Inside the Guidance Department

A look at how guidance counsellors help “the whole student.”

Inside the Guidance Department

Image licensed by Ingram Publishing


Many parents remember high school guidance departments as the place to go for career advice. But over the years, they have evolved into much more. Guidance departments are now involved in all aspects of students’ lives – academic, social and emotional – and are the point of contact for services both inside and outside of the school, according to local educational professionals.

Guidance counsellors help students transition into and out of high school, navigate their time in high school and prepare for future studies and careers. Their work actually begins when they visit Grade 8 classes to tell students about what they can expect in high school. They’ll often organize a trip in late summer to allow kids to experience high school before classes begin.

Selecting courses

Once students are in high school, guidance counsellors help them develop their Individual Pathways Plan (IPP), an Ontario Ministry of Education online educational tool.  Students use the IPP to document their interests and achievements, establish goals, and consider their post-secondary paths.

Many schools also use the ministry-approved software program, Career Cruising, in conjunction with the IPP. “As part of the individual pathways plan, a student completes the learning styles and career matchmaker inventories in Career Cruising to assist them in making more informed choices as they plan their courses,” says John Mullins, Superintendent of Education, Durham Catholic District School Board. “For instance, if they are interested in post-secondary studies in architecture, we work backwards to figure out the necessary course requirements from Grade 12 down to make sure they choose the right subjects.”

“Students need 30 credits to graduate, of which 18 are compulsory. Choosing the right courses is especially important in Grades 11 and 12 when there are more options available,” says Lisa Vanelst, Program Facilitator for Guidance and Student Success, Durham District School Board.

Students are also required to do 40 hours of volunteering in the community in order to graduate. In most secondary schools, hours are submitted to the guidance office, where students can connect with non-profit organizations needing assistance.

Post secondary options

It’s also the place for students to discover information about the many pathways available to them once they leave high school, including  an apprenticeship program, the workplace, community living, college or university.

Guidance counsellors organize or take Grade 12 students to university and college fairs to make them aware of the many choices available to them. Some rent buses to take students to the annual Ontario Universities’ Fair at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where they can speak with professors and current university students to learn about specific programs.

For students looking for information on major scholarships and bursaries, guidance counsellors are a good resource. They can also point students to scholarship websites so they can research and apply themselves.

The whole student

Students’ mental and emotional well-being is also of concern to the guidance department. “When a student is going through a tough time – for instance if they are experiencing isolation, or have gone through a break-up – we are often their first point of contact, and depending on the severity of the problem, we can help by encouraging them to talk about it,” says Lisa Vanelst.

For serious issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, or addictions, students are connected to resources such as a board psychologist, social worker, or the appropriate community agency.

At the heart of the school, the guidance department works to help students be healthy and well balanced through to the next stage in their lives.

Author: Joanne Culley

Joanne Culley is a writer and documentary producer with two sons; or

Share This Post On