August 2, 2023
How to Get Into College: Leveraging College Counselors
Discussing ways high school students can get the most out of working with their college counselors.


According to Charlotte West in her Hechinger Report Article “Why aren’t more school counselors trained in helping students apply to college?” college counselors can be the difference between a student heading to college with a robust financial aid package or not applying to college. Charlotte explains that many American families, especially first-generation and low-income families, rely on college counselors.

We expect counselors to help their children sign up for standardized tests, build a target school list, write college essays, and complete applications. Despite this, the same article reports that college counselors are overloaded. According to the American School Counselor Association, the average student-to-counselor ratio in 2021-2022 was 408:1. That means for every 408 students, there is one counselor responsible for getting them into a post-secondary institution, amongst their other responsibilities.

We’d like to spend this blog post thinking about ways high school students can get the most out of working with their college counselors. We know that college counselors are incredibly hard-working individuals with abundant resources. Ultimately getting support from your high school college counselors can make applying to college easier and hopefully help you find more success.

Initiating a conversation with your advisor about college planning can sound pretty intimidating. However, according to Julie Deardoff, these interactions with high school guidance counselors can significantly influence how seriously you pursue higher education and the college application process. And it might go without saying, but there’s no harm in trying.

How to…

To make the most of conversations with your college counselor, we have compiled a list of conversation topics for each year of high school that covers what you might want to discuss. The discussion topics ask you to consider meeting specific graduation requirements, standing out in the pool of college applicants, choosing the right schools, and completing the application materials.

As a Freshman/Sophomore, ask your counselor about

  • The classes you need to take to meet graduation requirements
  • The courses that will prepare you for college entrance exams (SAT/ACT) - keeping in mind that many schools offer test-optional admissions
  • How to plan your schedule each year to accommodate requirements
  • What electives, AP courses, rigorous classes, and extracurriculars might help you stand out

As a Junior, ask your counselor about

  • The right time to start your college application
  • Important news and updates to college requirements and admission policies
  • Schools that have a track record of accepting students from your high school
  • If and when to take the ACT or SAT and how many times
  • Academic Rigor and AP Exams

As a Senior, ask your counselor about

  • The colleges that match your academic profile
  • The schools which fit your cultural and personal preferences
  • The admission process for schools on your list
  • The cost of tuition, books, room, and board
  • Financial aid opportunities, including grants, work-study, and scholarships

When to set up another meeting

  • Meet at least twice per year during your freshman and sophomore years
  • Meet once per quarter during your junior and senior years
  • Note: In many cases that frequency may not be possible, but if you are proactive in scheduling (even months in advance!) you can maximize time with you counselor

In addition to academic advising, your counselor can connect you to other out-of-school college advising programs like Upward Bound, AVID, the Fair Opportunity Project, the College Access Network, Summer Bridge, and other free services that help high schools get into college.


Some college counselors can be resources that unlock doors for you as an aspiring college student. As an urban charter school teacher, I watched our high school counselor, Ms. Brown, help 6 seniors in our graduating class earn QuestBridge scholarships to Princeton, Stanford, Yale, Colgate, Wellesley, and Holy Cross. Many students received significant scholarship money covering half of tuition or more.

Ms. Brown went out of her way to work with each student in our graduating class. She stayed up late reading over college essays and connecting with representatives at various Colleges and Universities to vouch for her students. She also used to share an apt metaphor with her caseload: "The squeaky door gets the oil." This meant the students who asked for help got it. By showing your interest in college, asking the right questions, and following the steps above, you can set yourself up to benefit from your school's college advisor. Many are like Ms. Brown, dedicated professionals here to help you.



Loper is a free phone app that helps students discover their interests and the colleges that match them. If you’d like to learn more about our platform and mission, we’d love to stay in touch through the email below.

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