Why You Should Get to Know Your High School College Counselor


Why You Should Get to Know Your High School College Counselor

Though they can go by a host of different names - guidance counselors, college advisors, high school college counselors - odds are, your high school is equipped with at least one of them who will be there to help you when the time comes for college admissions.

High school college counselors are there to assist with planning college lists, helping you prepare for college visits, assisting you with interview preparation, hosting admissions visitors to your high school campus, coordinating college fairs, and sometimes, also leading college road trips. If they are also a guidance counselor, they will serve beyond the roles of a college advisor, providing guidance in all areas of your high school experience. Who serves in this role and what their title is truly depends on your own unique high school setting. But ultimately, this is the person who is there to help you with college, someone who will play an integral part in your college search and application process.

What many students don’t realize is that these counselors can be a tremendous resource at every stage of the game. As a former high school college counselor myself, I’ve outlined what you need to know about your own high school college counselor, and why it’s extra important for you to start getting to know them as early as possible.  

High school college counselors are occasionally former admissions officers themselves, having worked at various colleges and universities in the U.S.

Who better to help you think through college admissions than someone who has actually sat at the other side of the table. Even if your high school college counselor has not worked specifically in college admissions before counseling you, they are well-versed in the ways of college admissions, as they often attend conferences and discussions tailored around exactly that. If you have specific college-related questions to ask them, they will be more than happy to help talk you through it.

High school college counselors are exactly that - counselors!

High school college counselors are there to counsel you and provide advice. It’s important to know that counselors want to talk to you! They want to get to know you and your unique interests and passions, and guide you towards colleges that would be the best fit for you. They genuinely care about pairing you with school environments where you will thrive.

The best way to get the best advice from a high school college counselor is to give them a chance to get to know you. Take the time to pop in occasionally, chat with them, and make sure they understand your personality, your likes and dislikes. Engage with them beyond the annual meetings in which you have to speak with them. Be honest and open with them about concerns you have, whether they’re about college visits or questions regarding the Common App. The more they know about you, the better they can advise you.

Your high school college counselor will be writing you a letter of recommendation, as part of your application to college.

A lot of students overlook this essential component, or don’t even realize that it is part of the admissions process until it’s time to apply. The counselor letter will be viewed in the holistic review of your file as an applicant, and it plays a crucial role in helping the admissions committee gain a clearer understanding of you as a member of your school community. The more substantial this letter, the more an admissions committee will be able to understand who you are, the contributions you have made, and ultimately, what sets you apart from your peers.

With this knowledge, it’s important to make sure your high school college counselor is kept up to speed on the things you are doing. Likewise, if you face any sort of challenges during your high school years, it’s important for your counselor to know this as well, so that they can help paint the best picture of any situations you’ve had to overcome while in high school.  

This letter is an integral component of your application, as a generic or weak letter of recommendation from your high school college counselor could break your application. A lot of schools ask students to fill out a brag sheet with information to help the college counselor write this letter. Take advantage of the brag sheet and think critically about what you want to showcase in your application. The more they get to know your interests and goals, the more specific their letter.

I talk more about what this letter looks like in this podcast:

If an admissions committee ever has questions about an application or wants to get an update on how a student is performing during their senior year, guess who they call?

Yup! Your high school college counselor! It’s not uncommon for a college admissions officer to pick up the phone and call a high school college counselor to gather more information about an applicant. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered this! Your high school college counselor will be the person advocating for you, and so the better they know you, the easier it will be for them to discuss you and your abilities. Similarly, if you are ever waitlisted or deferred at a school, your high school college counselor is the person who can have the honest and frank conversation about your chances moving forward. Be aware of their important role in the process!

Haven’t met your high school college counselor yet? Here are a few ways to start a conversation with them.

Introduce yourself.

Simply stopping by their office and introducing yourself is perhaps the easiest and quickest thing you can do. It may seem obvious, but it opens the opportunity for future interactions, even those that are merely in passing.

Ask for a list of extracurriculars that are available at your school.

See how you can get more involved. Your counselor will be impressed that you’ve come to ask this, and will be eager to help you. Discuss how you can join an activity, how you can initiate new extracurriculars, or start new clubs. Ask how you can develop your leadership abilities to help you stand out in your college application.  

Request a meeting to discuss your courses.

Talk to your college counselor about goals you have for future classes you would like to take. Are you hoping to take some Advanced Placement (AP) courses before you graduate? Set up a time to talk with your high school college counselor about which ones might be available to you in the coming years, based on the courses you are taking today. If there are prerequisites necessary or certain grades you need to maintain to enter those courses, it’s great for you to know them ahead of time so you can plan appropriately.

Reach out about visiting college admissions officers. 

When you see that college admissions officers are coming to your school, plan to attend a session or two, in part to learn about those specific colleges and universities (and to meet those respective admissions officers), but also to make note of more things to discuss with your high school college counselor. What did you like about what the college had to say? What majors did they talk about that you gravitated toward? Sharing your feedback and opinions with your counselor after the session ends is a great way to either begin, or continue an ongoing conversation with them about your future.

Ask your high school college counselor for advice on whether to take the SAT or ACT.

Ask about resources available at school and in your community that would best help you prepare for either test.

All in all, remember that your high school college counselor is your advocate. They are in this field because they genuinely care about their students, and want to see them succeed. The more you give them, the better job they can do to steer you in the right direction. Don’t ever be afraid to approach them or to ask questions; more often than not, those are the exact moments they are waiting for. They can’t wait to work with you!

General FAQ

What does a high school college counselor do?

Your high school college counselor is your school’s resource for all things college admissions. These counselors host admissions visitors at your school, coordinate college fairs, lead college road trips, and help students prepare their college applications.

What should I ask my high school college counselor?

Early in high school, ask your counselor to recommend the best classes and extracurriculars that your school offers. Later, you can discuss which colleges you may want to apply to and the requirements that these schools have.

What is a counselor recommendation?

When you apply to college, you are required to get a letter of recommendation from your high school counselor. Typically, counselors use this letter to discuss the academic rigor of your course load, the extracurricular activities you took advantage of, and any extenuating circumstances that may have affected your grades.

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