Gateway High School: College Counseling Program « Center on Educational Governance (CEG)

Gateway High School: College Counseling Program

Practice Area: High School Reform

Gateway High School:
College Counseling Program

Gateway High School

San Francisco, California
Founded 1998
440 students
Grades 9-12
30% White, 23% Hispanic, 20% Asian, 17% African-American, 9% Other
3% English language learners
14% Special needs
10% Receive subsidized meals
No information on whether teachers bargain collectively

Source: Center on Educational Governance, 2006.

When Gateway opened in 1998, fewer than half the students said they planned to go to college. The school’s goal was 100 percent college-bound graduates,
so the staff knew it had to take college prep to a new level.

Thus began the College Counseling Program: a mandatory, intensive two-semester program taught during a regular class period. Students learn
about choosing a college, preparing for
the SAT, completing applications and essays, and applying for scholarships and financial aid. The counselor who teaches the courses also meets privately with each student and his/her parents to discuss educational options and the importance of higher education.

Today, Gateway’s goal is in sight. More than 90 percent of Gateway graduates are accepted into college, one-third of who are the first in their families to attend.


Early in the junior year, students and their parents are counseled about the college application process and how their actions and decisions affect it.

Second-semester juniors take a required course that teaches SAT prep and how to research colleges, to teach that types of colleges exist beyond the University of California and California State University systems. Each completes a research project and presentation on a college of interest.

First-semester seniors continue the research with a narrower, deeper focus, and then complete their college applications and financial aid forms with the support of the counselor.


The primary budget item for the program is the salary of one college counselor for the program’s 200 students, though Gateway staff members have said that additional staff is needed to run the program effectively.

The program requires a college counseling room large enough to hold classes plus a resource library, with the appropriate furnishings. Gateway staff members have said that a dedicated computer room, which they do not currently have, is necessary. To serve Gateway’s 200 juniors and seniors, the lab would need 30 computers, tables, chairs, Internet wiring, a printer and software.

Regular staff meetings update the 35 classroom teachers about students’ progress, which is crucial for success; additional funds could provide further professional development for these teachers. New teachers receive one to two hours’ training in the College Counseling Program.

Lessons Learned

The hiring of the counselor is crucial: He or she must have extensive knowledge of colleges and the application process and also must be able to relate to the students’ particular needs.

As the program has grown, staffing has not. The counselor, who is the only full-time staff for the program, serves 201 11th and 12th graders. Another full-time staff member is sorely needed and could expand the introductory counseling to the 9th and 10th grades, in order to place younger students more firmly on the college track.

A full-time fundraiser would sustain and improve the program, Gateway staff said. A dedicated computer lab (instead of mere access to computers) would improve the students’ abilities to research colleges and scholarships. Field trips to colleges further away could be added, as could more handouts and meetings with parents.

Finding relevant activities once college applications were filed was another challenge; here, the counselor chose to focus on financial aid and scholarship applications. The necessity of Advanced Placement classes at Gateway, in place of the electives and “life skills” classes the school first planned to offer, became evident.

Some lessons that Gateway staff, students and parents learned were outside the classroom. Founders and parents wrestled with preconceptions that only top-tier colleges and universities were worthwhile. Cultural stereotypes –˛Latino students don’t want to go far from home — soon surfaced to be addressed.

Volunteers, an untapped resource, could tutor for the SAT and help students with their personal statements, among other benefits.


Though a far greater challenge than its founders anticipated, Gateway High School’s College Counseling Program has convinced countless students that college can indeed be for them, and has matched suitable schools with those students.

During its eight years of operation, Gateway has been named a California Distinguished School and a 21st Century School of Distinction.


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