In a process as time-consuming, nerve-wracking, and complicated as the college applications game, it is important to make use of as many of the fantastic resources that are available to you as possible. One of the most important of these resources is your guidance counselor, a specially trained professional who can provide advice and resources to students at a high school.

In order to make use of the rich resource that is a high school guidance counselor, it is important to know who your guidance counselor is, what his or her job entails, and how to approach your relationship correctly. For more on these questions, read on!

 

What’s my guidance counselor’s job?

Typically, your high school’s guidance counselor will deal with several issues. First, he or she will deal with academic issues like class placement and course selection. If you attend a school where you will need to make substantive choices about your senior year schedule, your guidance counselor is a great person to talk to about the implications of your choices.

Depending on your high school, your options may range from deciding what level of a class you take (standard, honors, AP, or accelerated, among others) to choosing whether to take a science class over a history class. How you act on these decisions will necessarily imply certain messages to adcoms, and your guidance counselor will be well versed in these potentialities.

Second, and most obviously, college guidance counselors are involved with college application planning and submission. As you go through the process of applying to college, you will find that there is much administration work to be done in addition to the interviewing, writing, and studying that you need to do. Your college guidance counselor will be the person in charge of liaising with adcoms to provide them with necessary materials such as your transcript, which includes your grades, class descriptions, and GPA. In addition, you can use your guidance counselor as a resource to help you plan and navigate the process of applying to college. He or she will know various important deadlines and have valuable advice on meeting these deadlines in an organized, stress-free way.

Thirdly, guidance counselors deal with non-academic, personal, and behavioral concerns as well. In this capacity, your guidance counselor is simply an adult in your school community who is open to hearing about your stressors, complaints, and worries as they come up over your four years at the school. Oftentimes, when applicable, guidance counselors can give good advice and guidance or connect you with other resources—a social worker, for example—as your individual case may dictate.

We should note as well that many schools use a slightly different term to describe the person whose job it is to deal with the items listed above. If your high school does not have a “guidance counselor” but instead has a “college counselor,” a “college mentor,” or anyone whose job is to assist students with the college application process, then this information applies to them as well.

 

Why is it important to build a good relationship with my guidance counselor?

Your guidance counselor’s job is to ensure that your time in high school goes smoothly, and he or she will generally do this by providing support in as many ways as possible so that you can focus on your schoolwork instead of other concerns. Thus, it is important to build a good relationship with your guidance counselor so that, if need be, he or she can vouch for your honesty and integrity.

Especially at large or public schools, guidance counselors have limited time and resources and are responsible for helping a significant number of students in a rather in-depth way. All the while, they have a substantive impact on your future, so it is especially important that you make an effort to get to know them and in turn help them get to know you personally.

As you might imagine, the charge of supporting high school students in as many ways as possible entails a number of responsibilities. Guidance counselors are equipped to resolve disputes you may have with other students, teachers, or administration over academic or non-academic issues, often acting as the first line of contact when a student is having a problem in school.

In addition, your guidance counselor will be in charge of providing you with resources to help you manage stress, health concerns, and disability accommodations if you need them.

Not to mention, your guidance counselor will certainly be of use to you if you are applying for summer programs before your senior year, as he or she will be in charge of providing recommendation letters and other relevant paperwork for applications to summer programs and other enrichment activities.

And finally, from a logistical standpoint, your guidance counselor will contribute to the actual process of applying to college by providing resources to help you learn about the college application process, helping you research colleges, and aiding you as you choose colleges to apply to. Not to mention, they will fill out the School Report section of college applications, write your Guidance Counselor Recommendation Letter, certify that you qualify for a fee waiver if necessary, and provide additional information to colleges if they ask for it.

 

How do I build my relationship with my guidance counselor?

Knowing the sheer breadth and depth of help your guidance counselor can offer you, it should be clear by now that it is never too early in your high school career to reach out to your counselor and start to get to know him or her. Especially if you know that you will have the same counselor throughout all four years of high school—and at some high schools, this will be the case—it is crucial that you begin to connect early on in your high school career. This way, your college counselor will be able to witness you grow, mature, and improve as the years go on, and they will be able to speak to your metamorphosis throughout high school in their recommendation letter to colleges when the time comes.

