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What is the purpose of the high school counselor recommendation on college apps?

murray93murray93 Registered User Posts: 113 Junior Member
Our counselor doesn’t know my daughter from Jack. Nothing against the counselor, they have FAR too much on their plate to get to know every one of the 300 students they serve. Anyway, my question is: what is the purpose of the counselor recommendation? Is it really a personal recommendation, or is it more of an assessment of the rigor of the school and her schedule? Should I have D supply the counselor with a list of her accomplishments to refer to when writing her rec, since she really doesn’t know her, or is that a waste of time?
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Replies to: What is the purpose of the high school counselor recommendation on college apps?

  • STEM2017STEM2017 Registered User Posts: 4,073 Senior Member
    edited May 15
    Not a waste of time.

    Most colleges understand that some counselors are overloaded and have little actual interaction with the student. The counselor report is important, however, because it puts your student into context with other students at the school (did she take the most rigorous course load or did she choose a less rigorous route, etc.). The report also puts your daughter's high school into context with other high schools (do they offer 1 AP or 20 AP classes, etc.).

    In some cases, especially at smaller high schools, the counselor will have valuable insight into the student and will help the overall application.

    I would definitely advise your daughter to make an attempt at getting to know the counselor a little bit. Make an appointment and as you note above, bring a list of outside accomplishments and activities. It can't hurt.

    If your counselor resists the meeting (and some do) then mom and dad step in to remind the counselor of their role (which I have done).
  • collegemom3717collegemom3717 Registered User Posts: 6,192 Senior Member
    It's a good thing for your daughter to learn now that anytime she asks somebody for a recommendation- from college apps to grad school, to jobs- she should prep the person. The form, formality & level of detail will vary by the situation, but should include:

    What she is applying for
    What her goals are / what she is looking for from this position
    Why she is well suited, including *specific* reminders of what the person knows about her.

    For the overworked GC who has too many students to know them well, I suggest a bullet point list.

    Many schools- possibly including your own- have formalized this process: the students are given a form early in the autumn.


  • TS0104TS0104 Registered User Posts: 812 Member
    Our school is small, but the college counselor isn't great at getting to know the seniors. She did not know my son. She does send out a form to both the students and the parents to list activities, accomplishments, etc. If yours doesn't do this, I definitely would write something up, and possibly include more subjective stuff like strengths, highlights, etc. But I do think a large part of it is getting a picture of the school/class itself and where that student fits in. Hopefully the teacher recommendations will be more personal.
  • RichInPittRichInPitt Registered User Posts: 362 Member
    Note that there’s a difference between a counselor recommendation and a counselor report. The report is certainly valuable to provide context, but it’s a standard document of facts about the school and programs (e.g. number of AP courses available) that go with every student, with maybe a few classifications of the student.

    So it’s a good question to answer - which is actually being requested?

    My D would face the same issue with an actual recommendation from her counselor. Our counselors each handle 200 kids, which I understand is actually lower than average. Asking for personal observations on a student is a stretch, compared to a teacher that sees a student every day for months.
  • JunerainJunerain Registered User Posts: 83 Junior Member
    First of all, I am just a parent and only speak based on my experience during my D's college application this year.

    1. The essential purpose of the counselor recommendation is to know how your D perform in HS in general. Teacher's recommendations are often focused more on the subject, the academic side of a student, and the personal relation. Counselor recommendation often disclose the other aspects of the student such as how socially active she is on campus.

    2. By saying so, you may find that there are so many students in school is NOT indeed a good excuse of not knowing the counselor better. If your D wants to attend a top school, this is a way of showing that she is exceptional. When counselors do not know most of the students in school, she should make herself be known because she wants to be exceptional. It demonstrates student's activity and (more importantly) effort to make something happen. She knows counselor recommendation matters in her application and thus she adds the effort to make it be good.

    3. Provide some well-written introductions of yourself to the counselor! Certainly your D must do it, and as detailed as she can because the counselor will need some solid materials in their letter to make it truly look good. My feeling is that every counselor truly wants to help every student. But the student needs effort to let herself be standing out of others in front the the counselor. To the end, there are too many students and you need fight to be outstanding!

    Good luck!
  • mikemacmikemac Registered User Posts: 10,334 Senior Member
    edited May 15
    Not all colleges make allowances for attending a large HS. This was in the US News college issue a few years back
    I attend a large public school where my counselor doesn't know me well. Will I be at a disadvantage because this person couldn't possibly write anything insightful about me?

    Gary Ripple, now director of admissions at Pennsylvania's Lafayette College, was asked this question when he was admissions dean at Virginia's College of William and Mary. He said to the student questioner: "I wonder why your counselor doesn't know you. Your counselor probably has over 300 students he or she is responsible for. You should take the initiative to get to know your counselor. At William and Mary, we look for students who take charge of their lives." The student sank slowly into his seat, Ripple recalls.
    My suspicion is some colleges use the counselor rec to tilt their admits towards full-pay. At a private HS or a well-staffed public in an affluent community the counselors get to know their students at a a matter of course. Selecting students with a strong counselor rec is a seemingly neutral criteria that favors these applicants. Perhaps not coincidentally, the college from the quote above college says it practices need-blind admissions.
  • gardenstategalgardenstategal Registered User Posts: 5,216 Senior Member
    There are also students who WILL know their GC as a result of some adversity.

