My guidance counselor does not know anything about me. I've never met him and he doesn't have any appointments left for me to even talk to him before my applications are due. How can he write a recommendation for me? One of my schools requires it.
Take some solace that you're not alone. At many high schools, the counselors handle unwieldy loads. Thus, the college folks are accustomed to seeing one- or two-sentence counselor references that say little more than, "Henry is a capable student who will succeed at the college level." Or sometimes these blurbs are longer but only regurgitate a resume. ("Marisol is a member of the community service club and the literary magazine staff and played JV soccer in ninth grade.") While references like this obviously won't help with admission odds, they won't hurt either.
However, in order to improve the likelihood that a counselor who doesn't know you will still be able to improve your admission chances, you should present him with a "brag" sheet that tells him about you beyond what your transcript and resume might offer. (Many counselors require this; if yours doesn't, do it anyway!) Write a few sentences about your short-term and long-term goals and what excites you and why. (Teenagers usually don't realize that admission committees are often more interested in personal passions and hobbies than they are in a membership in the Latin Club or the marching band and other ordinary high school activities.)
Talk about what you're good at and what you struggle with (with an emphasis on the former!). Keep in mind that a counselor who doesn't know you will probably be delighted to lift entire sentences straight from your brag sheet, so try to create prose that is focused and concise so that it can be easily copied and pasted.
So even if your counselor doesn't have a chance to talk with you before applications are due, "The Dean" suspects that there will be at least enough time to skim a document and to borrow from it to boot!
About the Ask the Dean Column
Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at email@example.com.