With a college counselor’s guidance early on, you can build an academic record that supports your long-term goals by enabling you to attend not just the college of your choice, but also the one that is the best fit. It's important to understand your college counselor's role in the college application process.
A good counselor begins by helping you understand that the college application process is a work in progress, one that ideally begins in your freshman year of high school or earlier. It also is good to learn early on that the counselor can only show you where to put your feet; you have to climb the mountain.
College Counselors Are Asked to Bring a Lot to the Table
For a deep dive on your counselor’s role in the college application process, let’s consider the responsibilities schools require college counselors to handle:
- Coordinate the flow of paperwork that high school students must complete to meet college application process requirements and deadlines.
- Assess student academic progress and potential
- Persuade students to prepare and vie for admission to schools that are a good match
- Interact effectively with college admissions and financial aid offices
- Establish and maintain working relationships with postsecondary schools
- Teach students and parents how to clear college admissions hurdles
- Work with students of diverse needs and backgrounds
- Inform students where and how to pursue scholarships and other forms of financial aid
- Navigate the financial aid process for students in all economic circumstances
A Good College Counselor Navigates and Facilitates
Telling you how to get through the college admissions process is the easy part of a college counselor’s job. The hard part is crafting a plan suited to your skills, needs, and desires, then getting you and your parents the information and support necessary to target the right schools in the right way.
Help with Your Academic Résumé
Knowing your strengths and interests, a counselor can help you:
- Choose a progression of classes that meet college-oriented graduation requirements
- Select extracurricular activities that give college admissions officers a look at who you truly are
Help With the Paperwork
You have to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, but a college counselor can help you stay on message when it comes to writing the essays many colleges want. Along with advice on essay content and perhaps some editing, you can also ask your counselor for help with the following:
- Write the all-important counselor letter of recommendation
- Help you get letters of recommendation from teachers
- Make sure your colleges of choice get your latest high school transcripts
- Help you research colleges and identify your top choices
- Help you fill out college applications
Help with Financial Aid
The highest hurdle to a college education can be cost. A college counselor knows what financial aid is out there and how to get it. A savvy counselor also can:
- Answer questions about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
- Help you locate and apply for local scholarships
The school you choose also can help with financial questions, too. At USF, the go-to for help financial aid and scholarship questions is University Scholarships & Financial Aid Services.
College Counseling for Hire – a Pricey Option
If you're investing in private counseling, this private counselor will work in tandem with your school’s counselor to:
- Help you and your parents overcome the stress of the admissions process
- Identify the schools best suited to your skills and needs
- Produce an admission strategy for each school
- Ensure each application frames you in the best possible light
- Help you choose standardized test options
- Advise you on which school to attend and what financial aid to pursue
Unlike school counselors, who can advise students on issues outside of college, independent counselors only offer college counseling advice. Typically, they also work with fewer students. Keep in mind that private college counseling is often expensive.
Counselors Aren’t the Only Source of Admissions Guidance
Don’t be surprised if you find your college counselor is busy, particularly during the spring when they’re helping students finalize their college plans. Plan your time with your counselor, so you and your counselor can prioritize items.
At USF, we offer a toolkit designed to help counselor. You and your counselor can browse our Counselor Toolkit for resources to help guide you through the admissions process.
You can supplement the assistance you get from academic mentors and counselors by using the schools you are targeting as resources as well. The same admissions offices you are courting for acceptance have people willing to share valuable information. Remember, your counselor helps a lot of students, so show your gratitude of your counselor's support by saying "Thank you."
About Joe Emerson
Joe Emerson spent 30 years as a magazine and newspaper reporter, editor and copyeditor who turned to freelancing after 20 years with The Tampa Tribune, which closed in 2016 after 125 years of serving the Tampa Bay area. Writing and delivering valuable information remain his passion.