Get Counseling: New Research Shows Profoundly Positive Impacts from College Counselors

July 22, 2014
by Doug Gavel

Those high school students who think they can design their college career path completely on their own may well pay a high price for that decision later on.  A new Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Research Paper co-authored by assistant professor Joshua Goodman shines a light on just how beneficial college counselors are, particularly for low-income high school graduates -- both in terms of helping them choose the college or university for which they are best suited, and for lowering their net financial burden. 

"Intensive College Counseling and the College Enrollment Choices of Low Income Students" is co-authored by University of Virginia Assistant Professor Benjamin Castleman. 

"Historically, policy interventions to ameliorate socioeconomic inequalities in college entry and success have focused primarily on increasing college access among students from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds," the authors write.  "[However], as many as half of low-income students neither apply to nor attend the quality of institution at which they appear admissible based on their academic credentials." 

The authors focused on their research on the impacts of an intensive college advising program called Bottom Line upon students in both Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts, where it operates.  Its counselors work with students throughout their senior years to help them choose and apply to colleges and universities where they are most likely to succeed. 

Goodman and Castleman find that Bottom Line is an effective intervention strategy for many soon-to-be high school seniors trying to find their way forward. 

"Students just above the GPA threshold Bottom Line uses to determine program eligibility were over 30 percentage points more likely to be continuously enrolled for at least two years at one of Bottom Line’s encouraged colleges and universities, compared to a mean continuous enrollment rate of 24 percent for students just below the GPA cut-off," the authors conclude. 

The researchers also found that many students in the program also benefitted financially over the longer term from the decisions that they made. 

"While Bottom Line did not appear to induce students to attend higher-quality institutions (as measured by six-year graduation rate), it had a clear impact of the affordability of institutions that students attended," they write.  "Average net prices were 35 percent lower at the colleges and universities where students just above the Bottom Line threshold enrolled compared to the institutions where students just below the cut-off enrolled." 

"The results of this experiment will better inform the question of whether intensive advising programs like Bottom Line—which clearly impact the type of institution at which students enroll—justify the greater up-front resource investment," the authors concluded. 

Joshua S. Goodman is an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School. He teaches empirical methods and the economics of education. His research interests include labor and public economics, with a particular focus on education policy. His two main strands of research focus on the relationship between financial aid, college choice and degree completion; and the impact of various forms of math education on student achievement, educational attainment and earnings.

Joshua Goodman

Assistant Professor Joshua Goodman

"The results of this experiment will better inform the question of whether intensive advising programs like Bottom Line—which clearly impact the type of institution at which students enroll—justify the greater up-front resource investment," the authors concluded.


John F. Kennedy School of Government 79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
617-495-1100 Get Directions Visit Contact Page