recommendation letters

It’s a pretty common scenario, especially at larger high schools: guidance counselors not personally knowing each and every student to whom they are assigned.  This might not worry you much as a parent until you rummage through your child’s set of college applications and realize this same guidance counselor is required to write a letter of recommendation for her. But don’t panic, it’s not as dire a situation as you might think!  Our college admissions experts help students get over this hurdle every year.

Though it’s true a personal connection between guidance counselor and student might be helpful in multiple respects, the purpose of the guidance letter is not necessarily meant to be personal.  What information do school reports, as guidance recommendations are so often called, usually answer, then?  Colleges are most curious about:

    • how rigorous a courseload, within the context of the school’s offerings, the applicant took in relation to his classmates
    • GPA and rank (if calculated)
    • confirmation of any extended absence or life experiences the student gives the counselor permission to reveal or confirm
    • the senior year curriculum
    • the number of advanced courses taught at the high school
    • and the percentage of graduates from the high school continuing on to 2 or 4 year colleges

So unlike its teacher recommendation counterparts, the counselor recommendation is not expected to show how a student conducts himself in the classroom.  But details about your child’s contributions to the school and how your child might be a match for the colleges to which he’s applying certainly couldn’t hurt.

Here are a few quick helpful tips for how your child’s guidance counselor might get to know your child and write her future letter of recommendation:

  1. Review the school report form guidance counselors are required to fill-out. Be prepared to help your child provide the guidance counselor with answers to questions colleges are asking that pertain to your child.
  2. Help your child create a list of the activities, clubs, volunteer work, sports, etc. in which he has participated since 9th grade, and have your child give a copy to the guidance counselor.
  3. Fill out the parent “brag” sheet provided by the guidance counselor, or create your own that highlights what you feel might be helpful academic, extracurricular, and personal information to share with the guidance counselor.
  4. Set-up an in-person meeting with the counselor at the end of junior year to discuss your child’s college list and what the counselor needs to know about your child.
  5. Encourage your child to meet with the guidance counselor on her own if time allows.

Performing any of the above suggestions will help your guidance counselor along, but being on time with paperwork in the senior year, including transcript requests, is the best way to get on a guidance counselor’s good side. Make sure your student is prepared and check out our college admissions timetable.The early bird gets the worm!  And a box of chocolates with your guidance counselor’s name on it can’t hurt, either.

Take Charge of Your Child’s Future with College Coach.


Written by Kara Courtois
Kara Courtois is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Kara holds degrees from University of Notre Dame and University of Portland; she completed her graduate coursework at Teachers College, Columbia University and Steinhardt School of Education. Prior to joining College Coach, Kara was a senior admissions officer at Barnard College. Visit our website to learn more about Kara Courtois.