launching kid to college

Help the Guidance Counselor Launch Your College-Bound Kid

Because they’re paid to help your kid arrive, survive, and thrive in college…

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, hopefully you’ve gotten the picture that I am a fan of my fellow high school guidance counselors. Why? Because I know they’re some of the best allies of College Prep Parents and their college-bound kids.

Today I want to share a handful of ways you can help them do their job – their job of helping YOUR student arrive and thrive in college! After reading, add your ideas or read others’ suggestions in the comments.)

1. Process the “why” of college with your kid.

Your child should be thinking about his or her reasons to attend college before they step into the guidance counselor’s office.

Sooner rather than later, start an ongoing conversation with your student about why they want to go to college. This dialogue should progress through the years, and you can expect the reasons to increase – or even change – as your kid becomes more “college prepped.” Meanwhile, you need to be ready with your own reasons, when your kid asks why you want them to go to college.

If you have these conversations, your high schooler will be “in touch” with their own current feelings about college. Then their strategy conversations with their guidance counselor can bear a lot of fruit.

2. Get real about the financial situation.

Have frank discussions with your kid, even before they’re in “college shopping” mode, about paying for college. You will both learn about the value of college, the expense of college, and ways to fund that education.

You will catch your child – and their guidance counselor! – off-guard if financial considerations are only discussed at the last minute. What’s more, it wastes time for everyone if only the parents know your family’s financial limits. When I talk to families about college choice, our visits are much more productive when the parent and student have been communicating about finances before stepping into my office.

On the positive side, when your kid is tuned in to the financial picture of going to college, they tend to be more motivated to look for the places they feel are worth it. What’s more, when they see the full picture, they may realize their need to spend some effort seeking scholarships or jobs.

3. Don’t be a procrastinating parent (and push your student, too).

Remember, your guidance counselor likely has dozens or hundreds of students to help. The later they’re given what they need, the less attention they can give to one student – and the less time they’ll have to put their skills to work for your kid!

You can give the guidance counselor a boost in a few ways:

  • If you need something from them, ask for it early. Your child should let their counselor know anything they need as early as possible. Last-minute requests are as tedious for a guidance counselor as they are for you at your work! So whether your student needs a signature, a transcript, a recommendation, or something else, share that need (and deadline details) ASAP.
  • Keep your child moving as they narrow things down. No one wants to rush your college-bound kid’s choice, but the counselor and your child will both benefit once they can focus on two or three good college options.
  • Get forms in early. For instance, once your child is a senior, submit your FAFSA as soon as you can after October 1. When this is processed, and the results sent to colleges that have accepted your student, decisions can then be made thoughtfully without the panic that can occur at the infamous “last minute.”

4. Keep the counselor updated, all along the way.

Your child’s guidance counselor won’t always know the steps your kid has taken, the avenues they have explored, or the responses they have received. Share this info as much as you can with the counselor, and they’ll be in the best possible position to help your child take each next step.

The counselor can also help keep things efficient. For instance, if your kid indicates a scholarship they’re seeking, the counselor might realize it isn’t a good fit… which keeps everyone from wasting time applying. Or the counselor might know someone who has succeeded with that scholarship before, allowing them to share advice for a successful application!

Similar scenarios could play out with lots of steps along the way to college, so be sure the guidance counselor is up-to-date.

5. Share ideas for your kid’s college recommendation.

You can help your kid’s guidance counselor write a fantastic recommendation for your kid, too.

When recommendation time comes, compile some bullet-point thoughts about your child’s attributes, talents, passions, and especially a few remarkable things that might not be observed at school. A list like this, done from a parent’s special vantage point, can help a counselor watch for those special traits – traits that can make a counselor’s recommendation letter come alive.

A good recommender will only speak to those things they have observed… so it doesn’t hurt to let your counselor know what to look for!

6. Share the “inside scoop” about your kid.

In a related vein, it’s important to let your child’s guidance counselor in on plenty of information – good and bad – about your kid’s life. This includes many of your kid’s academic, emotional, spiritual, and relational strengths, weaknesses, and experiences.

This makes perfect sense when you remember that a high school guidance counselor is the one person with the job of helping your student arrive, survive, and thrive in college! Shouldn’t the counselor know anything pertinent – not only to point your kid to good college options, but to prepare them for the challenges and opportunities ahead?

You may have, through the years, shared important things with teachers or coaches to help them engage your child wisely. You should see the guidance counselor as yet another type of coach. The more information they have, the better they can serve your student!

Above & Beyond

While I’m at it, I wanted to mention some other ways you can engage in the larger work of your child’s school as they prepare kids for college. These activities will support your child’s guidance counselor immensely. What’s more, your own kid is likely to benefit as you and other parents start or strengthen these activities.

Invite job shadowing. If you are in position to have a high schooler shadow you on the job, let the guidance counselor know. These opportunities can be one of the greatest components of career exploration. (If this program doesn’t exist yet, the counselor would probably welcome your help in getting it started.)

Speak about your career. Some high schools welcome classroom speakers talking about specific careers, or topics such as “the use of Geometry on the job,” or “why World Geography matters.” Your child’s school may have a career fair where occupations are highlighted, or host brown bag lunches where a professional chats about their preparation and contribution to the world.

Provide interview practice. You could serve as a mock “interviewer” for an imaginary job or admission to a fantasy college. This is fantastic and very practical preparation for a high school student, especially when it comes from an adult they don’t know well. Hearing about good eye contact, positive body language, and making a good first impression is not nearly as impactful as having to actually do those things.

Share your campus insights. Anytime you and your college prep kid visit a college campus (even a “drive by”), take a minute and email a brief review of the visit to your kid’s counselor. Having a parent’s point of view of the institution or its campus can be very helpful. Positive things that stick out about a school or important aspects that seemed lacking are both important to a counselor’s understanding of how a college might meet the needs of all their students.

Share your insider knowledge of schools. College prep parents who have a relationship with a specific college can help their counselor by adding their name to a “go-to” list for students interested in that school. Many serious college shoppers would jump at the chance to visit with a “satisfied customer” of a school on their short list!

Send notes about scholarships and other college funding. Every counselor I know welcomes a “heads up” about scholarships or contests that you come across. There is sometimes college funding from local employers and agencies, so the more “reporters” a counselor has, the better. Don’t assume that just because you saw it on TV or heard it on the radio, your counselor already knows about it.

Pray for them. How can you really help your counselor most of all? Pray. Pray for your counselor to remember that their job is about people, not a process. Pray for all the kids and the many families, like yours, making big decisions. And pray that we can all see His hand at work all along the way.

What other ways would you suggest supporting your guidance counselor? And if you’re one of my fellow counselors, share how parents can help you help their college-bound kid!

(If you’re reading on email, see the comments here.)

2 thoughts on “Help the Guidance Counselor Launch Your College-Bound Kid

  1. Parents read all of the emails from your child’s school counselor. They are hand crafted, timely and specific to your child’s needs. Don’t be caught thinking… If only I had known!

  2. Ditto on all these points! My favorite moments are those that involve parents bringing me a fountain coke zero, or a fat free QT vanilla cappuccino and visiting for 15-20 minutes when their student is a sophomore or junior about their expectations, their students background and letting me give some early advise. Keep a log/box of college “stuff” including all log-ins, passwords… and secure approval for you to open their mail and check their emails. One of our five kids had a scholarship in the mail she never opened and one who didn’t respond to an email from a college that almost lost us $1000! Can I say tongue & cheek, enjoy the process!? Our youngest of our will graduate in May, no more FAFSA, Uber charges, checking graduation requirements….. FREEDOM!!!

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