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By John Boshoven
I once asked a student from another high school where I was advising, "Who is your counselor?" The student looked puzzled and told me, "I've had three of them in the past three years." Sadly, this student's experience has become a common occurrence, one which is repeated and augmented by counselors having hundreds of students to advise, or several schools to report to. Some financially strapped districts are even furloughing school counselors. What's a student and family to do?
One of your most important resources in the college search can be your school or college counselor. Their knowledge can point you in the right direction in the college process. Chances are, if he or she is experienced, your high school counselor can be a regular source of helpful and reasonable information. A good school counselor can help explain dates and deadlines and review the application process. In addition, a counselor can offer tips on majors, essays, colleges and scholarships. Be aware that most school counselors have never had a course in college counseling, so the amount of help a high school counselor can offer may be uneven from one professional to the next. Be sure to ask, â€œIs there a more experienced college counselor at your school you can work with?â€ or â€œIs there a career or college counselor employed in your school or district who has more recent and relevant experience?â€ Generally, it's up to individual student to seek out the best help available.
In some schools, students have the same school counselor throughout their high school years. In other schools, students have a different counselor every year or two. If you don't know your high school counselor very well, now is the time to make a "getting-to-know-you" appointment! Don't assume, however, that you can just drop into your guidance office and leave with a list of schools. Your counselor can help you the most if you take the time to talk with him or her about your goals, personality, and academic record. If you already have a list of what you want in a school or a list of possible colleges, bring it. The more information you provide, the more your college counselor can aid in your college search. And don't be shy about asking questions-counselors are there to answer students' questions and even enjoy doing it! Once your college counselor has a clear idea of your academic history and what you're looking for in a college, he or she can help you to clarify your goals, see whether your grades and courses are good enough for the colleges you're considering, and develop a plan for the rest of the admission process.
Stay in contact with your high school counselor throughout your college search, even as your preferences and aspirations change. I recall an occasion when one of my students apologized when he modified the list of fit colleges I had suggested. I promptly told him that no apology was necessary; I was pleased that he had earnestly researched the colleges on his list and found that his needs and goals were changing along the way. His process moved from an intellectual search to a search from the heart.
If more help is needed than your counselor can provide, advice from seasoned professionals outside of your school is widely available. Independent educational consultants are often employed or recently retired school counselors who have amassed a great deal of college counseling experience. They can be useful in developing a personal family timeline, college lists, helping you deal with scholarships and financial aid. They can also assist you to work best with your school counselor. If you're searching for a private educational consultant, ask around-word of mouth is often the best way to find a counselor who can help.
Counselors are here to help! Come on in!
John B. Boshoven, M.A., M.S.W., L.P.C. is the Counselor for Continuing Education at Community High School/Ann Arbor (Michigan) Public Schools and Founding Director of College Counseling at the Frankel Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit. He is a Director for the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), has served as President of the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling (MACAC) and Past President of the Washtenaw Counseling Association. John has a private college counseling service and is co-author of the book "College Admissions: From Chaos to Control."
Portions of this article were also written by Jennifer Gross, National Association for College Admission Counseling.
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