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When to Ask Your School Counselor These Questions

Need answers about the college search and application process? Don't be afraid to ask your counselor! Here are some important questions you should ask...and when.

There’s one phrase that a huge amount of high school students lament every spring: “Why did nobody tell me about X?!” This question usually comes after getting denied from a college because they did not take a language in high school or math class senior year, or because they sent their application in too late. The harsh truth of the matter is that nobody told you about X because you didn’t ask. So here are some important questions to ask your high school college counselor—before it’s too late. 

Sophomore year

You may not think much needs to be done in terms of your college search in your sophomore year of high school, but there are lots of things to start thinking about and preparing for! Talk to your counselor about the following:

What do I need to do to get into my dream school?

Although sophomores seem to have a long way to go before graduation, what you take and how you perform throughout the rest of your high school career can fully make or break where you go to college. Sophomores have room to dream big, so research colleges, tell your counselor about your ideal school options, and ask them to help you research what classes you should take, what GPA you need to get in, how many extracurriculars you should participate in to bolster your application, etc. Then get going.

Should I take the SAT or ACT?

Ask about this early so you can start taking the PSAT or Pre-ACT and see which test you score better on. Sometimes college counselors have their own strategies for what you should take when, how many times you should take each test, or whether you should take one at all. Your counselor also knows about your grades and specialties in school, so they will be able to give you more specialized advice on this topic.

Related: Should I Take Both the ACT and SAT? 

Junior year

Junior year means stuff is getting real. It's time to start asking the tough questions and diving into your school search.

Which colleges should I visit?

My high school counselor gave everyone a personalized list of schools she thought we should check out. For instance, if someone really liked New York University, she would suggest they visit Pace University as a backup school while they were in the area. Tell your college counselor which schools you plan on visiting already so she or he can give you some more suggestions.

Related: Checklist for Planning Your First Campus Visits

Should I take AP exams/SAT subject tests?

While pretty much everyone ends up taking the ACT or SAT, subject tests and AP tests are more nuanced. Besides the monetary cost, some students have more reason to take them than others. Ask your counselor about this junior year so you have time to get your study on early.

Senior year

It's time to apply! Oh, and get some advice on on big decisions, too.

Who should I ask to write my college recommendations?

A lot of students think you should just ask your teachers to write your college recs, but this might not be ideal. Maybe you went to a really amazing summer program and want to ask your favorite professor there for a recommendation. Or perhaps there are some teachers who are too swamped to write recs this year. Whoever you think about asking, run them by your college counselor for an opinion, and be sure to give your recommenders plenty of time to write! 

Should I apply Early Decision, Early Action, or Regular Decision?

There are more advantages to applying early at some schools than there are at others. Make sure to ask your counselor about this one at the beginning of the year so you can get your early applications in or figure out which school to spend your Early Decision on, if any.

Related: Applying to College Early: Early Action Deadlines, Early Decision Deadlines, and More

Should I take a gap year?

Malia Obama famously took a gap year before starting school at Harvard University, giving thousands of college students pretty great evidence to help convince their parents into letting them take a year off. After all, if the President let his kid do it, why shouldn’t your parents? Parents across the country might find themselves stumped on how to answer that question, but your guidance counselor, on the other hand, will definitely have answers. Starting college right away isn’t right for everyone, so make sure to ask your counselor's opinion if you have any doubts. 

If you have questions your school counselor can't answer, you may find what you're looking for in our Ask the Experts section!

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About Phoebe Bain

Phoebe is a student at the College of William & Mary. She's an avid writer, reader, runner, ukulele player, and user of the passive voice. Her favorite show is How I Met Your Mother, and she loves how giraffes look when they sleep.


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