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Social and Emotional Learning as Important as Academics for Student Success, New Survey of School Counselors Shows


Ninety-seven percent of school district directors reported that SE skills were as important or more important than developing academic knowledge for student success

IOWA CITY, Iowa — ACT—the nonprofit organization that administers the ACT college readiness exam—in collaboration with the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) released a new report examining school counselor perspectives, needs, and challenges related to students’ social and emotional development. More than three-quarters of school counselors reported being very interested in incorporating social and emotional learning (SEL) into their programs. District directors responding to the survey indicated that developing students’ social and emotional (SE) skills was as important as (72.5%) or more important than (25%) developing academic knowledge for student success. 

“Social and emotional learning is imperative to student success and has been linked to improved learning, increased graduation rates, and improved school climate,” said ACT CEO Janet Godwin. “The past academic year was perhaps the most challenging year ever for students, making it even more important for us to support school counselors in helping students develop these SE skills.”

“Helping students develop social and emotional skills is a key aspect of the school counseling role, along with supporting academic success and preparing students for life after graduation,” said ASCA Executive Director Jill Cook. “School counselors help students acquire the mindsets and behaviors they need to be successful in school and in life, such as belief in themselves, respect for others, critical thinking skills, self-control, and so much more.”

As the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated many of the challenges already experienced by many students, the role of school counselors in identifying and addressing students’ diverse social and emotional needs became even more critical. A growing consensus among educators, policymakers, and researchers suggests that K–12 students’ SE skill development may be nearly as important as cognitive ability for education and workplace success.
The survey findings further our understanding of school counselors’ knowledge and application of social and emotional learning frameworks, how they help students develop these skills through varied instructional methods, and the extent to which stakeholders support social and emotional learning. This report includes recommendations to support school counselors in their work.

School counseling professionals are instrumental in whether these skills are developed, and if so, how well. For this reason, ACT and ASCA suggest several recommendations:

  • Incorporate SEL initiatives into comprehensive school district plans.
  • Inform SE skill development with evidence.
  • Support professional development for school counseling professionals.
  • Ensure school counselors lead SEL efforts within schools.
  • Promote the availability of and improvements to SE skill development supports through federal and state funding.
Other findings:
  • School counselors not only know about SEL resources but are also using them in their work. Nearly all school counselors (92%) used at least one framework to guide their work.
  • The most well-known SEL resource, ASCA Student Standards: Mindsets & Behaviors for Student Success, was also the most widely used, with three out of four school counselors reporting using it.
  • Pre-service school counselors provided an almost unanimous perspective on the importance of SEL, with 91% of them reporting that SEL would be a very important focus of their future work.
  • School counselor educators who prepare pre-service school counselors reinforced the importance of SE development in their school counselor education programs. Two-thirds of them (65%) indicated that their programs focus a great deal on preparing school counselors in training for developing the SE skills of K–12 students.
  • The three most popular methods with which school counselors delivered or reinforced SEL included one-on-one instruction outside the classroom (84%), instruction in the classroom (82%), and small-group instruction outside the classroom (73%).

About ACT
ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Headquartered in Iowa City, Iowa, ACT is trusted as a national leader in college and career readiness, providing high-quality assessments grounded in over 60 years of research. ACT offers a uniquely integrated set of solutions designed to provide personalized insights that help individuals succeed from elementary school through career. Visit us online at

About ASCA
The American School Counselor Association supports school counselors' efforts to help students focus on academic, career and social/emotional development so they achieve success in school and are prepared to lead fulfilling lives as responsible members of society. ASCA provides professional development, publications and other resources, research and advocacy to more than 41,000 professional school counselors around the globe. ASCA administers the Recognized ASCA Model Program (RAMP), the School Counselor of the Year Awards and publishes the ASCA National Model.