Application and Essay Tips

Acing the Counselor’s Recommendation


As you start asking your school counselors for college letters of recommendation, you might wonder how you can maximize your chances of getting the best information possible on them.

The key is preparation. If you can help prepare your school counselors by sharing personal details about yourself and your aspirations, it will be easier for them to write recommendation letters that are genuine and persuasive. Unlike teachers, who often have a chance to get to know you in the classroom, counselors don't see you every day. So it's much more important to reach out to them and help them learn more about you before they write a letter for your college applications.

Share Information on Activities, Interests

At St. Mary's Academy in Portland, Ore., the college counseling office provides a form for students to complete that asks specific questions about their academic strengths and challenges, their extracurricular interests and their commitments outside of school.

“In addition, we ask them to consider what they have learned and how they have grown from each of the opportunities they have pursued," says Kimberly Crouch, director of college counseling.

Crouch says that if your school counselor does not provide such a form to fill out, there is no need to worry. “Just write out a short statement highlighting those topics; then, illustrate each with a specific anecdote that your counselor can re-tell in her own words in her recommendation," advises Crouch. “For example, if you really developed your people and communication skills working in a fast-food restaurant, tell the story describing that growth — for instance, the day you and one of your colleagues who did not speak English well managed to find a faster way to get the burgers out."

Mick Amundson-Geisel, high school counselor at The International School Yangon in Myanmar, also asks students to fill out a form to help him get to know them better. His questionnaire for students has about 12 questions; after they complete the questionnaire, he then asks students to set up an individual counseling session with him.

"With the document in front of me, we go through the questions and I ask tons of follow-up, deeper questions. It is more like a deep-dive intense counseling session," explains Amundson-Geisel. “I get to know students on a deeper level, they get to process who they are as a person and try to find perspective on what they have done over the past almost four years; I help them to reframe both of those and talk about how they can express all of that within their application."

During this process, Amundson-Geisel says he gets excellent information about the students that he can use in writing a counselor's recommendation letter for them.

Consider Crafting Your Own Document

If your school's counseling office does not have a formal process that asks you to fill out a form to request a counselor's recommendation, you can create a document yourself.

Make sure you list the following in a document for your counselor: Your career possible interests, possible intended college major and list of high school activities and accomplishments. It's also helpful to provide your counselor with a resume, if you already have one that shows any volunteer or work experience.

Also, make an appointment to speak to your counselor to request a letter from them and bring your document with you so they have everything at once to discuss your college plans. With some preparation, it will be easier to secure a great recommendation!