college counselor

Students all around the country are returning to their high schools this fall, and seniors are heading back with the special thrill and anxiety that comes with college applications. Those who have made the most of their time this summer will be pretty close to finishing their college list and will have a serviceable draft (maybe even a finished draft!) of their college essays. But even if you’ve taken care of a huge part of your college apps on your end, you’ll need to enlist the help of your high school guidance counselor to ensure everything is finished by the appropriate deadlines. A little extra thoughtfulness will go a long way towards making your application even stronger, and improving your chances of getting into your top choices. Here are some steps you should take to make the most of your high school counselor.

1. Establish a timeline that works for your high school guidance office

You know all the deadlines for the colleges on your list, and you probably have an idea of when you’ll need to complete your applications. But do you know when your counselor needs to have everything in her hand to submit your transcript, letter of recommendation, and other materials? If you think juggling 10 college applications is hard, try juggling 100 letters of recommendation and 100 transcript requests for students applying to wildly different colleges all over the country. Your counselor may need a little extra time to be able to get your materials together. Ask what she needs from you and by when, and respect that deadline.

2. Figure out the Naviance connection

Many schools use Naviance to connect to the Common Application and submit letters of recommendation and other official documents. Check with your counselor about connecting your  Naviance and Common App accounts, the official protocol for requesting teacher letters of recommendation, and other loose ends you may need to tie up to make everything go seamlessly. If your teachers use Naviance’s resume feature to get a sense of your extracurricular involvement, for example, you’ll need to keep it updated!

3. Help your counselor write your letter of recommendation

Almost every college that requires a teacher letter of recommendation will also require a counselor letter of recommendation, regardless of whether that counselor knows you well or not. Counselors will do their best to write you a strong letter of recommendation, but they can use your help, too! Ask whether a “brag sheet” or resume would be helpful for your counselor to have in hand when he drafts your letter of recommendation. Provide him with a short summary of the colleges to which you plan to apply, the academic goals you have for college, and what you’re most looking forward to over the next four years. The better a counselor knows your thought process, the better he or she can represent you to college admissions officers.

4. Take advantage of your counselor’s professional expertise

There is so much that your school counselor can provide for you, if you’re willing to take the time to learn. Ask whether colleges plan to visit your high school in the fall and where you can sign up for those visits. Investigate whether students from your high school have applied to your top choice colleges in the past, and how they fared. Are there any tips your counselor might provide that can make your application even stronger? And for those counselors with a long career at your high school, you can ask them to connect you with former students who are now college students at places you’re considering. Reach out with an email to learn more about student or academic life at a school. Counselors are so much more than recommendation writers—they can open up the vault to vast stores of information about colleges and universities, but only if you take the time to ask.


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Written by Ian Fisher
Ian Fisher is an experienced educational consultant, part of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Ian received his master’s in policy, organization, and leadership studies from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Prior to joining College Coach, Ian worked as a senior admissions officer at Reed College.