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How to Work with Your High School Counselor

By Robert LeVine

“Out with the old … In with the new ….”

Every year, seniors feverishly finish their college applications around January 1. For an entire semester, high school counselors work hard to entice their students to finish their essays, to upload teacher recommendation letters and official transcripts, and do all things necessary to assist you and 100 others in the admissions process.

Then, in January, the counselors immediately turn towards the 11th grade students to begin their admissions cycle.

High schools will schedule group meetings in December or January to inform the new class about procedures that must be followed. Counselors will schedule in-person meetings with students and their parents to discuss individual goals and possible colleges. By the end of grade 11, students should identify teachers who might agree to write recommendation letters on their behalf, and in the beginning of grade 12, counselors will review students’ personal statements (the main essay) and offer constructive criticism.

That’s the part you can see. Behind the scenes, counselors do much more than that.

Your school’s college counselor wants to help you get into the best possible schools. If you do well, they look good. Many schools have relationships and “power” to help certain students with different schools. However, no school can push every one of its students into a top school.

To achieve the best results, you need to help your counselor.

Because of the cyclical nature of their work, college counselors work with new students every year. They don’t know you very well when you meet during second semester of grade 11. They don’t know your personal goals or your preferred schools.

They can’t help you if they don’t know you or what you want.

The first thing to remember is to keep your school’s counselor informed. Talk with them about possible majors. Talk with them about possible schools. Keep them updated about your SAT/ACT scores and your subject test scores too. Give them the information they need to evaluate and assist you.

However, you should do more than just communicate with them. You should listen to them, too.

Counselors know about colleges and “college fit.” They have developed relationships with certain universities, or at least they understand your high school’s history with certain universities. They definitely know how you compare to others in your high school’s class.

Don’t kid yourself: behind the scenes in the school counselor’s office, there will be discussions about which of their students best fit into which of the colleges you may be considering. When your college counselor talks to you, their planning and strategy will start to become visible. Pay attention. They’re trying to help you.

At times, the school counselor will be overworked, tired, cranky, and even a bit of a bully. It’s hard to wrangle all of their wild teenage horses. Do not take their bad days as personal attacks on you. Do not get angry and storm the school with torches and pitchforks. Do not try to go over their heads or disregard their processes and protocols. Do not upset the professionals who can help you achieve your goals.

Please remember this: as you provide them with as much information as possible, respect their need to help everyone. Do not steal their time. Use email to keep them updated. It’s much faster and more efficient to use email than to schedule meetings.

Most importantly, be nice. Be someone they want to help. Show your counselor a bit of courtesy. Stay on time with your essays and applications. Work with them, not against them. The school counselor is your ally, not your enemy, so when you see them, smile.

If you are in 11th grade, you and your family are about to enter a hurricane of work, stress and hope. It will be hard on everyone, including your counselor. For best results, work together as a team. To do that, everyone needs to be a good teammate.

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit

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