There are likely many people in your life chiming in with thoughts about college: parents, siblings, friends and more. Their advice and insights can be useful, but for the most up-to-date, relevant information about how the college process will best work for you, make sure you visit your school's college counselor. This individual not only knows you and the current admissions process, but is also aware of your academic achievements and your school's requirements. Here are four of the ways they can help you:
1. The Best High School Schedule for You
For admission officers, your high school transcript is often the most important part of your application. They want to see that you pushed yourself to new lengths each semester, culminating in an appropriately challenging (and strong!) senior year. To do that, you'll have to choose your high school courses carefully pretty much from your first year. And who knows the course offerings at your high school better than the counselor?
Talking about your academic strengths, weaknesses and interests can help them help you set a course of action to compile a competitive and engaging high school schedule to follow. They'll be aware of any prerequisites required for more advanced classes you wish to take later, and they may even be able to offer recommendations of supplementary electives you can enroll in to really round out your coursework.
2. What Tests You Should Take
A major choice your counselor can help you with is whether you should take the ACT or the SAT — or both. Most colleges accept scores from either test, but each has different nuances that may make one easier than the other depending on your own skills. I recommend taking practice tests of each to determine this, but something a college counselor can help you decide is whether it might give your application a competitive edge to submit scores from both tests. These might come in handy when competing for merit-based financial aid or scholarships.
Secondly, counselors can help you determine which SAT Subject Tests and AP Exams would help your application. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous task of crafting a high school schedule, as you'll want to take the appropriate courses to prepare you for each test you plan to take. You don't want to overload your schedule, and your counselor can help you decide which tests will highlight your strengths.
3. What Extracurriculars to Pick Up (or Continue)
In addition to which courses you take in high school, colleges will also pay careful attention to how you spend your time outside of class. Your college counselor can help you find the opportunities that best suit your interests and look good on your college application. If you've spent much of the past few years on a sports team but want to find a more academic extracurricular, your college counselor will be aware of what options are available to you — and the same works in reverse! They can help you find the perfect way — whether at your school or in the community — to spend some of your spare minutes to show admissions officers your willingness to dedicate your time to a task, club or cause you care about.
4. Who to Ask for Letters of Recommendation
No one has a better grasp of your relationships with your teachers than you do, but that doesn't mean your counselor can't help you decide who to ask for any letters of recommendation you may need. If you present your counselor with a list of potential recommenders (teachers, bosses, coaches, etc.), they can help you choose who might hold the most weight with admissions officers according to your college or career goals.
While this list is far from extensive, these four decisions are a great place to start conversations with your college counselor. And if you're looking for more strategic advice about choosing a college and tailoring your application on a college-by-college basis, consider seeking the help of an admissions expert.
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