High school guidance counselors are often overloaded with assignments, especially in public schools. In fact, in 2013, the national average student to school counselor ratio was 482 to 1. Even though your counselors are in-demand, be patient and hold out for those meetings. Behind their crazy schedules and back-to-back meetings with students, there’s a wealth of knowledge to help you move onto the next chapter in your life: college.
While it is your counselor’s responsibility to assist you with your questions and concerns, you are responsible for making the most of the limited time you have with him or her. So, before heading to your appointment, pack a writing utensil, notebook, key points, and questions.
But First, the Basics
Before stepping foot into your guidance counseling appointment, get the basics down. Applying to college is a huge task, and the process is tedious. Use the time you have with your counselor wisely and research the process before you go (Student Caffé is a great place to start for questions about admissions, alternatives to college, finances, and more).
Know the answers to the simple questions in advance so that the hard questions or situational questions are ready for the professional to take on. With some research, you’ll be able to discover certain answers, such as the dates and deadlines for college admissions requirements. Here’s what you need to look for so that you don’t waste your time with your counselor:
- Which test is best for you? The SAT or the ACT?
- When and where is the SAT/ACT?
- Which colleges appeal to you and why? Have a list prepared that includes at least one match, reach, and safety school.
- Attend local college fairs and make a physical list of the colleges that interest you prior to your appointment.
- What is the FAFSA deadline for each of the schools that interest you?
Questions for Your Counselor
Now that you’re well equipped with information about college, it will be easier to hit your counselor with the tough, important questions. Organize the information that you’ve already collected in a notebook, or print it out and create a folder. Bring your notes, some paper to write on, and a writing utensil to your appointment, and arm yourself with pointed questions.
- What classes do I need to take before graduating in order to get into college? Am I on target? Be sure that you are completing all of the requirements to graduate high school on time. Once that’s in order, see if there are any advanced classes that you could take to earn college credit or to make yourself a more competitive college applicant. Many high schools only require you take three years of science to graduate, for example. Your dream college may want you to take four, however. Ask your counselor for his or her opinion based on your list of prospective colleges.
- What can I do at home and outside of school to make myself a more competitive applicant? If you’re not involved in a team, club, or volunteer program, you may struggle to stand out when applying to college. There may be organizations that you are unaware of that could directly relate to your potential college major and highlight your skills.
- What are the standards for the honor society? Being inducted into the National Honor Society is a large accomplishment, and you could make the cut. As you two sit down to discuss your grades and class schedule, ask if your guidance counselor can evaluate your chances.
- When is the PSAT/NMSQT? Schools often administer this test to all juniors (and some sophomores who register) mid-October, but each school is different. Be prepared for yours! If you’re a sophomore, ask about taking the PSAT 10.
- What colleges are my peers choosing? This may or may not matter to you; however if it does, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
- Where have former students who share my interests gone in the past? Do alumni or admissions counselors ever come to the school to talk about their colleges? They could be a good resource for you as you embark on your college search.
- What grades will I need in order to get into a state school? The average GPA of a school’s accepted students is typically something that you can find online during your college search. However, your guidance counselor can encourage you to take the courses and achieve the grades that will result in the desired GPA (if possible).
- If I miss a day of school for a college visit, what documentation do I need to bring?
- Can I see or have a copy of my transcript as it is? Having a copy of this document for yourself will give you the ability to keep track of your high school career. It could help you write your résumé or fill out applications.
- What do you think about my list of prospective colleges? Am I being realistic about my safety and match schools? Do I need to add another safety, or is my list appropriate as is?
- Are there scholarships or awards that I seem to be eligible for? Your school and local community may have scholarships available that your counselor knows about. If not, you can always do your own local scholarship search.
- How can I help you in writing my letter of recommendation? Guidance counselors have a lot of students assigned to them, which means they have little time on their hands and struggle to remember the unique traits of individual students. If you want a good letter of recommendation, you’ll have to really help your counselors. Ask if you can send them an email about your goals and accomplishments, and ask how much of a notice they will need before the letter’s deadline.
- Does the school sponsor any application help? Are tutors available to review my admissions essay or help me prepare for standardized tests?
When it comes to meeting with your guidance counselor about getting into college, it’s like anything else in life; the effort that you put into it will determine the quality of your results. Be prepared. Organize your questions, understand the admissions process, and create a list of desired schools in advance. In the end, you’ll be pretty happy when you leave that meeting.