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College and Career Center Toolkit

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Learn how to create or revamp an accessible, comfortable, and functional college and career center.

College and career centers provide dedicated space, resources and assistance for students to explore options for their future.


Why college and career centers matter

Studies report that understanding the link between education and career aspirations may be the single largest impact on an individual student’s likelihood of completing college.

In fact, high school graduates who expect they will need a college degree for the career they are interested in are more than six times as likely to earn their bachelor’s degrees. Students who understand the relevance of a college education on  their career interests are also more likely to be academically prepared for college and career.

In addition, low-income and first-generation college students often lack information and resources about preparing, paying and applying to college. College and career centers are a visible, dedicated place for all students to get support in making plans beyond high school.

Students listening to guest speaker in Lebanon's college and career center
Guest speakers visit Lebanon High School's College & Career Center. Photo: Wendy Eilers

"I love our College & Career Center! It is colorful, bright, and full of information. Our students enjoy having a place of their own [with] an average of 30-40 students that use it daily. We also house our peer tutors in this area so they are readily available for any student who needs homework help throughout the day or after school. We host many college reps, military recruiters and people coming in to talk about their careers. We also allow students to host club meetings in this room." Wendy Eilers, GEAR UP coordinator, Lebanon High School

A 5-step planning process

Whether you are starting from scratch or wanting to improve an existing center, follow this five-step process to create an effective, engaging college and career center.

1. Plan

"Career Planning Process cycle"The first step of the planning stage is understanding the Career Planning Process, that is, how students make decisions about the types of careers (and by extension, the types of colleges) they are interested in.

First, students need to know themselves—their skills, interests, values and personality. Using this information, students can then explore their options via online research, job shadows, or volunteering.

Next, students can get focused, making decisions and setting goals including the level of education that they aspire to. Finally, they need to take action to make those goals a reality.

Questions to consider

Bring together parents, community groups, counselors, college readiness staff, and other key stakeholders to address the following questions.

  • What are the goals and objectives of the center?
  • Who is the audience? What are their needs?
  • What stage(s) of the Career Planning Process are students in? How can we help them reach the next stage?
  • Who else should be involved? Who are potential partners?
  • What are the costs to start and operate?
  • Who will develop and staff it?

Brightly painted room with college pennants at Taft 7-12
The space outside of the counseling office at Taft 7-12 is adorned with college pennants.

2. Design

Location and decorations

College and career centers should be in a highly visible, accessible place for students. Make it a visually appealing and comfortable environment.

Decorate the hallways outside and the interior space with engaging bulletin boards, posters , college pennants, or t-shirts. Designate one area to highlight seniors' postsecondary plans and/or alumni achievements. Need decorations? Use our Donation Request .

Gather supplies

At a minimum you will need:

  • Computers, printers and other technology
  • Tables, chairs, bookshelves
  • General office supplies (paper, pens, etc.)

In addition, consider including items that are fun, or enticing to students. This includes comfortable seating like bean bag chairs or couches, ambient lighting, and snacks.

Obtain resources

Print or order resources free of charge:

In addition, there are many online resources with college and career information. Bookmark these on computers for easy access to explore college and careers.

Develop programming

Differentiate services and activities by grade level so that they are developmentally appropriate. Determine the best way to assess programs and services, like using surveys or evaluations after events and/or tracking student usage with sign-in sheets.

Programming examples

  • Workshops and guest speakers
  • Events: College Exploration Week, Application Month, Decision Day
  • Games and contests ( e.g. SAT Word of the Day)
  • Career and college field trips
  • Standardized test preparation
  • College/career portfolio creation
  • Job shadow and internship placement
  • Drop-in hours for students or parents
  • Scholarship and financial aid assistance
  • ASPIRE or other mentoring program

Recruit staff and volunteers

Determine the hours that the center will be open and staffed. Contact parents and organizations that may be willing to volunteer.


3. Implement

Maintain a consistent schedule

Provide a combination of structured and personalized services such as daily drop-in hours (during lunch or advisory periods so students don’t miss class), special activities and workshops and collaborations with academic classes.

Be open during times when families will be at school (Open Houses, parent-teacher conferences, concerts or sporting events) to share information about college. Contests and giveaways are a good way to help get parents in the door.

Stay connected

Build a marketing plan that will get the word out and students and parents in. Advertise with hall posters and during school announcements. And of course, offering free food or snacks will bring students in!

Use social media, text messages and/or a website to connect with students outside of regular hours and market the services of the college and career center.

Painted room with college posters and computers at West Albany High School
West Albany High School's College and Career Center has plenty of computers and work space.

4. Evaluate

Conduct surveys and assessments of specific events and programs as well as the use of space itself. Review the questions from step 1 and use the evaluations designed in step 2.

Questions to consider

  • Are the original goals being met?
  • Are volunteers and staff effective?
  • What individual services or activities are the most effective? What is not effective?

5. Grow

Aim to do a few things well, rather than many things poorly. Sustain and grow activities and services that prove successful and don’t be afraid to abandon programs that aren’t working.

Add new programs and services based on need and don’t hesitate to revisit earlier stages occasionally to tweak the design and delivery.


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