Think about how well you and your college counselor know each other. How often do you voluntarily talk to him or her? Counselors can be a tremendous resource of information and support beyond just enrolling you in classes, so if you don’t already, try regularly setting up times to meet with them.
To make the most of your time together, go in with strategic questions based on your curiosities and needs. Here are 6 questions to get you thinking:
1. How do I find the colleges or universities that are best for me?
The college or university that is right for you might not be the same one you’ve heard about from your friends, parents, or favorite TV show. Each school has a unique set of characteristics, and finding the one that best fits your preferences will set you up for future success. Imagine a place you would thrive in. Consider factors such as size, location, academic programs, extracurriculars, and overall campus culture. Your counselor can provide guidance for how to assess which schools best meet your criteria and are most likely to admit you.
If you already have a list of colleges that interest you, you can ask your counselor if your list looks balanced or if you could benefit from modifying it. He or she can also inform you of any upcoming college fairs where you can consult with individual college representatives.
2. What should I be doing this year to prepare for college?
Depending on what grade you are in, your counselor will have different recommendations for how you can best prepare for college. It’s helpful to devise a road map of sorts so you know you’re not missing any key steps. You can discuss topics such as choosing between the SAT or ACT, taking SAT Subject Tests, planning testing dates, stepping up your involvement in extracurricular activities, and making the most out of college visits.
3. Am I taking the right courses?
The requirements for which high school classes you must take vary by college and they may differ from your high school’s graduation criteria. For example, UC and CSU schools have what are called “a-g” class requirements, which stipulate the minimum type and number of courses you must take to be eligible to apply to these schools. Navigating these details with an expert can give you peace of mind as you piece together your schedule.
Not only can your counselor help you plan your class schedule so that you time everything appropriately, but he or she can help you choose the classes that will increase your competitiveness for college admissions. For example, if you’re thinking of applying with a major like engineering, you’ll want to take as many rigorous STEM classes as you can to demonstrate your interest and ability in that field.
4. How does my summer plan look?
As part of getting to know you, colleges like to see how you spend your free time. Summers are a great opportunity to explore and develop interests and further your academic career. Your counselor can help you decide what to do this coming summer–whether it be an internship, enrichment course, paid or volunteer job, or academic summer program–and provide resources for finding such opportunities.
5. How do I apply for financial aid?
College, as you may have heard, can be surprisingly pricey. Harvey Mudd, for instance, estimates the cost of attendance for the 2019-2020 year at about $79,539 per year. Fortunately, you can find plenty of financial assistance in the form of grants, loans, scholarships, and work study programs. Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application is the best way to ensure you qualify for as much of this aid as possible. The form can be a little confusing, so you might ask your counselor if your school offers any events that walk students and parents through filling it out.
Your counselor will also likely know about additional local or national scholarships that you may qualify for. Each independent scholarship has its own application requirements, so finding out early can help you budget your time and not allow any deadlines–aka free money–to pass you by.
6. Is there anything else I should be doing to improve my chances?
Especially if your counselor knows you well, he or she may have some additional tips for helping you get into your target colleges or universities. Perhaps you will be applying to schools that offer interviews and could benefit from interview pointers, or maybe your priority should be fine-tuning your college essays, increasing your GPA, or taking the SAT again to reach a target score. A great thing about talking with your counselor, rather than exploring the sea of online information alone, is that you get access to an interactive expert who knows you as an individual, able to tailor specific answers to your specific situation.
Hopefully you’ll use these six questions to get thinking about what topics you want to bring up with your counselor. Think about what areas you’re most unsure of, keeping in mind that the quality of the information you get depends on the quality of the questions you ask.