You’ve likely already begun your college search and are looking forward to the year ahead of you—a year filled with research, deadlines, and decisions. It can feel absolutely overwhelming, and it’s important to connect with someone who has crucial knowledge of the college search. For students, this will likely be your high school counselor. While there are other people you can also turn to for help, your counselor should have the most valuable information. Whether it pertains to financial needs, tests, your GPA, college fairs and visits, or a plethora of other things, your counselor can guide you down the right path. When you head back to school in the fall—or if you reach out with an email this summer—here are five questions you should ask your high school counselor about your college search.
1. When is the SAT or ACT if my school offers a test date?
If you’re going into your senior year, your school may have already provided you with an SAT or ACT test date. If you’ve taken the SAT but aren’t confident with your scores, you can always take it again. Whether it’s your first time or second, it’s important to know when the tests are offered. The SAT is typically proctored at local locations on certain Saturdays throughout the year all over the US, and your counselor likely knows where and when they are. However, keep in mind it typically costs $55 to take the SAT if it’s not offered through your school. If you want to attempt the ACT, which works just as well for college admission offices, your counselor should know those dates and locations too. The cost is comparable to the price of the SAT, with the ACT coming in at $63, though both tests offer fee waiver programs for eligible students.
Related: What Should You Do if You Have a Low SAT or ACT Score?
2. What local and non-local colleges do you recommend looking into?
Some students want to stay at or near home during their college years, typically to save money. Your counselor likely has statistics about and connections to local colleges they can provide you. Once you determine your college budget and what you want out of a college or university, your counselor can give you advice on which institutions they believe could offer you the right environment to thrive in and fit your budget. Local public colleges also tend to be cheaper options and will likely be involved in a college fair near you at some point during the year. Your counselor can give you the dates and what colleges will be attending so you can explore your options in person.
On the other hand, you could be a hardcore “I’m ready to spread my wings and leave home” type of student, which would have you looking at colleges across the country. Your counselor can help you find the national rankings of colleges in relation to your interests and direct you to what schools could be best for you. Ask for recommendations of multiple institutions so you can have options to research for where you want to apply. Whether you decide to stay close to home or not, if you build a relationship with your counselor and they get to know you well, they should be able to suggest what they see as your best options.
3. What do I do for financial aid?
One of the most important dates in your college search is October 1 of your senior year. This is when you should file the FAFSA. Although it’s open for about nine months after the first of October, it’s imperative you fill it out as soon as it you can. By filing early, you’ll maximize your opportunity of receiving the highest amount and best types of aid. Some colleges award grants and other financial aid in the order they receive applications, so submitting the FAFSA either on October 1 or soon after increases your odds of receiving the aid you need. Also, some questions can be tricky to answer depending on your family’s situation, so your counselor can help you work through those issues. Depending on your financial situation, a counselor may be able to help you obtain fee waivers to apply to your colleges of interest at no cost. Some colleges charge up to $100 in application fees, which adds up if you’re applying to multiple institutions. If you’re wondering what colleges cost the most just to apply to, Arkansas Baptist College, Stanford University, and Columbia University have the top three highest application fees—though, again, waivers may be available for eligible students. Ask your counselor about these as well!
Connect me with Stanford! Connect me with Columbia!
4. Do I qualify for any local scholarships, and what are the deadlines?
Ask your counselor for a list of local scholarships and their requirements. Most counselor offices compile this list early in the school year and build on it as the year goes on—something I wish I would’ve known sooner. I found out later than I wanted to, and I had to rush to find which scholarships I could apply for and quickly turn in applications. The more time you have before a deadline, the better; you’ll have more time to fill out the forms, receive letters of recommendation, and perfect your scholarship essays. With the cost of college rising dramatically every year, it’s crucial to apply for local scholarships at the very least. Any amount can help you on your journey to paying for college.
5. Will you write me a letter of recommendation, and who else should I ask for one?
Speaking of letters of recommendation, your counselor could be a great person to ask for one. If they don’t know you well yet, get to know them or give them all sorts of information about yourself to personalize your letter. The goal of a recommendation letter is to demonstrate why you would be an asset that a college would want to have at their institution, so having it be personal and not generic is essential. Some counselors may not be confident with writing you a letter of recommendation, but they may be able to recommend another counselor in the guidance department or suggest a teacher to approach. Whoever writes you a letter, let them know all about you. Give them a list of your academic and athletic achievements, any clubs or programs you’ve contributed to, part-time jobs, and anything special you want them to consider adding. This works for college applications and scholarships, as it helps the committees get to know you better without meeting you in person. Just like before, get this step done as early as possible so you and your recommender don’t have to rush.
Related: Video: Asking for a Letter of Recommendation
The college search may seem like a very stressful time in your life, but remember you’re not alone. Your high school counselor can be a great support who can help you stay on track and provide you with things you may need during the process. Nevertheless, do your best to get everything finished as soon as possible to avoid the stress of procrastinating. With the help of a counselor, you can steer clear of falling behind and working against the clock.
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