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Help Your Guidance Counselor Help You

By Mike Pugh

June 02, 2008

When it comes to selecting and getting into a college, guidance counselors are invaluable. But they can’t help you unless they know what you’re looking for. Help them give the guidance you need by following these tips from counselors across the country.

Visit early and often. Get to know your counselor during your freshman year. Check back with them at least once a year to discuss courses and extracurricular activities. Start discussing colleges during your junior year and keep your counselor informed throughout your college search.

Let your counselor get to know you. When meeting with your counselor, be prepared to talk about yourself. Provide them with a list of your extracurriculars, jobs and summer experiences. Greet them and remind them of your name as often as you can—in the halls, at after-school functions, etc. “You don’t want to be a student the counselor barely knows,” says Paul Marthers, Dean of Admissions at Reed College. “The result will be a generic recommendation.”

Prepare for meetings. Know what issues you want help with and compile a list of questions you want answered. “I always like it when my students come with specific questions prepared ahead of time,” says Bonnie Laughlin, director of college counseling at Francis Parker School in San Diego, CA. With questions in hand, your counselor can focus your work to make your meeting as productive as possible.

Do your own legwork. Start reading college guides during your junior year. Check out the Web sites of colleges that interest you. Then visit your counselor for help narrowing down your choices.

Attend workshops and seminars. Guidance counselors frequently organize workshops and seminars to discuss college admissions. Participate! Many of your questions will be answered there. You’ll then be able to devote your one-on-one time to more specific concerns.

Provide materials well before the due date. “Give your counselor all forms (school report, recommendation, mid-year, etc.) early and, preferably, all at once,” says Nancy Scarci, former counselor at Roosevelt High School. Be sure to include information about deadlines. Recommendations that require no specific forms should be requested in writing with the address and deadline clearly noted.

Show them your best. You’ll get better advice and better letters of rec if your counselor really knows what makes you tick. Show your counselor what motivates and inspires you, and impress them with your motivation.

Pay attention. Listen carefully to what your counselor says. Even if you don’t agree with what they’re saying, listen closely and make your own decision.

Thank them. Be sure to thank your counselors for their help. Send a written thank you note after your counselor writes a letter of recommendation.

Your guidance counselor is a very busy person—but not too busy to help you with your biggest education decision. Get the guidance you need by helping them help you.


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