Many parents and students ask us a very simple question: What do college counselors do? After all, isn’t applying to college as simple as taking a few tests, sending in your transcripts, and filling out some applications? The short answer is – not anymore!
Getting into college is now a fierce competition among tens of thousands of students from all over the country to get a few hundred coveted spots. The process is complicated, stressful, full of decisions, forms, finances…and deadlines. Lots of deadlines.
These days, to get into a great college, great grades and test scores aren’t enough.
A good college counselor knows the process and helps you keep on track. But GREAT college counselors serve as guides, coaches, cheerleaders and strategists, helping high school students organize the two-phase process of searching for and applying to college.
So, when we’re asked what do college counselors do, this is what we tell them:
What Do College Counselors Do? Phase 1: College Search
Phase 1 is the “college search” part. College counselors help students think about their possible academic majors and careers, consider and organize priorities for their college experience, and research the many college options available.
Students who work with a counselor early enough (9th or 10th grade) will find that a college counselor can help them choose their classes, select extra-curricular activities that will help them present a strong application, determine their college admission testing timeline and find interesting summer programs.
College counselors read a lot about individual colleges and universities. Great college counselors spend a considerable amount of time actually visiting colleges – so they know about options that most incoming students (and even most college counselors) don’t know. In a thorough search phase, a counselor and student could together research up to 50 colleges, before narrowing down their list to 10-12 colleges, with a balance of “reach,” “target,” and “safe” schools.
What Do College Counselors Do? Phase 2: Applications
Phase 2 is what most people think of as “applying to college.” This part of the process includes filling out applications, brainstorming, writing and revising essays, and ensuring that all of the steps necessary to submit applications are taken. When you’ve done a good job with Phase 1, developing your college list, then Phase 2 is easier and more straightforward.
School counselors are a very important part of this process as well – sending transcripts and letters of recommendation are part of this final step.
But here’s the problem: Many people, especially parents and students working on their own, mistakenly start at Phase 2, the applications. Without completing Phase 1, students just jot down a list of colleges they know about, without considering whether or not they are a good fit. This is part of what makes the final step – getting your college decisions – more stressful.
So now you have an answer to your question. What do college counselors do? Overall, college counselors help make this entire process more organized and less stressful for students and their families. Great college counselors also help to discover the right schools for each student, and even maximizing opportunities for scholarships and grants.