Students Get to Know Your Guidance Counselors – Colleges Prize What They Have to Say About You!

By Sam Rosensohn

Douglas White, a guidance counselor at Branford High School, wasn’t surprised that he had to twist both his sons’ arms to get them to visit their guidance counselors at Wesbrook High School.

“I told them go in and ask for some forms so he knows your face; hey, if I see a kid three or four times a year, I’m likely to say he’s pursuant, self-motivated, self-initiating. If I’ve never seen someone it’s a struggle,” White said.

Too many high school students don’t grasp the importance of getting to know their guidance counselors. The guidance counselor writes the most important letter of recommendation to accompany a college application.

Dixie Buford, co-director of college counseling at Villa Duchesne/Oak Hill School in St. Louis, Mo., composed a hilarious recommendation letter for the student who forgot to meet with her.

Buford read it aloud to her juniors on advisory day; here’s a very shortened look at some of what she wrote.

Dear Admissions Committee,

Because I do not have the pleasure of teaching or coaching Muriel, and because she has not scheduled a meeting with me nor has she completed a required questionnaire – not to mention the recommendation written by one of her peers – I’m limited to describing the young lady I see passing me quickly in the hall.

Muriel is cute and bouncy, her uniform is usually tidy, and she consistently has a colorful assortment of pens in her pencil bag so one could expect that she will always arrive at her college classes well equipped to take notes and complete exams.

I must assume that she should be considered an independent learner as she does not seem to need my guidance through the college selection and application process.

Organizational skills are apparent. When I have passed by her open locker, it always appears to be clean and the contents officially categorized by subject area.

As best I can tell from a distance, Muriel will be an addition to whichever campus she’s considering for application. I honestly couldn’t say whether she’ll be a positive or a negative addition, because I just plain don’t know her.

“Judging by the stampede to the appointment notebook that followed, Dixie hit the nail right on the head,” said Nelie McNeal, the co-director of counseling at Villa Duchesne/Oak Hill.

White, the Branford HS guidance counselor who’s been advising students for over 20 years, was fast to share a host of reasons why coeds shy away from the guidance office. Some of the most capable students think a visit to guidance reflects poorly on their ability to figure out academic matters by themselves. Others think a visit to guidance signals they have serious problems from the chin up, or formidable trouble with a teacher or student.

While that might be true for some students, guidance can also be a place to explore what awaits you after high school – whether that’s a technical school, community college, a four or a five-year program.

Maryann Grimaldi, head of guidance at Haddam-Killingworth High School, was quick to point out that at HK guidance counselors are referred to as school counselors. “In high school,” she said, “the school counselor is the one constant, the one common person who for four years follows a student’s education from beginning to end, and who helps them maneuver through all four years.

“We see kids so much,” she said, “that we’ve got kids coming in to say hi, and we encourage them to do that.” What a positive way to look at guidance.

Guidance or school counselors not only can offer freshmen and sophomores a heads-up on what’s coming, they are the essential piece in over 90 percent of the college applications that are submitted.

“In general, the smaller colleges pay a lot of attention to what guidance counselors say,” White said. “We can address the growth the kid has gone through, the overall picture of a student’s promise, and perhaps more of a personal kind of background.

“At UConn,” White added, “admissions counselors recently told us that what a guidance counselor says may make the difference of whether a student is accepted or not. We can address some things never mentioned by a teacher. A kid’s outlook, personal integrity, the way he presents himself, ambitions, dreams and goals.

“We can attempt to portray his character,” White added. “We might summarize the last four years in school. Often the kids have ups and downs. They may have begun with some difficulties in high school and have changed and shown great potential in the last few years, and some of that needs to be pointed out to the college admissions counselor.”

Guidance offices can also help students explore the career and professional paths best suited for them. The schools best suited for them after high school, how to practice for an interview, and how to connect with students from their neighborhood who are attending or who have attended the schools they’re interested in learning more about.

I once had a long conversation with a seasoned school superintendent about guidance departments. Over lunch, he noted that there is a great irony when it came to guidance. “These people,” he said, “set out to help people. That’s why they chose this, but then scheduling, subbing, cafeteria duty, administrative duties take over.”

So introduce yourself to your guidance/school counselor and tell him you really want to learn from him. You’ll do yourself a favor.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at sam@satprepct.com