Help them help you: Working with guidance counselors

Jaime Martinez, guidance counselor at Westbury High School,

Jaime Martinez, guidance counselor at Westbury High School, talks to a student. (Credit: Newsday Photo / Karen Wiles Stabile)

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Let’s face it: The college search-and-selection process is a long one, and you’re going to need as much support as you can get. Lucky for you, guidance counselors are experts at helping students navigate this experience.

But don’t wait for your counselor to text you an invitation to swing by her office at lunch. As with all things college-related, the more initiative you take, the better the results will be. Here’s how to make the most of your counselor’s time, wisdom and resources.

Know what to expect. Depending on the type of school you attend, your counselor could be working with only a few dozen students or as many as several hundred. Make an appointment early in the school year to touch base (if you don’t already know your counselor pretty well) and to find out about the services he provides to college-bound students.

Don’t expect the counselor to hold your hand through the entire process—or to know everything about every school that might interest you. But you should ask about resources, like aptitude tests or sample FAFSA forms, that can help you as you whittle down your list of possible schools.

Don’t be bashful. Your counselor will have to complete a portion of your college applications. Some apps require counselor recommendations; others ask the counselor to complete information forms that give relative data about the rigor of your coursework and your class rank. (And here’s a secret: If an admission officer has a question about your candidacy, he’ll likely call your counselor.)

So it’s a good idea for your counselor to know you well. During your first meeting, provide her with a one-page resume that highlights your achievements, activities, interests and goals. Let her know what you’re interested in studying and why. Give her a sense of your creativity, values, passion and dreams. Her job is to help you get into the school that suits you best, but to be most helpful, she needs as much compelling information as you can give her.

Visit early, visit often. Don’t camp out in the counselor’s office (nerd alert!), but the guidance office is a treasure trove of college-related info. For example, college admission reps spend weeks each fall visiting high schools, and the guidance office should have a list of these visits. Sign up ahead of time to attend these (usually) intimate sessions.

Keep him posted. Once you’ve narrowed your list, it’s a good idea to review it with your counselor. If you’ve done your research, think twice about letting your counselor talk you out of applying to a particular school—unless he has a very good reason (like too many Long Island students applying to that school, which can only accept a fixed percentage of students from our region).

Your counselor might offer his opinion about other schools to consider, or he might know alumni from your prospective colleges who would be willing to meet with you to discuss their experiences. He might also have great insight into which of your schools offers the best scholarship or financial-aid packages for students like you.

Have mercy. When you finalize your list of schools, give your guidance counselor one packet of all the forms she needs to fill out. Include stamped and addressed envelopes (if your school requires them) and another copy of your resume. You might also write a few sentences about why you’ve chosen each school, so your counselor can tailor her comments to your application.

Give your counselor as much time as you can. (Translation: Don’t even think about dropping off this packet on Monday and asking her to complete it by Friday.)

Say “Thanks. Gratitude goes a long way toward fostering a great relationship. This time next year, you’ll realize how grateful you are for your counselor’s help—while you’re relishing life as a college freshman.


Guide me!

How does our school compare with other schools in our area? It’s good to know how your app might look when compared with those from kids at nearby schools, so you can plan your “safety,” “target” and “reach” schools.

Has anyone from our school gone to XYZ University lately? Your counselor might put you in touch with current students, who are great sources of info.

Which schools offer the best financial aid? Not all colleges are created equal when it comes to financial support, so if money matters to you, get the scoop now.

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