Making the Counselor Letter Shine

While a teacher's recommendation may emphasize a student's academic abilities and attitude toward learning, the guidance or college counselor can focus more on the student's personal growth and role within the school community. The counselor should address the student's strength of character and interpersonal skills as well as the student's goals in college.

Details & Examples

The most memorable recommendation letters tell a specific story. Rather than listing everything under the sun, they target key strengths and qualities.  Often, admissions officers are impressed by a student's commitment to developing expertise or cultivating skill in a certain area.  All the more reason why the counselor’s letter should include examples and anecdotes.  Not only do stories help the student come to life and differentiate her from others with similar qualities, but they also show that the counselor has gotten to know the student.  Letters that indicate a relationship with the student carry more weight.

Yet in most high schools, the counselor drafting the letter does not know the student well and that’s where the student must make a greater effort.  In a letter or email, share your ideas with the counselor who will be writing the recommendation letter to accompany your applications.  Try to answer as many of the questions below as possible to provide as much information as possible. Elaborate with details, examples and stories.


·         What are you most proud of in your time in high school?

·         What do you believe your greatest area of academic growth has been?

·         What classes have you enjoyed most in high school and why?

·         What have you chosen to learn on your own?

·         What are you educational/career goals


·         How have you spent your past two summers?

·         What experiences and/or activities have been most important to you and why?

·         Is there anything in particular that you really want colleges to know about you?

Forge a Bond

Make sure to thank the counselor for his/her time and volunteer to stop by the office to follow up.  The counselor may have some questions for you or you may want to suggest that he or she speak with a coach, or a teacher other than those already writing recommendation letters.  The more you develop a cordial relationship with the counselor, the more likely he/she will be to advocate for you strongly when speaking with college admissions representatives.