. Counselors may feel overt pressure from administrators and parents to provide a high level of services. Issues of confidentiality can be challenging on a residential campus where everyone—students, faculty, and staff—live in a “fishbowl” environment.
Occupational Outlook and Salary
Counselors interested in working at a residential boarding school will find it competitive to land such a job because residential schools are few in number. No official statistics are available on job outlook or salary. Counselors interested in working at a residential school would be wise to serve an internship at such a school during their graduate school years or look for a way to provide some services to such a school while working at another counseling position. My own experience is that counselors at residential schools will have a number of roles and functions. It would be important to be well versed in academic and career counseling (especially college placement) and wilderness and adventure-based therapy, and have experience or willingness to run groups.