Question: I'm in 10th grade. My high school counselor is so busy that I hardly ever get to see her. What kinds of things should she be doing for me and how can I look out for my own college-related needs?
Answer: The problem of overwhelmed counselors is quite common. That's unfortunate. You're going to have to be proactive and stay on top of the college admission process.
Counselors are responsible for helping you satisfy all of your school's graduation requirements. They should provide the support you need to make an informed and intelligent decision about higher education. That job is challenging.
As you noted, college counselors are responsible for many students. It isn't unusual for counselors in larger high schools to each have hundreds of students under their care. The result can be very frustrating. Counselors who are dedicated to providing timely advice and direction struggle under loads like that. Don't wait for things to happen; make them happen.
I've mentioned before that there is an orderly procession of events in the college preparation process. I won't review them all here, but be aware that you must take certain actions at specific times.
You must know about standardized tests (SATI and SAT II), Advanced Placement (AP) courses and their requirements. You also need to be familiar with the best colleges that fit your needs and your family's needs, and other issues. Your counselor should be there during each phase of your progress from ninth grade through senior-year college applications. She should help you answer questions and make decisions.
If you get a new counselor from year to year, you need to be especially active. First thing each year, visit with your new counselor. Introduce yourself so that he or she will remember who you are. Express the fact that you want to get the most out the counseling program's resources.
Ask to get a quick tour of the facilities. Are there computer programs to help with college selection? Are there any SAT coaching materials or courses available? When will you schedule a formal counseling meeting? Will your parents be involved? Get the answers to these questions.
Your counselor should be a positive resource for you. Take advantage of him or her.
Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.