It's National School Counseling Week! If you're a junior gearing up for the college application process this fall, you'll soon learn that your school-based counselor will play a very important role in your success. It's not too early to build a good relationship with that person at your school and start planning ahead for a productive and low-stress working relationship.
Most applicants don't appreciate how much influence a school counselor can have on an admissions officer's evaluation. Admissions officers value what the school counselor has to say about an applicant, and a negative report from the counselor can cause big problems for you. Help that person help you! Be responsive and pleasant to work with.
If you think managing your applications to ten colleges requires a lot of work, think about the challenge of managing applications for fifty or four hundred or eight hundred students! Any way you calculate it, that's a lot of applications and applicants to manage, and the only way for that to work is for there to be a system that everyone within the school follows. So follow the rules and work within the established system.
Your school counselor is a very busy person. Extra time is a gift that you can give your counselor that will pay off in multiple ways, including making it more likely that a special request will be granted, that the college deadlines will be met, and that whatever he or she submits on your behalf is well done, accurate, and on time. So don't just meet deadlines but beat them. And if you do have a special request, ask as soon as you know what you need. Don't procrastinate.
School counselors typically structure opportunities to get to know their students, but students don't always take advantage of them. That leaves the counselor with little information to include in his or her school report, and no guidance from the student about what might be particularly helpful. (What's a "school report"? It's a document that your counselor will be submitting to the colleges you apply to, and that's what the Common App calls it too. It's basically a recommendation from your college counselor, and it's separate from your teacher recommendations.) If your counselor offers individual appointments, schedule one and talk with him or her face to face. If your counselor holds group sessions, attend them and participate. Take notes. Make a calendar of tasks for yourself. Follow up.
Your school counselor is a licensed professional who works for your school. He or she must follow the school's policies and also the law. For example, a school counselor is not going to submit your school report until you have formally authorized him or her to do so. That's a legal requirement, because the school report contains private and confidential information about you. If you have a special request for your counselor, make clear that you understand that they have their own rules to follow, and that will make it more likely that you can work together to get your request granted.
Your school may or may not have a school counselor who is well versed in the US college admissions process. If your counselor is not an expert on US college admissions, you might need to educate that person so he or she can help you. Inline has more tips just for international applicants!
Your counselor is probably one of your parents, and so admissions officers will probably assume a certain amount of bias in his or her evaluation of you. That is why many colleges do not require a counselor recommendation from homeschooled students. Even if they do ask for a counselor/parent recommendation, do seek out additional recommendations from non-parents who can validate what your parents have to say. Inline has more tips just for homeschooled applicants!
You can beginning working on your Common Application as early as your Junior year.
Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.