High school guidance counselors are a wealth of information, but it's helpful to know what to ask to make the best use of this resource.
The counselor in charge of college guidance at my kids' high school has a job description that includes researching colleges across the country. That research involves traveling to many of the schools to check out the campuses to see what they have to offer. All of this makes her—and counselors just like her at other schools—an important resource for both students and their parents as they navigate the college selection process.
But college guidance is like most other things: You get out of it what you put into it. So in order to make the most of the assistance that your child's school offers, it's best to be prepared with some questions.
1. What schools can you recommend that you feel would be a good fit for my child? Asking this question may point you toward some schools that aren't on your child's radar but are worth investigating. In fact, the answer we got to this question turned out to be an important part of Lindsey's college search. Her counselor recommended a regional school, Drake University, that was strong in journalism, especially for a school its size.
Lindsey applied there and was eventually accepted and awarded the Alumni Scholarship, which covered room and board for all four years. She chose not to attend Drake, but only because she wanted a larger school experience. However, it was on her list of final choices and we wouldn't have even investigated it had it not been for her high school counselor's suggestion.
[See which schools might be your best fit with the U.S. News College Compass My Fit Engine.]
I was lucky when it came to college counseling in high school. My school's counselor was available, knowledgeable, and somehow kept track of all 280 seniors in my graduating class and where we were in the college admissions process.
Not every high school student has the luxury, however, of having such a proactive college counselor. Here are some questions I asked, and that students can use to get the most out of their time with their counselor:
2. What is my résumé lacking? In the college admissions process, the only resources you have to recommend yourself are your résumé and your application essay.
College counselors see many résumés each year and can often pinpoint which parts of your résumé need some beefing up—or some toning down. For instance, after seeing my résumé, my college counselor recommended that I add more about my community service but condense my section on high school leadership experiences.
This is another tip that my counselor gave me: Sometimes your résumé can actually be enhanced by omitting less-important activities, in order to allow your greatest assets to stand out.
3. What do universities look for in an application essay? In high school we wrote college scholarship essays as part of my English class. I had my English teacher revise my essay for grammar and continuity errors, but my college counselor was a much better resource as far as content.
[Find out what to do and what to avoid on your college application essays.]
College counselors have an idea of what specific schools or scholarship judges look for in applications, as well as which kinds of applications have been accepted in the past.
4. Is there anything else I can be doing right now? Even if you think you're on top of your applications, there is always something else you can be doing to get more scholarship money or improve your chances of being accepted, among other things.