Guidance counselors, college counselors – whatever you call them, the people in these roles often get a bad rap from students, parents, and the media. Charged with tasks that range from helping students find and enroll in colleges to scheduling and organizing standardized tests, arranging support for students with learning differences, meeting with students who have true counseling needs and more, it seems unfair to paint these hardworking folks with a negative brush when you consider that the average public school counselor carries a caseload of 471 students in the U.S. today.
A ratio of 471 to 1?! No wonder your counselor always seems rushed and frazzled whenever you meet!
As an educational consultant who essentially works as a guidance counselor for hire, I often hear students and parents complain about counselors – about their lack of availability, their lack of knowledge, and sometimes about their grumpy natures. Families who can afford to hire me or one of my fellow IECA or HECA member educational consultants do so because we offer greater availability, specialized knowledge, and we try not to be grumpy whenever possible. (Grumpiness is inevitable some days no matter who you are.) But whether you’re a student who is fortunate enough to be working with an educational consultant or whether you’re one of the 471 names on your public school counselor’s list of assigned students, there are still a lot of things that you can do to work successfully with your high school counselor to maximize your post-high school potential.
Here are three:
- Put in face time. It’s always easier to get help from people – guidance counselors, teachers, trainers, etc. – if they know who you are. Beginning with your freshman year, then, take the time to get acquainted with your assigned guidance or college counselor at school. Some schools may schedule formal ninth grade class meetings so that you can see the counselor to whom you have been assigned, while other schools might require that you schedule an appointment to meet with your counselor one on one. Whatever the policy, though, take the time to meet with that person and talk about what you think you want to do after high school, even if it might change down the road. If you meet with your counselor two or three times a year beginning in the ninth grade and continue to talk about what subjects you enjoy and which ones challenge you, as well as what careers are of interest to you after graduation, he or she will be much better equipped to make suggestions for what classes you should take in high school, summer programs you should consider, and other opportunities that might be available through your school. (And if you’re at a big school with a busy counselor, be flexible with when you’re willing to meet – the very best time to connect with the counselor might be before or after the school day is in session.)
- Don’t fall into the trap of being a “good kid.” No, I’m not saying that you need to get into trouble or become a disciplinary case in order to get the attention of your guidance counselor – that’s not the trap to which I’m referring. Instead, I caution you to keep your guidance counselor in the loop regarding any good or special things that you’re doing or awards or accolades you receive. (In particular, equestrians, you should make sure your guidance counselor knows of any major awards you win at horse shows, even if it’s by sending him or her a quick email notification from your phone on show day.) When counselors get really swamped, often the kids who don’t require a lot of their assistance or oversight and who seem to get good grades and float through high school with ease (the “good kids”) suffer the most from a lack of counselor support because the other students have a greater need of their time and energies. This can often result in a challenging college application process between counselors and “good kids” because your counselor doesn’t know enough about your specific successes and skills to offer appropriate support.
- Do your own legwork. Since your college education is going to be just that – yours – it’s important that the largest investment of time and energy in the search and application process come from you. (This is important for students working with educational consultants as well . Yes, we may be more readily available than your school counselor and we may have some really neat resources at our disposal, but we won’t be going to school with you when all is said and done – nor will your parents.) So if your access to your college counselor at school is limited (and even if it isn’t), don’t put the weight of your college aspirations on them to carry – take it upon yourself to begin researching schools, to visit campuses, and to become and informed college “shopper.” Find out what majors might be of interest to you, study careers, and talk to people about potential opportunities for you to intern or job shadow to learn more. There are tremendous (and free!) resources online you can use and your college counseling office might even have a list of these resources that you can access online to help you get started. If you do this and have a good start to your college search before you sit down for a meeting with your counselor, you can cover more ground while you’re there and utilize your limited time far more effectively.
The bottom line is that the real secret to working successfully with your school counselor is – yes – to work with him or her. It might be a little (or a lot) of extra effort on your part, but it very well could be that such extra effort will be the very thing that helps you get into the very best college for your undergraduate education and point you in the direction of the career you dream about. And while not all guidance counselors will be receptive to the ideas I’ve outlined above (and some will flat out lack the time to assist you one on one no matter how flexible you’re willing to be), the advice is also applicable to teachers who might be able to assist you or to the educational consultant that your parents decide to hire. But so long as you know that your guidance counselor is not the enemy and you put in the appropriate amount of effort, you’ll be well on your way to post-high school success.