What Can Your High School Guidance Counselor Do for You?

Barry Lenson

What Can Your High School Guidance Counselor Do for You?

“When I walked into my guidance counselor’s office last month and asked if I should apply to Lehigh University, he looked up and said, `I like your chances, Chris.’ When I came in the next week and asked about NYU, he again said, ‘I like your chances, Chris.’ The problem is, my name is Paul. This guy clearly doesn’t have any idea who the #$%@ I am.” – A student from New Jersey

“Can I Get a Little Advice Here?” a study from Public Agenda, reports deep troubles in the way that American high schools offer college counseling to students. To quote from the report . . .

“Unfortunately, recent studies of the guidance system as it operates in public schools today indicate that counselors are often overworked and underprepared when it comes to helping students make the best decisions about their lives after high school. A new survey of young adults aged 22 through 30 conducted by Public Agenda for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offers disturbing confirmation that, at least in the eyes of students themselves, the system is failing. . . Even students who later successfully complete college are surprisingly critical of high school guidance as it operates today.”

The study implies that individual counselors are probably not to blame, because the real problem lies with the caseload that guidance counselors are required to handle.  According to the report, the average guidance counselor in California handles a caseload of about 1,000 students. In Arizona, Utah and the District of Columbia, the load is more than 700. And the nationwide average is 460.

Given caseloads that high, odds are pretty good that your guidance counselor is going to think you’re named Chris too.

So is there any way you can extract some benefit from having a guidance counselor?  Maybe. Here are a few strategies. . .

Get a strong a reference letter from your guidance counselor. Even though handling an insane caseload, he or she will still be required to write a recommendation letter for you if you are applying to college.  The letter your counselor writes – unlike the one you’ll get from your boss or your priest or your rabbi - should provide a picture of where you fit within the context of life at your school. Are you the most respected kid in your class because of your great work ethic? Did you exhaust all the school’s advanced placement classes and then take special summer classes to learn what your high school couldn’t teach you? Your counselor letter should provide that information.

Now, you might be asking how your counselor is going to provide that information if he or she doesn’t even know you. The answer is to meet with your counselor and tell the story that you want told in the recommendation letter. Since he or she is going to be wondering what to say about you (remember, he or she has no idea who you are) odds are pretty good that whatever you chat about will make it into the letter that gets sent to colleges.

Sidestep the typical college application process entirely. If you start your college education by enrolling in online college courses at StraighterLine, it won’t matter if your guidance counselor doesn’t know who the heck you are. And there are lots of other benefits too. You won’t have to get tutored to take standardized tests, pay for the tests, fill out college applications or write a college essay entitled, “What Going to Skeezix State University Means to Me.”

Instead of worrying about being a face in the crowd, you can join another crowd – the new community of smart online learners.

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