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Getting to Know Your School Counselor

Sophomore year is a busy time for your child. He or she may be preparing for the driver's test, getting ready for next year's PSAT, and starting to look at college options. The school day is already full, but it's important that your teen make time to get to know his or her school counselor.

Why talk to a school counselor?
With teachers, tutors, coaches, and other mentors already in your child's life, it may not seem necessary to throw another adult into the mix. A school counselor, however, is in a unique position to help students with college admissions and career plans. A counselor's expertise will be invaluable for your child as he or she looks to the future.

  • A counselor can help your child stay on course. If a counselor knows a student well, he or she is much more likely to make sure the student is meeting deadlines for test registration, scholarships, and applications.
  • A counselor will write a letter of recommendation. A school counselor may also be the only person in the school who can speak authoritatively about a student's entire high school career, not just achievement in a particular class or activity. The counselor's recommendation letter will likely be a key part of your child's college application, and the better the counselor knows your child, the more in-depth the reference will be.
  • It prepares your child for college life. Most high school sophomores are used to having Mom and Dad take care of the big things in life-scheduling doctor appointments, making travel arrangements, signing up for programs. Once your child is at college, he or she will take on greater responsibilities. Consulting with a school counselor is excellent practice for handling registration, paperwork, future planning, decision-making, and asking for help, all with the guidance of an experienced adult who can steer the student in the right direction.

What to discuss with a counselor
Whether your child is a straight-A student with the Ivy Leagues in mind or a struggling student who needs support, any high schooler can benefit from talking to an experienced school counselor. Some salient topics to cover:

  • Academic performance and how to improve it. Your child should go over his or her current transcript with the counselor to ensure that he or she has received appropriate credit and grades for all classes. A transcript is also useful for noticing patterns in academic performance, identifying weak spots, and discussing how to maintain or raise the grade point average. By meeting with a counselor during sophomore year, your child will have ample time to work on areas that need improvement.
  • Advanced Placement courses. Colleges like to see AP courses on a student's transcript, but if a student can't handle the rigorous workload, these courses might not be the best option. A school counselor can advise your child on this decision.
  • ACT? SAT? Or both? A school counselor can help your student weigh the pros and cons of each test, recommend test-prep resources, and explain how these tests figure into college admissions. (For a conversation starter, read a StudyPoint article on the topic here.)
  • Outside opportunities. It may be possible to get a leg up on college classes by taking community college courses as a high school student. Your child may want to spend a summer, semester, or year abroad. Or he or she may wish to apply for internships or jobs. A school counselor can point your child in the right direction for these opportunities. The counselor will also be able to tell your student what organizations and activities-inside and outside of school-will be most attractive to colleges.
  • Colleges to consider. As a sophomore, your child may not have done much research on potential colleges. A school counselor will probably know which colleges are particularly strong in your child's desired major or area of study, and will be able to recommend helpful books or websites. A counselor will help your student identify loans and scholarships to apply for, as well as compile the necessary application materials.
  • Don't forget to ask questions! The College Board offers 20 suggested questions to ask a school counselor.

Things to remember

  • A school counselor is just one resource-not the be-all, end-all source for all information. Your child should also do his or her own research on colleges, scholarships, internships, etc.
  • Different high schools have different types of counselors, according to kidshealth.com. For college prep advice, your student may want to speak to a college counselor, while the person with the title of "guidance counselor" or "school counselor" may specialize more in psychological support (e.g., helping a student recover from a parents' divorce or the death of a loved one). Get a comprehensive list of the counseling resources available at your child's school; keep the list handy and encourage your child to use these resources.
  • The squeaky wheel gets the grease. A high school counselor may have hundreds of students to serve and will give first priority to the ones who ask for help. And when scholarship opportunities come in, he or she will think first of the students who visit the office often and are most likely to apply.
  • Don't hesitate to contact your child's school counselor yourself. While the student should be the one to make the initial contact, there may be things you wish to discuss concerning your child's future. Ohio's Department of Education offers tips on its website for speaking with your child's counselor.
  • You can disagree with the school counselor. If something a counselor suggests doesn't quite fit for your child, that's OK. Your child can use the suggestion as a jumping-off point for further research and discussion.

Visit StudyPoint's College Counseling page for more tips on communicating with a school counselor.

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