Wednesday’s Parent: Cultivate the Counselor Relationship


counselorYou would be surprised at the amount of material that comes across your high school counselor’s desk: from scholarship opportunities, to college admissions counselor recommendation requests, to leadership positions, to volunteer opportunities. Making friends with your counselor may well be the most important and valuable relationship your teen cultivates during high school.

My daughter and son attended a rather large high school. At the time, being uninformed and unaware, we did not understand the value of this relationship. When senior year came along she missed several scholarship opportunities because the counselor did not even know she was applying to several of the colleges. When recommendation letter time came along the counselor refused to complete her recommendation stating that she did not know my daughter well enough to write a letter for her. My daughter had to explain to several admission committees why she was not able to obtain a counselor recommendation.

She would have spared herself that necessity if she had known the importance of utilizing the resources that were available in the counselor’s office and had known how important it was to cultivate that relationship. Counselor recommendations are considered an important part of most college applications.

The counselor relationship

It’s no surprise to parents that high school counselors are busy. They juggle regular counseling duties, paperwork and college prep. Most have too many students to advise and most are required to spend so much time on paperwork that it’s impossible to speak with every student. Research shows that the average counselor to student ratio is 470-1 and that they spend less than 20 minutes a year with each student.

A recent article in Time, “The High School Guidance Counselor”, explains the problem:

In addition to huge caseloads, budget cuts have forced to counselors to increasingly contend with duties unrelated to their traditional roles, such as monitoring the school cafeteria or proctoring exams, says Eric Sparks, the ASCA’s assistant director. And few get more than scant training before taking on the job, says Alexandria Walton Radford, a former U.S. Department of Education official who has studied the issue. Many degree programs for school counselors don’t offer coursework on helping students make the best college choices, or getting financial aid, according to a national survey of counselors.

The result is an overtaxed system in which many students either never go to college, go to institutions that are the wrong for them, or never learn about financial aid for which they may qualify. According to Radford’s research, low-income, ethnic minority valedictorians and first-generation college applicants shy away from elite schools, unaware of scholarship opportunities; freshmen over-rely on friends and relatives for advice about college.

What should parents do?

A counselor from Pikesville High School in Baltimore, Maryland had this this suggestion, in a recent article I wrote about the high school counselor conundrum:

I appreciate that you care about SCHOOL counselors’ lack of training in college planning, but I disagree about your recommendations. There are more productive and proactive ways than becoming the squeaky wheel…Like asking district and state leadership for smaller caseloads and more professional development for SCHOOL counselors.” Good advice. Get involved in your school community and ask for changes.

The bottom line

Get involved. Ask questions like these: 5 Must-Ask Questions for your Child’s Guidance Counselor. Start early by making contact with the counselor and building a relationship. They may be busy, but most counselors are eager to help if asked.

Read Wendy’s post: School Counselors and the Parent-Student Team


Wendy and I will be joined by Shelley Krause (@butwait), a high school counselor, on Wednesday’s Parent night (the fourth Wednesday of each month) on #CampusChat, Wednesday, August 27, 9pm ET/6pm PT. We will talk about how to establish a relationship with your high school counselor and how they can help with college prep.


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Wendy and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

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3 Responses to “Wednesday’s Parent: Cultivate the Counselor Relationship”

  1. Donna Holley says:

    The term guidance counselor is antiquated. We don’t give “guidance” we are school counselors and provide tools to help students successfully navigate the process. Get to know your school counselor, they are an advocate for you and your child in the educational process.

    • Suzanne Shaffer says:

      Donna, duly noted. The articles I cited were older ones. Since then I’ve changed the terminology when discussing high school counselors. I always appreciate your input. I hope you will join #CampusChat tonight and contribute to the discussion.

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