Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Juniors, College, and Your School Counselor

by Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D.

Colleges have long said the key to a successful college search is to let the student drive the bus. Driving the college bus means taking care of all the passengers, and that includes someone whose role is pretty important—your school counselor.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

“Hang on. So I meet with my parents every week (more on that later), and I have to stay in touch with someone I’ve only met once when I changed my schedule?”

Exactly right—and that’s the problem. If you look at most college applications, there’s a section that has to be filled out by your school counselor. It doesn’t matter how well the counselor knows you. It doesn’t matter how many other students they work with. It doesn’t matter how many other things your counselor does besides help students get into college. The colleges want to hear from your counselor.

That means one of three things will happen with the space the counselor has to complete.  It stays blank; your counselor scribbles something in it that could apply to anyone; your counselor has so many helpful things to say about you they have to write “continued on attached document”.


Two questions here.  First, if you gave this form to your counselor today, what option would they choose?  Second, which option are you rooting for?


Thought so.

This isn’t hard. For the first two years of high school, see your counselor when you need to—when you need to change a schedule, discuss a personal issue, apply for a summer program—and, if they have time, talk about college. Like it or not, your counselor is way overworked— schedule changes, college and career plans, and personal guidance for 500 students keeps them busy—so the group counseling programs they run, and an occasional “hi” from you will go a long way in meeting both your needs. So go see them if you need them; if not, space is good.

In most cases, the time to ramp things up is now. If your school is like most, this is when you’ll schedule classes for senior year. By the end of January, you’ll want to type up a summary of your community service and extracurricular activities, along with any awards and recognitions you’ve received. Complete this with 1-2 paragraphs explaining why you want to go to college. This way, the notes or letter your counselor writes for the college will be more than just a list of what you’ve done; it will show them more of who you are. That makes a difference.

You’ll also want to have your senior schedule written up and finished. Your counselor may have scheduled this meeting to talk about your classes, but you don’t want to do that. Instead, put all these materials in a folder that has your name on the front. Hand it to your counselor when your meeting starts, then say:

“Mrs. Jones, I know you’re really busy, so I got a copy of my transcript from the office and planned my senior schedule already. I also want you to know I’m scheduled to take the SAT in April, and I’m doing some online college tours over spring break. I don’t know if I’ll see you before I apply for colleges this fall, so here’s a list of what I’ve been up to in high school, along with my thoughts about college. I’ve highlighted the activities that mean the most to me, and my cell number is at the top of the page, so you can contact me right away if you have any questions. Thanks for helping me with this. If I have any questions, what’s the best way to contact you?”

I promise you—if you do this, your counselor will look for reasons to see you from now on, and that’s a good thing.

Counselor on board? Drive on.


  1. We use Naviance for our students to help them plan for college. We have compiled a "senior packet" to help guide them. We give a presentation to all juniors and then have a junior year review meeting to go over letters of rec etc. Then, we have a Senior Meeting in September to work on Common App

  2. Dr. O'Connor must not have worked in a high school. School Counselors are trained and qualified to deliver high quality support and instruction in Academic and Career planning, as well as to offer personal counseling. We also are not reactive - waiting for students to have a problem or to "need us" in order to meet our students. I have 270 students on my caseload, and I know them well enough by senior year to write about their character. I would never write a list of their activities - that is what a resume is for. Would I like to see my freshmen and sophomores more often - yes, I would! Students should not wait until their junior years to get to know their school counselor. (Also, the SAT is not offered in April, and the schedule is done by families entering requests on a computer, not by hand.)

    1. I think you would do well to read more of Dr. O'Connor's work. He has a very clear understanding of what the counselor's role is and the duties therein, this should not be taken out of the context it was written - to Juniors. You should read his book College Is Yours and do come back to his blog regularly and you will see he very much understands our role.