Get to know your high school counselor

By Robin Noble

Parents of high school sophomores and juniors: make it a priority to book a 15-30 minute appointment with your student’s counselor this semester.

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High School Parent | College Parent

Done right, the meeting can be much more than a checkmark on the college to-do list. That’s because high school counselors can provide something you and your student really need right now: individualized focus.

If you’ve spent any time exploring the college application process, you are sinking in information. The internet is fantastic, but it generates an overwhelming amount of data and not all of it applies. Your student’s counselor is uniquely positioned to spin the conversation 180 degrees. Her focal point is not means or methods, not statistics, not what-ifs. Her focal point is your student. This changes everything. Consider what the counselor considers:

Your student’s academic record.

A black-and-white transcript informs the college-search process like nothing else. Counselors can quickly translate the record, pointing out patterns and implications. They can forecast what the record may mean at specific colleges, both in terms of admission prospects and academic success.

story-icon-bar-convo-3In the fall, public school counselors are busy with seniors. Early in 2nd semester, they visit junior classrooms to explain how the college application process will unfold. Counselors don’t automatically schedule individual appointments with juniors — students and parents must request them. 

Your student’s academic plan.

Counselors can advise students on what’s missing from their transcript and ways to attain it in the high school semesters left to them. They can help students make academic choices that are in line with their goals and personalities, while keeping more doors open.

For example, my daughter hedged on taking chemistry next year. Many schools on her list don’t specifically require it, but the counselor pointed out that they do, in fact, highly value it. Moreover, she wanted to know, did my daughter have any interest in pursuing scientific or medical fields? Maybe. Ok then, she reasoned, taking chemistry for free in high school is a smart way to prepare for the college level course. Not incidentally, this message was much more powerful coming from the counselor than it would have been from me. 

Refining a sensible list.

One junior I know brought his counselor a list of 14 schools to which he was planning to apply. While not discouraging his energy, the counselor encouraged him to hone in more closely. Her advice? Pick your lucky seven. With all the cereal on the shelf, seven boxes in the cart offer plenty of variety. Once again, the counselor provided trusted verification of a reasonable approach — and this service alone is priceless for parents.

Quirky U.

California state schools require a succession of fine arts courses in high school. At certain universities, like Colorado State, core freshman classes may not count toward graduation if they don’t fall under the major’s umbrella (a particular concern for undecideds). In analyzing your student’s target school list, the counselor can point out quirks like these, providing insider information that can smooth the path, lower costs, and make a four-year graduation goal attainable.   

Focused help.

I asked if we should — like some friends’ families — arrange a writing tutor for help with college essays. The counselor looked over my student’s language arts track record, asked a few questions, and concluded that it wasn’t necessary. The voice of reason came to the fore again: You are a competent writer and you want your own voice to shine through. The counselor then referred my student to three top-notch teachers on staff who are happy to review college essays.

QuoteA few basic tips for getting the most out of your meeting:

Schedule as early as you can.
Show up on time and conclude as arranged.
Bring questions, not answers.
Allow a dialogue to develop between student and counselor.

Wise Spending.

Instead of spending money on college essay help, the counselor nudged my daughter toward a math tutor to try and raise her SAT score. She pointed out a short-and-sweet annual summer test prep course taught by a local non-profit that legions of parents and students have raved about.

Recommendation prep.

More colleges are asking students for letters of recommendation, and every high school has a process students need to follow. For obvious reasons, scrambling here is no good. Counselors can explain the process and point students toward teachers who can write the best letters on their behalf. This is good advice to have before the start of senior year.


Counselors are a confidential source of advice on the financial resources available to families across the spectrum. Notably, they can offer a wealth of information on local scholarships and how your student may fare in the running.

As valuable as it was, I should probably warn you that meeting with the high school counselor can cause some angst. Talking in specifics about college — real places, dates, and deadlines — has a nervy effect. I observed in my daughter a familiar internal ruckus — something like when a young child has her very first taste of Coca-Cola, eyes wide, a thousand new possibilities dawning. For me, the reality sinks a little deeper. With groundwork authenticated and a litany of takeoff plans in motion, it hits me. This rocket is actually going to launch.

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s new High School Parent eNews and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for a preview of what’s ahead. You can also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow High School parents by joining our High School Parent Facebook group.

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