Getting the Most from Your High School Guidance Counselor

Your high school guidance counselor could be the best ally you have when it comes to picking a college and getting accepted to it. It's your counselor, after all, that helps you plan a course load that meets the requirements for your chosen college; helps you prepare for, and take, college entrance exams; and writes your letters of recommendation. Here are some tips for making the most of your relationship with your guidance counselor.

Establish a relationship with your counselor early

You should drop in on your guidance counselor for the first time during the first semester of your freshman year to introduce yourself. After that, greet your counselor when you see him in the halls, in the cafeteria, or at school games. Remind him of your name a few times just to make sure it sticks.

Meet with your counselor at least once a semester

Counselors are busy people, especially in big schools. Your counselor won't want to see you waiting at her door every morning as she walks in to work, but you should visit her no less than once a semester to talk about the classes you're taking, the grades you're getting, and the extracurriculars you enjoy. By the end of your sophomore year, you should also be talking about careers you're considering and colleges that might interest you.

Let your counselor know the "real you"

Talk to your guidance counselor about your interests, your favorite activities, your family situation, your best summer jobs, the classes that you hate, the activities that you struggle with, and anything else that comes to mind. This is a critical step if you want your counselor to provide you with accurate advice for choosing a career and a college that you will enjoy and excel in.

Be prepared for your meetings

If you attend a big school, your counselor might be charged with upwards of 1,000 students. Your counselor will appreciate you not wasting her time. Always write your questions down before you visit and keep follow-up questions to a minimum during each meeting.

Getting college help

When it's time to think about choosing a college, ask your counselor the following questions:

  • Can I see the college brochures that you've collected?
  • Where, and when, are the closest (and best) college fairs?
  • What courses should I take if I want to pursue a particular major or get into a particular college?
  • What AP courses should I take?
  • Where do other kids from this school go to college? Do you know any recent grads from this school that attend the colleges I'm thinking about?
  • What kind of grades and test scores do the colleges I am looking at require?
  • Do you have any SAT/ACT practice exams, or know of any practice seminars?
  • Is this school a testing center for the SAT/ACT, or will I need to travel somewhere else to take it?
  • What summer jobs, extracurriculars, and other activities will help me get into college?

Finally, be good to your counselor. A high school guidance counselor might be one of the busiest people you know. So do as much of your own research as you possibly can. Attend college-entrance workshops if your school offers them — a lot of your questions can be answered there. Listen to what your counselor says so she doesn't have to repeat herself, and always thank her for the advice.