Key components that support effective high school advising

Image of students

Imagine you are a high school student with big dreams for your future: whether it's going to college, starting a business, or starting a career. You know you need support to make the best decisions for your path after graduation, but you don't know where to find information or guidance.

The Gates Foundation’s Washington State team recently worked with social impact consulting firm, Kinetic West, to identify the critical components that enable effective advising to be delivered to students like this. Kinetic West also looked at the current performance of college and career advising in Washington state.

To identify these key components, Kinetic West reviewed research on best practices and programs from other states that have found success. That research, combined with input from more than 150 district, school, and community organization leaders, led to six specific recommendations to improve college and career advising in Washington state.


Graphic of How WA can Advance Effective and Equitable College and Career Advising


Finding: Washington has a statewide advising curriculum, but it hasn’t been updated since 2016, and less than 40% of school-level respondents in Kinetic West’s survey said they used it in the last year. Searching for and vetting relevant information is time-consuming for school staff, students, and families.

  • Recommendations: Develop college and career advising curriculum that blends with core subjects. Create a statewide college and career climate survey to incorporate student voice into advising programs and track the impact of advising efforts.

As Avery of Kinetic West explains, “Treating college and career advising more like core academic subjects – for example, by providing more consistent professional development for teachers and embedding curriculum into the school day – would advance equity and support youth in accessing postsecondary opportunities here in Washington.”


Finding: Washington districts have a general postsecondary enrollment or readiness goal for students, but most districts lack the ability to regularly track progress toward their goal or forums to collaborate on best practices with peer districts. There’s no incentive for schools to change because districts aren’t recognized for enrollment progress.

  • Recommendation: Recognize and reward completion of high-value, industry-recognized credentials and postsecondary enrollment achievements.


Finding: More training was the most requested support by survey respondents in districts, schools, and community-based organizations. School-level participants said that non-advisor teaching staff are rarely trained in basic advising topics.

  • Recommendations: Provide more trusted resources for training and clock hour-eligible professional development for college & career advisors and “101-level” training for school-wide staff. Advocate for at least one college and career specialist in each high school, and formalize the specialist role within the education system.


Finding: Person-to-person advising conversations will always be needed to fully support students, but online platforms can help students research options, track tasks, and develop skills. Schools are using a confusing mix of Naviance, SchooLinks, Xello, School Data Solutions, and other platforms to provide content, with no single platform reported as the main platform.

  • Recommendation: Align on a single statewide online college and career advising platform that integrates curriculum and data collection. Create model data-sharing agreements that districts can adopt with all partners, including sharing outcomes and data.


Finding: Partnerships with community-based organizations and other institutions can provide additional capacity and support for districts. Typically, these types of partnerships are only available to districts near urban centers or universities.

  • Recommendation: Develop college and career advising partnerships in rural areas, including virtual options.

Equitable supports

Finding: High School and Beyond Plans, which are a longstanding graduation requirement in Washington’s public schools and could be used to address inequities and increase consistency, have too often become a “check the box” exercise. One of the most challenging times to serve students is over the summer months when most high school counselors do no work or operate with a limited staff or “skeleton crew.”

  • Recommendation: Expand investment in High School and Beyond Planning, including staffing support, curriculum development, and data collection into new statewide platform. Build partnerships to support summer transitions between high school and postsecondary institutions.

What we’re doing with these recommendations

We’ve shared Kinetic West’s recommendations with several state education leaders and program leaders and know they are looking at ways to incorporate the findings into their work. We also will continue to evaluate our grantmaking strategy to support statewide efforts to increase access to effective advising.

We are weaving these recommendations into our work to support locally led solutions in education. We recently helped launch the Limitless Learning Network, a collaboration of 26 local partnerships across Washington state, and the Horizons Regional Grant Program to support four regional partnerships that are ready to expand programs to help more students transition from K-12 into postsecondary education. Advising is a core focus for each Horizons partnership.

As these local partnerships begin exploring regional approaches to increase postsecondary enrollment, we’re sharing this research to provide evidence on what is working well in other parts of the country.



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