Whether your school is public or private, big or small; whether you have an independent counselor or are working with the counselors at school, one truth remains: this is your college process. Independent and school counselors are there to help, but the more you put into the college process, the more you’ll get out of it. So be proactive and seek out opportunities to work with a college consultant. There are plenty of things you can do to help yourself get the most from the college counseling you have available.
Always Be Prepared
Before any meetings, get organized. Pull together all your paperwork, transcripts, testing results, timelines and checklists in anticipation of meeting with your counselor. Make a list of the questions that you need to get answered so you can write down answers during the meeting. Make sure to take notes; not only will it make it easier to remember what you have to do, but it will show your parents how responsible you are in taking ownership of the college process.
Develop a Plan
Many of the decisions regarding courses and activities in 9th grade will impact your college options years ahead. Know your options. Work with your counselor to create a four-year college plan based on course selection, academic tracks and rigor, prerequisite courses, as well as options for summer and extracurricular activities. Your counselor can help you understand and plan for high school according to your growing strengths, interests, and goals.
Create a Testing Schedule
In the fall of 10th and 11th grade most students take the PSAT. Set up time to talk to a counselor about the scores you receive, the context of those results at your school, and how these scores relate to your college goals. Work with your counselor to make a testing timeline for the SAT and/or ACT. Include considerations for prep time, test dates, and registration deadlines. Make sure not to neglect SAT Subject Tests if you’re in a position to take them at the conclusion of your academic year.
Build a College List
Students start learning about colleges at different stages of their high school career, but January of 11th grade is when the college process begins in earnest. At some high schools, this is the time a counselor will put an initial list of colleges together for each student. At other schools, students are expected to do the list creation on their own. The more you know about colleges, the better prepared you will be for what you have to do at this stage and the better the information you can provide your counselor as she shapes the list for you. At College Coach, we create an initial list of colleges that fit our students’ interests and goals, and explain how likely admission would be at those institutions. Regardless of the source of the initial list, the priorities of a student and her family will make the list that much more useful.
Check Your Data
The fall of your junior year is also a good time to review your transcript and address any errors with your counselor. Get errors fixed before your counselor needs to send a transcript out to any colleges on your behalf. At the very least, it’s good to be informed about what will appear on your academic record.
Value Your Counselor’s Perspective & Experience
Your counselor can be a sounding board for important decisions in the college process. What essay topic do I choose? What schools should I visit? How can I get my parents on the same with me? You can also ask your counselor to help you select the teachers you’ll ask for recommendations, getting clarity on what colleges are looking for, and which teachers may offer the best letters based on your interests and intended studies.
Mind the Deadlines
Find out what application deadlines the counseling office has in place and make sure to schedule appointments with counselor in accordance with his deadlines and yours. Always plan ahead, set deadlines earlier in case something goes wrong. By being proactive, you are giving the counseling office at your school the best opportunity to support you not only in the letter they will write on your behalf, but also in the effort they will make to get your application complete on time. There are some things that must come from your school guidance office, and they’ll often have systems in place to show you that these items have been handled properly. Follow their procedures, follow up with your schools, and don’t panic; your counselor can usually help you with any questions that may arise.
Say thank you! The counselors and teachers who work with you, whether they are independent or work at your high school, are all hoping to see you achieve your goals and find a college that is the best fit for you. With the time and care they have spent helping you, they feel invested in the effort being made on your behalf. Be sure to let them know how things are going, where you decide to go, and give them a proper thank you, in a hand-written note, if possible. This is the first step in learning how to create a network of contacts and references for yourself – be sure you are leaving a good impression!