Although you may have only briefly met your guidance counselor (also called school counselors) as an underclassman during mandatory meetings and schedule sign-offs (and that one time freshman year you ran into her office crying your eyes out—it’s happened to the best of us), maintaining a strong relationship with your guidance counselor during senior year is one of the most important things you can do before graduating.
Your guidance counselor is the person who will handle your transcripts, college applications and letters of recommendation–and he or she is a wealth of knowledge regarding college admissions. So how do you go about building a better relationship with your guidance counselor, and how will you benefit by doing so? Here’s a couple of things we recommend.
1. Start early (or, at least as early as you can)
Your quest to building a better relationship with your guidance counselor should really begin your freshman year says Dr. Patrick O’Connor, associate dean of college counseling at Cranbrook Schools in Michigan, and author of the college guide College is Yours 2.0. “As early as ninth grade, students should send a note of introduction to their school counselor (e-mail is fine) to say hello, and provide a little bit of background about the student—what they like, where they’re from [and] what they do after school,” he says.
Beginning to establish that crucial connection as soon as possible, rather than scrambling last minute to reach out when you need them is key, adds Cynthia Kim, a sophomore at Harvard University. However, it is especially crucial to maintain this as a senior. “[Your guidance counselor] will be one of the most helpful individuals during your college application process,” she adds.
Conversations on where and when you want to apply, when to take your ACT and SAT, what the FASFA is and how to fill it out, how to determine your class rank and GPA and who to ask for your letters of recommendation are necessary to have early on with your guidance counselor says Dr. Tracy Jackson, Coordinator of Guidance Services for VBCPS.
Did you go through your first three years of high school without a clue as to who your counselor was and you’re now looking to make a last minute connection? Don’t worry. It’s never too late to start building this relationship. O’Connor suggests sending a copy of your resume highlighting your various interests to your guidance counselor at the beginning of senior year to start strengthening your relationship. “This can help the counselor make a good college match for the student, even if the two don’t know each other that well,” he adds.
Don’t underestimate the power of periodically checking in with your counselor, even if it is just during your senior year. A couple of emails or notes to your counselor, in addition to a face-to-face meeting once in awhile, can give your him or her a good idea of who you are, O’Connor says.
2. Move past the small talk
Come college application time, guidance counselors are responsible for dealing with countless other students. Moving past the generic small talk often associated with one-on-one meetings with your counselor will help you in immeasurable ways. By sharing your specific interests, concerns and goals, your counselor will get a better idea of who you are. This can lead to more specialized assistance in your college applications and potentially a killer recommendation letter!
According to O’Connor, there are several other benefits attained from allowing your counselor to get to know you better. “Counselors can help expand the college and scholarship possibilities for a student they know well—and the best way they can apply their college knowledge is if they understand the student’s goals, abilities and interests,” he says.
“Be sure to stop in on a fairly regular basis to say hello and let them know how you’re doing,” says Meghan Murphy, a junior at Northeastern University. “Guidance counselors can easily easily find out your GPA, SAT scores and what extracurriculars you do, but you have to take the extra step for them to really get to know you. That’s how they’ll be able to write you the best letter and best help you choose the perfect school for you.”
Standing out to your counselor isn’t hard. Meeting with them regularly and always saying hi (and reminding them of your name, if necessary!) are great first steps. Also be sure to share in depth your interests, awards and hobbies—when you mention these, however, stand out even more by placing them in context of what your goals are for the future and how you hope to progress while in college. “Nearly every college application asks the counselor to supply comments on the student,” says O’Connor. “When that moment comes, the counselor can do one of three things: Say something positive and supportive, based on a solid understanding of the student; say something usually neutral, based on a review of the student’s file, if they don’t know the student very well, or say nothing at all.”
Students who are choosing not to go to college also need to meet with their guidance counselors and discuss there interests, says Jackson. “ If you want to join the military, you can talk about which branch, [when] the recruiters come to the school and when to take the ASVAB,” she says. Going straight to work after high school graduation? Check with your guidance counselor to see if he or she can help you look into an apprenticeship program or industry certification, she adds. “Again these conversations need are important and need to happen. If your school counselor does not know the answer, they can find someone who does!”
