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Working With Your College Counselor: When to Start and What to Expect

Building a relationship with your college advisor is important to ensure success in the college admissions process. Students need to take charge of their admissions journey, and often that means establishing and fostering a professional relationship with their college counselor. This is often students’ first experience setting up meetings, preparing requested materials, communicating in a professional manner, and more – all things essential not only to working effectively with a college counselor for high school students but also in preparing for the road ahead!

This is a major life event, and often students assume their parents will handle the details. What students need to remember, however, is that this is their college education – not their parent’s – and they need to take responsibility for it if they want to achieve their admission goals. At IvyWise, we stress the importance of building a relationship with your college counselor – both school-based counselors and independent consultants. This relationship is important not only because most colleges require a recommendation from students’ college counselors, but also because it will make the college application process smooth and successful.

When to Start

Most students start working with their school-based college counselors in the spring of junior year. As we’ve highlighted in the past, however, the sooner families start on college prep the better. Colleges look at all four years of academics, extracurriculars, and more when evaluating applicants – so starting early is key. Starting in 9th grade, students should become familiar with who their college counselor is and how the college advising process works at their school.

Introduce yourself and ask what questions or concerns you can bring to your counselor from 9th to 11th grade. Can he or she help with course selection? Recommendations for extracurricular activities? Testing suggestions? Find out what your counselor can help you with and when he or she expects to be able to help with those facets of college prep. Also, find out when your counselor plans to meet or check-in. Is it every year? Every semester? Or do they wait until junior year to get started? Get this information upfront so you can begin to formulate a college prep strategy.

If your counselor is unable to begin working with you until later in the process, consider getting some outside help. At IvyWise we work with students at every stage of the admissions process in order to help them achieve their personal and academic goals. We also work with students to help them build relationships with their school-based counselor and teachers, so that when it comes time to meet with their counselor and ask for recommendations they’ve already established a good rapport.

What to Expect

College counselors are busy people. School-based counselors often have heavy caseloads of hundreds of students, so it’s important for students to set realistic expectations and boundaries when it comes to working with them. Reach out weeks in advance to set up meetings and make sure you come to all your meetings prepared. If your counselor asks you to bring your course selections or college list, make sure you have those materials ready to go come meeting time.

Also don’t overload your counselor with calls and emails. When meeting with your counselor ask how long it typically takes him or her to respond to questions or concerns from students and take that into consideration when following up.

When it comes time to ask for letters of recommendation, be sure to approach your college counselor at the end of junior year/start of senior year, so he or she has plenty of time to write a comprehensive recommendation. Coming to your counselor a week before your application deadline, when they’re the busiest, will only add to their workload and might lead to a subpar recommendation. Keep in mind that many school-based counselors value summer break just as much as you do, so if your counselor indicates that he or she takes longer to respond over the break, be mindful of his or her time.

If You’re Working With an Independent College Counselor

While the same rules still apply — setting realistic goals, boundaries, and taking charge of the process — independent counselors have much more flexibility, smaller caseloads, and aim to work with students as early as possible.

When working with an independent educational consultant, students should keep up with appointments, come prepared, complete any tasks assigned, and take the college advising process seriously. At IvyWise, our counselors take, on average, 10 students per class, so they’re able to get to know their students very well and provide unparalleled personal attention. This allows for greater availability and flexibility when it comes to advising and working on college applications. However, it’s important to remember that counselor and student time is valuable – so students should always be prepared and ready to work when meeting with their counselor.

The counselor and student relationship is extremely important because it can set the tone for the entire college admissions journey. Students need to start early, take charge, and know what to expect. College counselors are there to help students, so take advantage of that resource! If you find you need extra support, contact us to learn more about our college counseling services.

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