5 Tips on What to Do If Your School Doesn’t Have a Guidance Counselor
For many high school students, the ultimate resource for college application planning is their guidance counselor.
Guidance counselors have a wealth of experience, knowledge, and expert advice about navigating the college application process. They help students stay on track for graduation and college, find and apply to schools, send necessary materials, and explore options for financing college.
But for other high school students, this raises the question: What if I don’t have a guidance counselor? Or: What if meeting with my guidance counselor is nearly impossible?
According to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), the average public school counselor in the United States now has a caseload of 471 students. Of course, that makes it difficult to provide individualized attention and assistance.
If you don’t have a guidance counselor — or if the line to see your guidance counselor looks like the line for the latest iPhone launch — these five tips will help you get through the college application process.
(Lucky enough to have a guidance counselor? Here are the best ways to utilize them.)
1. Consult your school.
In lieu of a specific person who serves as a college counselor, see if your school holds events like college fairs, college essay writing workshops, meetings on filling out the FAFSA, and so on. If so, take advantage of every available opportunity.
Even if you don’t have a guidance counselor, some official in your school’s office should be able to point you toward some helpful resources on college admissions. They should also be able to send your transcripts and provide some amount of guidance on the application process.
If your school does have a guidance counselor whose time is limited, try scheduling appointments and making requests well in advance. You can also e-mail your counselor with quick questions, but you may or may not get a timely response. If you find this to be the case…
2. Find a mentor.
You probably have someone in your life who is knowledgeable about the college application process. This person could be a teacher, older sibling, trusted relative, a top student at your school, or a graduate who’s now in college.
Establish a mentor-mentee relationship with this person so you can turn to them for advice. They may be able to help with homework, suggest colleges that would be a good fit for you, give you advice on college applications and essays, and provide moral support.
3. Talk to your parents.
Your parents can be another source of support throughout the college application process. If your parents are informed about colleges and careers, they can provide helpful advice. If not, you can still talk to them about your questions or fears. It’s much easier to navigate your college admissions journey if you don’t have to do it alone.
Talk to your parents about your future career goals and what type of college you’d like to attend. If you aren’t sure about your career aspirations, discuss what subjects you enjoy and where you feel your strengths lie. Your parents may be able to suggest careers that would be a good fit. Additionally, your parents might have a network of friends or coworkers who have college suggestions.
Together, you and your parents can start planning the steps you’ll need to take to achieve your goals. Once you’ve decided on a few colleges you’re interested in, ask your parents to take you for a visit. Touring a college is one of the best ways to know for sure if it’s the right fit for you.
4. Take action.
Sometimes, you have to be your own best advocate when it comes to college applications. Start by thinking about what you want in a college:
- Big or small?
- Close to home or far away?
- In a large city or a smaller college town?
- Is Greek life important to you? What about sports? Are there certain activities or opportunities that are must-haves?
- What would you like to major in? What careers interest you? Find schools that are strong in these areas.
Begin looking for colleges that match your criteria. Once you’ve generated a list of colleges you like, research the average GPA and SAT/ACT scores of accepted students. This will give you an idea of what numbers you should aim for to increase your chances of acceptance.
If you’re already a junior or senior, you can use these numbers to help you decide where to apply. Apply to at least two “safety schools,” or schools that you’re highly likely to get into, a few where you’re somewhat likely to get in, and 2-3 “reach schools.” A reach school is a long-shot, but somewhere you’d like to attend if possible.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, visit the official websites of each college and university you’ve selected. Document important application deadlines, including when to send test scores and transcripts, and record them on a calendar. Pay close attention to these deadlines and don’t wait until the last minute.
This process ensures you have a strategic plan for college applications and that you’re applying to schools that will be a good fit for your preferences, interests, and goals.
5. Use online resources.
Of course, knowing where and when to apply is only half the battle. You still need to know how to maximize your chances of success, secure financial aid, and more. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources on this site available to help you.
Here’s what Niche offers:
- Real and honest reviews from college students
- Data on admissions and acceptance rates to “chance” yourself
- A list of top programs in each field
- A holistic database for high school and college academics, standardized tests, and
We also offers tons of supplemental college guidance to help you answer questions along the way.
Using a combination of these resources, you should find all the information and guidance you need to successfully navigate the college application process.
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