    If you had a bad/uncharacteristic year because of a long hospitalization, the deportation of a parent, an ongoing mental health issue, etc. your GC should know and explain that in your recommendation. It is context coming from them; it's an excuse coming from you. This isn't the OP's situation but it is valuable for students to know that this is part of the GC's role.

    Our CCs knew the 30 kids assigned to them not for the purpose of writing a good rec but because they couldn't guide them to appropriate schools without doing this. I realize we were incredibly fortunate to have had a CC who, imo, walked on water. But I do want to temper some of the comments above that it's all about giving kids an edge over other applicants. In our case, it was all about getting kids to apply to schools that would be a great fit so that they would thrive.
  • collegemom9collegemom9 Registered User Posts: 597 Member
    Most GC's ask for a brag sheet from students or ask them to fill out a form with specific questions. Ours also ask the same from the parents. Most GC's don't know all their students well.
  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse Registered User Posts: 27,507 Senior Member
    That AO was inappropriate. One sided answer there that does not take into account how things work at high schools where the GCs have no time to deal with students other than those in crisis.

    However, the answer does open up yet another portal that those students who want to gain entry into a highly selective college should enter. Get to know your GC. And your teachers. So that when the time comes to ask for recs, they do know you

    Yes, the recs are very important. It basically ranks you among your very peers. It asks those in authority with access to the records and experiences of others in that school to rank you among them.

    The recs are part of what I consider the half dozen most important pieces of selective college applications: the Test scores, grades, rigor of curriculum, essay, ECs and recs

    Bear in mind you are not always at disadvantage having a distinct GC at your school. Having a college admissions GC too interested in the process has its pitfalls too. You have to understand that in those cases, that GC is not always looking after YOUR best interest but of that of the school and as many students as possible for not just now but in the future. The needs of the many will be tended before that of the one.

    If you intrepid enough to get to know your GC who doesn’t know most of the students except those in trouble forced upon them, you have a decided advantage over those who do not and are getting generic recs.
  • murray93murray93 Registered User Posts: 113 Junior Member
    Thanks for all the information and advice. She has only been assigned to this particular counselor for a year, so that makes things all the more challenging. I’m sure from my initial question it’s obvious that she goes to an underfunded public school. I bet they do have a “brag sheet” that I just don’t know about yet, so I will have her check on that. FYI She is NOT looking at highly selective schools, more the CTCL type of schools.

    The way it works at our high school is that the kids are asked to go through the counseling center “gate keeper” assistant to see if they can address their question or issue before they can see the counselor. If you are determined counselor-worthy, you have to get an appointment, fill out the proper paperwork, and wait for your opening. It’s confusing and intimidating for underclassmen and a hassle for juniors and seniors who have little time.

    Our counselors know next to nothing about colleges outside of our large state schools, so there hasn’t been any purpose in approaching the counselor regarding college planning. We have 14 kids out of 300 that are going to school out of state, just to put it in perspective. And as far as I know, these parents have done all the legwork and research for their children. (Maybe this is standard for most high schools, I don’t know...) Most of the colleges my D is looking at have never been attended by one of our high school grads. My D has not needed counseling for anything except annual schedule planning and occasional changes. If my D went in the counseling center just to chat, they’d probably look at her like she had four heads, if she could get the appointment without a valid reason.
  • VickiSoCalVickiSoCal Registered User Posts: 3,276 Senior Member
    All our IB students and pre IB students in 9th through 12th grade are assigned to the same counselor. That means he has over 400 IB students who are all high achieving academic students and a couple hundred more non-IB kids assigned alphabetically who are a mix. No he does not know them all. I'm hoping he doesn't say each and every one of them is the best in their class. Despite that we average 7 to 10 IB students and 2 or 3 non IB students admitted to the ivy league every year.
    A student who went to see a guidance counselor for non-critical issues would be handled by the administrative assistant as @murray93 says. The counselor schedules are packed with students who actually need them. You see the counselor once a year at your advising appointment if you have questions. If your schedule is not complicated you don't see them then either.
  • TQfromtheUTQfromtheU Registered User Posts: 1,499 Senior Member
    As a parent, I think the counselor also acts as a base-line filter in the applications process. If your daughter were a serious problem at the school, the counselor would know about her. All the other students need to provide the counselor with enough to complete their part of the paperwork and off they go.

    I once asked a school district police officer at my children's school how he kept up with the 3,000+ students at the school. He said you figure out pretty quickly who were the problems and it ended up being only about 200 students that he had to keep an eye on. He recognized the students and their positive routines over the years.
  • Groundwork2022Groundwork2022 Registered User Posts: 1,647 Senior Member
    An assessment of the rigor of the school and the students' schedules, as given in the LORs/surveys written by a GC in a large public, is still very valuable information in my opinion. Paired with teachers LORs, the AO will get a much more comprehensive picture than three (likely cutter cutter) LORs saying what a great kid the applicant is.

    By all means, though, give brag sheets to everyone involved. It can only help.
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