“The goal of every student is to help the counselor offer an authentic, positive evaluation of the student—and that’s the result of building a strong relationship,” adds O’Connor.
Remember, your guidance counselor can’t really get to know you or help you with your future if you don’t take the time to really introduce yourself!
3. Pop in
While it’s always good to schedule ahead of time an in depth meeting with your counselor, don’t be shy about popping in or saying hi when you see him or her in the halls! A quick conversation every now and then with your counselor can do more than you know for your relationship.
“The best way to build a better way with you guidance counselor is to make the most of small interactions,” says Meghan.
“One of my students came back from college to tell me how much she loved her school,” explains O’Connor. “When I asked her how she’d heard of that school, she looked at me funny and said ‘You recommended it to me.’ I had completely forgotten that quick conversation, but it made all the difference in the world to her. That’s the kind of difference a counselor can make in a student’s life, even in a quick conversation.”
Popping in to say hello is a great idea because it allows for much more communication than your one or two required meetings per year. Plus, according to Cynthia, it can be a great and easy way to establish a personal connection, which can come in handy later in the year when you need their help.
“Like any other relationship, the best way to build a good partnership of mutual support with a school counselor is through clear, frequent communication,” O’Connor adds.
Particularly if you attend a large high school, your guidance counselor may be assigned to hundreds of other students. Frequent communication is key to standing out.
4. Don’t miss deadlines
Whether it’s turning in your request for transcripts, getting together for a scheduled meeting or asking for a letter of recommendation ahead of time, don’t miss a deadline with your guidance counselor. Missing these important deadlines won’t just reflect poorly on you, but they can also significantly hurt your college applications (especially those letters of recommendation!).
“Counselors will usually provide students with a structure and timeline for submitting college applications—they’ll communicate this through group meetings or regular newsletters,” says O’Connor. “This keeps the student on track for applying to college, and it makes sure the application is submitted with plenty of time for the counselor to provide a transcript and letter of support.”
Remember, staying on top of college applications and preparing in advance will far reduce your stress in the long run. Plus, it will allow you to enjoy the last couple months of your high school career. “By following these guidelines and deadlines, the student knows they’ll be applying to college on time, and in a way that leaves plenty of time to enjoy homecoming, prom and the other great traditions of senior year,” says O’Connor.
Being a timely, organized student will also strengthen your relationship with your guidance counselor because it will show that you’re totally respectful of their busy schedules—a major plus!
5. Don’t be intimidated
“Your school counselor is busy [because] everyone wants them or needs them. They are trying their best to help all students. Some students need more help than others, but that is not a reason to avoid or ignore your counselor,” says Jackson, adding that guidance counselors are great people to go to for academic, personal, social or career concerns you may have. A great relationship with your counselor is totally possible and can even last beyond your high school year, she says.
“Let your counselor help you—be brave!” says O’Connor. “Own your future, and never mistake a counselor’s business with not caring. The reason they’re busy is because they care.”
He continues, adding that you should always feel comfortable asking your counselor questions, despite what may seem like a super hectic schedule.
6. Say thank you
As with a relationship with any older professional, politeness is key! Always be sure to say thank you to your guidance counselor, especially if they go out of their way to help you.
“Make sure you always thank them for whatever they help you with. Whether it be an email or a handwritten note, a “thank you” can go a long way. They’ll feel more appreciated and more willing to help in the future,” says Cynthia.
If they wrote you a letter of recommendation, took the time to help you with your college search or have just always been there for you in times of need, make sure you express your gratitude before you graduate. And remember, they’ll love to hear from you once you’re settled at college, too!
Guidance counselors really can be some of the most important people of your high school career, especially as you reach senior year. Make sure you do everything possible to build and maintain a friendly, supportive and constructive relationship.