In fact, since your guidance counselor can help you make an academic plan for high school and stay on track for college applications, you should be certain to meet with them as early as freshman year to discuss your course load.

Since there are always more students than there are guidance counselors, the onus is on you to reach out to your guidance counselor if you want to initiate a dialogue.. The worst thing you can do is to wait for a severe academic or personal problem to spur you to reach out to your guidance counselor—they will be better able to help you in a scenario like this if they have known you previously.

You should be proactive about arranging meetings, especially since it can often be difficult to get an appointment. Planning ahead is key, so make sure you reach out to your counselor as soon as possible in the case that you cannot get an appointment in a timely manner.

As well, you should plan ahead for your meeting so as to make as efficient use of your one-on-one time with your guidance counselor as possible. Prepare specific questions in advance of your meeting, which can range from “What summer programs should I look to participate in next summer?” to “When is my FAFSA due?”

In the same vein, you should be direct and upfront about your plans, goals, and ambitions as a college applicant. Your guidance counselor exists to help you reach your college application-related goals, but he or she cannot do this if you are not transparent about what those goals are.

It should go without saying that you should be sure to use the resources that your guidance counselors provide for you. If they have taken the time to recommend you read certain books, visit websites, or attend meetings, you should do all of these things, pay attention, absorb information, and take notes when applicable. Likewise, you should encourage your parents to the same. All the while, remember that you should always feel comfortable and confident asking questions. The more you ask, the better off you’ll be in the process on the whole.

Additionally, you need to be polite and accommodating in all of your interactions with your guidance counselor. As we mentioned, counselors are often busy and overloaded, so what you may perceive as inactivity or inefficiency on their end is usually simply a product of their immense workload. Do not be afraid to be persistent if you fear that they have forgotten something.

Make sure you give them advance notice when you are making important or detailed requests so that they have the time to fulfill these accurately and punctually. Finally, if you think that your guidance counselor is doing something incorrectly, and your own research implies the same, you should feel like you can approach them—politely—to straighten things out. After all, you should be able to take the reins of your own college application process.

 

A Few Final Thoughts

As we mentioned, it is not uncommon for students—especially students at large and/or public schools—to find that their guidance counselor is not as focused on them as they would like. Because being a good guidance counselor for even one student is such a hefty job, it is imaginably extremely overwhelming to be tasked with fulfilling all of those roles for multiple students. When CollegeVine was created, it was with those students in mind who might want more focused, devoted help than their school’s guidance counselor was able to give them.

Even if your guidance counselor is helpful and you simply want more of the type of help he or she can offer you, we are here to supplement your school’s guidance counselor and give you as much devoted attention as you need. Think of us as picking up where your guidance counselor leaves off.

On the rare and unfortunate occasion that your guidance counselor is unavailable too often or unhelpful, you also shouldn’t sweat it. You do have other options for getting advice and assistance. If you have questions about the application process and can’t get them answered by your guidance counselor in a reasonable amount of time, a great place to start is by asking for advice from older friends or siblings who have already gone through the application process and are now current college students. Given their proximity to the process, they will be able to speak from experience with a level of confidence about the process, and it likely won’t have changed much since they experienced it themselves. Likewise, you can approach any teacher in school with specific questions or requests for advice. Finally, we’d be remiss if we forgot to mention our mentoring and guidance service, which is designed to fulfill many of the roles that we have delineated in this article. In keeping with our goal that all students have access to the resources they need, we provide one-on-one assistance at uniquely affordable fee structures.

That said, your guidance counselor’s input remains highly necessary for your college applications, so you should do your best to maintain a healthy relationship with him or her. If you put in work to build this relationship early on, you’ll be in a more secure position come college application season. And trust us, you will be glad to have the resource available—college guidance counselors can help you in more ways that one, and their input can be truly valuable as an educated and unbiased onlooker.

Lily Calcagnini

Lily Calcagnini

Lily is a History and Literature concentrator at Harvard University who is doing her darnedest to write a thesis about all of her favorite things at once: fashion, contemporary culture, art journalism, and Europe. A passionate learner, she cares deeply about helping high school students navigate the process of college admissions, whether it be through private essay tutoring or sharing advice on the CollegeVine blog.
Lily Calcagnini