Sifting through glossy college brochures and trying to choose the right schools to apply to can feel overwhelming. Then, once you decide where to apply, you have to navigate each school’s application, wondering if you’re filling questions in properly and what your chances of being accepted are. The good news is, you don’t need to struggle alone! A college counselor can help answer many of your college-related questions, and they’ll use their expertise to advise you on the best college decisions for you.
Want to learn more about college counselors? In this guide, we’ve answered all your college admissions counselor questions, including every question they can help you answer, who should meet with a college counselor, and what you need to do before you meet with one.
What Is a College Counselor?
A college admissions counselor is someone whose job it is to help high school students navigate the process of choosing and applying to colleges. They can work at a high school, or they may have started their own business as a private college counselor. College counselors who work at schools may also be known as guidance counselors or academic advisors. If you are a student at the school, you’ll be able to set up a meeting with them for free.
Independent college admissions counselors are people who work independently of a school, and you’ll need to hire them directly. Although they cost money, they can often give you more personalized and in-depth guidance as they focus specifically on areas that you are concerned about.
In either case, the job of college counselors is to make the often stressful and confusing process of selecting and getting into a college easier and more manageable so students make the best college choices for themselves.
What Can a College Counselor Help You With?
How can a college counselor help you? College counselors can advise you on pretty much anything related to preparing for college. The list below summarizes major ways they can assist students. Not every college counselor can do everything on this list, but it’s a good overview of the ways a college counselor can help you.
Complete High School
- Make sure you’re meeting your graduation requirements and set to graduate on time
- Help you decide which classes to take, based on past grades and career interests
- Give you advice on which colleges to research
- Direct you towards materials to help you choose a college
Apply to Colleges
- Suggest local and national scholarships you can apply for
- Answer questions about FAFSA
- Compare financial aid packages for different schools
Because you are paying them directly and working one-on-one, private or independent college counselors can often give you more in-depth guidance. This might include helping you strengthen different areas of your college applications, such as your extracurriculars, personal statements, etc., to give you the best chance of getting into the schools of your choice. They can also tutor you for the SAT/ACT, create individual application strategies for each college you’re interested in, and develop a list of best-fit schools based on factors that are important to you.
Do You Need to Meet With a College Counselor?
We recommend everyone meet with a college counselor, even if it’s just a quick meeting with your school guidance counselor to make sure you’re on track with college applications. We recommend meeting at least once a year with your school college counselor as a freshman, sophomore, and junior. During these meetings, you can discuss your future college and career goals, make sure you’re taking the correct classes, and ensure that you’re setting yourself up to be a strong college applicant.
Many students meet several times with their college counselor at the beginning of their senior year of high school, as they decide which schools to apply to and work on their college applications. They may decide to have another meeting during their final semester of high school to discuss their acceptance offers and financial aid packages.
For many students, those meetings will be enough for them to feel comfortable and informed about the college application process. However, there are also many students who can benefit from additional meetings with a college admissions counselor, including hiring an independent college counselor. These groups can include:
Homeschooled students who want to make sure their transcripts/records are in the best form to showcase their knowledge to colleges
Students with disabilities who want to make sure they apply to schools that are able to accommodate their needs
Students hoping to attend a specialized school (art, music, etc.) that requires a portfolio or additional application materials
Students who want help significantly strengthening parts of their applications
Any student who feels especially overwhelmed or confused choosing/applying to college and wants additional advice
What Should You Do Before Meeting a College Counselor?
In order to get the most out of your meeting with a college counselor, you need to do a bit of homework beforehand. If you come into a meeting with no preparation and expect your college counselor to automatically know just how to help you, you’ll likely be disappointed. Follow these three tips before your meeting to ensure you get the advice you’re looking for.
#1: Know What You Want Help With
College counselors can help you with a lot of things, but you need to know what guidance you want from them. Going into a meeting and saying “help me get into college” isn’t going to be productive if you can’t get more specific than that. Before you meet with your college counselor, take stock of what information you know and what steps you need help with. Do you know which schools to apply to but aren’t sure which classes you should take? Do you know you want to be an engineer but aren’t sure which schools are best for you? Are you overwhelmed by college choices and are looking for a way to compare schools? Have a goal for each meeting with your college counselor so that your meetings are focused and productive.
#2: Gather Information
College counselors are experts on colleges and college admissions, but that doesn’t mean they know anything. There is also a lot of information you can easily gather yourself, such as a particular school’s acceptance rate or which application they use. Before your meeting, do a bit of research on your own to make sure you know all the easily-accessible information you need. Then, you can spend your meeting making the best use of your college counselor’s expertise and going over more specific information that would be hard for you to gather on your own.
#3: Be Open to Their Suggestions
You have complete control over the classes you take, the colleges you apply to, and which college you ultimately end up attending, but it will help to come into your college counselor meeting with an open mind. Even if you feel set on your college path, be open to looking into a class or school your college counselor suggests. College counselors have years, and often decades, of experience preparing students for college and helping them make the best college decisions. Their expertise can often be a very useful factor to consider as you make the best decisions for you.
Summary: How Can a College Counselor Help You?
Do college counselors help? They certainly can! A college admissions counselor is someone whose job it is to help high school students navigate the college application and acceptance process. They might work at a school or for a private company. How can a college counselor help? They can help with many topics, such as deciding which schools to apply to, how to make your application strong, and how to choose the best school for you. We recommend everyone meet several times with their school college counselor, and you may find additional meetings or hiring an independent college counselor to be helpful as well. Before you meet with a college counselor, be sure to have a goal for the meeting, gather easily-found information, and remind yourself to be open to their suggestions.
Need more help choosing a college? If you're wondering which college you should attend, check out this great guide on how to choose!
Will you be applying for financial aid? This comprehensive guide takes you through the FAFSA application process step by step.
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.