When you're applying to college, recommendation letters are one of the most important pieces of your application.The only trouble is, finding the right person to give you a recommendation letter can be tricky if you don't spend the time to develop meaningful relationships. Throughout your years as a student, it's important to establish a rapport with your teachers, faculty advisors, coaches, bosses; they're all potential mentors who are qualified to assess your progress and speak on your behalf. Your guidance counselor, however, is one of the most important people who can offer a support system as you navigate difficult terrain in high school and also be a strong advocate when you apply to college.
If you have established a close relationship, your counselor can offer a unique perspective on your growth as an individual because they will have a full view of your personal and academic progress. Not only will they know your strengths and weaknesses, but they will be able to articulate how you've matured, handled challenges, and your potential moving forward.
So, before you actually need a recommendation letter, here's how you can develop your relationship and boost your odds for success:
1. Solidify Your Relationship Early
You have much more control over the contents of your recommendation letters than you may think. Those students who take the initiative and make their presence known to their counselor as a freshman and sophomore have the advantage of building trust, by demonstrating reliability, and integrity over time. On the other hand, it’s students who wait until senior year, even if they have an impeccable academic record, that often find disappointment come decision time.
The bottom line is that a relative stranger won't be able to write you a stellar recommendation, so it's your responsibility to cultivate the relationship. Keep in mind that at an average-sized high school, a counselor may be managing a caseload between 300 and 400 students; which means that you have to go out of your way to not get lost in the shuffle.
Make sure to share your academic and personal goals with them, as well as areas inside or outside of the classroom where you aim to develop. You can’t do this in one sitting, so schedule periodic meetings and keep them updated on your progress.
2. Reveal Your Authentic Self
When engaging with your guidance counselor, don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. You want to reveal your character and authenticity in a way that allows them to gain a holistic view of who you are. While your teachers will evaluate you on specific elements displayed in the classroom, your counselor can provide meaningful context.
Based on this list of what teachers are asked to evaluate, you can see some of your own complexity. Writing about you in a way that complements what your teachers may say about your character, personality, and emotional intelligence is tough for a guidance counselor who only meets with you once or twice a year.
Rather than being, tell little stories or anecdotes that allow your guidance counselor to 'witness' who you are. In addition to the information about your life, they will learn first hand how engaging you can be in conversation. This may seem uncomfortable at first, but because the qualities described in your recommendation letters is one of the key pieces of your college application, if you make a sustained effort, your counselor's letter may help you unlock the right doors.
3. Take Advantage Of Their Expertise
As a Freshman, your top priority is to get the lay of the land at high school, acclimate to a new environment, and set yourself up for success; so make sure you ask your counselor lots of strategic planning questions.
From then on, if you have a problem you need to solve, and you're not quite sure how to go about it, get yourself on their calendar to discuss possible solutions. They are usually busy, but most are good people who genuinely want to help.
By the beginning of junior year, it’s a good idea to pick colleges you have researched or visited and ask your counselor for their opinion on each. Talk to them about what you are looking for in a college and if they have suggestions for others that could be a good fit. People want to feel recognized and appreciated and your counselor is no different.
In addition to showing your counselor that you value his or her opinion and expertise, you are demonstrating that you are proactive and going to take the college search process seriously. Keep in mind that looking well beyond the name of the school will illustrate your maturity.
Approaching the relationship with gratitude and humility is always appreciated. Demonstrating you will seriously consider what they have to say and follow up by researching more prior to your next conversation is a smart and strategic. This only works when it is actually true, however. You don’t have to follow all of their advice, but being less than authentic in the asking may damage your relationship.
Remember You Are in Control
The time is going to come quicker than you think when you will need your guidance counselor to write you a letter of recommendation. They may get input from your teachers, coaches, peers, and possibly even your parents. They will be looking to get some insight on how you're performing not only in the classroom, but at home, out with friends, and how you conduct yourself in everyday life.
Taking the time to engage periodically with your counselor, share information with them about your activities outside of school, and give them a window into the broader scope of your character goes a long way. They will see first hand the growth and progress you have made during your high school career and be your advocate.
With the support of your guidance counselor, you will be well positioned to complete strong applications. Now it is up to you. Grit and determination will play a big role in driving you the rest of the way through the admissions process.
Struggling to get started? Our admissions experts can help you develop an action plan to earn meaningful letters of recommendation and position yourself for success. Request a consultation to learn more about our comprehensive guidance programs designed to help you navigate the entire college admission process.