January is typically the first time students, and parents, meet with the college counselor at their high school. This is an important meeting for several reasons so students should come in prepared.
More and more school counselors have a questionnaire for both students and parents to complete. Don’t rush through this. Really spend time on thoughtful responses and include as many details and anecdotes as possible. The questionnaire becomes a template for the counselor’s recommendation letter which will accompany college applications so the more information he or she has, the more interesting the letter.
In order to make the most of this first meeting, here are other items to bring to the meeting in addition to the completed questionnaire.
Bring a preliminary college list – Hopefully you’ve used the previous two blogposts to help you comprise a preliminary list of colleges. If you don’t have a list, be ready to share your thoughts as to what you are looking for in terms of size, location, academic major, etc. These criteria will help the counselor recommend additional schools for you to research and visit.
Bring a resume – this can be a simple draft of achievements both in, and outside, school as well as community service, summer experiences and employment. The counselor may not know that you are captain of your basketball team, president of the photography club or treasurer on the student council. If you play on several athletic teams, mention the position you play and any awards you’ve gotten over the years. If you’ve competed in competitions, even if you never won, include the when and where for the contests.
If you are unsure if a given activity or interest merits a place on your resume, put it down and ask the counselor if it is indeed appropriate. You want the counselor to know as much about you as possible, but you also want his/her advice as to what your final resume will include.
Be forthcoming – Remember, the purpose of this meeting is for the counselor to get to know you and to understand what you’re looking for in your college experience. Try to give as much information as you can even if you’re not 100% sure of what type of college you think is perfect for you. Are you excited about going to the football games? Might you consider joining a fraternity? Do you want to be surrounded by creative people? Musicians? Artists?
If your counselor asks a question you weren’t expecting, respond with “I’m not sure, let me think about it and get back to you.” Make sure he/she knows that you want to keep a dialogue going especially after you’ve visited a few campuses. And always give the counselor feedback on your college visits.
Be open-minded - The counselor may suggest colleges you've never heard of or didn't consider as serious contenders. Ask the counselor to explain why he/she believes this school would be a good fit for you. Then take the time to research the college online and if possible, plan a visit to really understand if the counselor is right.
Do not rule out any school just because of the name. If the location is not appropriate, that's one thing, but you may be pleasantly surprised when you investigate other people's ideas, particularly if the person is a college expert.