You want to meet with your high school guidance counselor, and you know they want to meet with you. Yet, somehow, it never seems to happen.
With another 499 high-energy, recommendation-letter-seeking high school students just like you to attend to, your guidance counselor is likely buried beneath a mound of administrative paperwork, every now and then peeking through to spend a few precious moments with an actual human being. So it's time to ask: how can you keep an overtaxed school system from negatively affecting your higher education aspirations?
First, let's look at the facts:
Fact 1: High school college counselors work an average of 2,080 hours per year.
Fact 2: The recommended ratio for a college counselor to students is 1:100 (or, on average, 20 hours per student per year).
Fact 3: Currently, public high school college counselors have an average caseload of 500 students.
The math: 2,080 hours per year devoted to 500 students means time spent with each student is approximately four hours per year, versus the recommended 20 hours per year.
At first glance, four hours may seem a reasonable amount of time to spend with each student—but this doesn't take into account counselors' full workload. The general job description of a college counselor, as stated by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), is as follows: " [to provide] information to help nurture and sustain aspirations, guidance on course selection for maximal academic preparation, motivation to achieve, and advice on how to investigate and choose a college."
Of course, this doesn't include their other random administrative tasks, like scheduling classes and lunch duty. At the end of the day, it just doesn't leave a lot of room for one-on-one time with students. This isn't counselors' fault, and it isn't your fault as a student, but it does mean you need to get proactive and advocate for yourself working with your counselor in your college search. Or, as one counselor we know suggests, "Squeak, squeak, little wheel!"
Here are some helpful tips to ensure you have the best chance at reaching your guidance counselor—and your dream college:
- Politely and respectfully—but persistently—follow up with your guidance counselor if you need their help, such as with a recommendation letter.
- Take the time to visit with your guidance counselor whenever you can (and as early in your high school career as you can) so they can get to know you as a person, not just a file. Stop by their office to let them know how plans are coming together for Pep Rally, share how much you're enjoying your biology class, or just say hi.
- Put together a résumé of your activities and accomplishments for your counselor so they have a quick reference for keeping track of what you're involved with.
- Ask your parents if they would be willing or able to invest money in a private college counselor (or secure the funds yourself—perhaps through getting a job or requesting money for a counselor in lieu of birthday or holiday presents). This can be somewhat costly, with sessions ranging anywhere from $60 to $500 depending on the location and expertise level of the professional you hire, but it's worth it. A private college counselor will assess your skills and goals, provide valuable general and financial aid information on higher education institutions, direct your academic planning, and ultimately help you navigate the college admission madness so you and your parents don't go crazy or broke.
- If a private counselor isn't an option, or you simply want supplemental information, you can turn to free or inexpensive online resources and printed books. For example, for essay help, one website my staff and I recommend is Liz Benedict's www.dontsweattheessay.com.
With a deficit of college guidance counselors in our public high schools, don't wait for appropriate educational reform to be fully realized. Change is slow and high school speeds by, so the time to act is now. Find the resources your need and keep in mind that these services exist for a range of family incomes. Pave your road to college admission success with knowledge so that when you finally do grab that meeting with a college counselor, you will be equipped to ask informed questions and make wise decisions—as if your future depends upon it (which, in fact, it partly does).
Ask, for only then shall you receive in today's race for college admission success.
For more expert insights from Pamela Donnelly, be sure to check out her new book, 4 Keys to College Admissions Success: Unlocking the Gate to the Right College for Your Teen.