Questions for students to ask their counsellors

Posted on 22nd April 2024

What questions should students ask their school counsellors?

Schools’ careers and counselling departments are crucial tools for students when they’re preparing to make their university applications. They should be supporting students both practically (by submitting transcripts and other school documents on their behalf), and in terms of advice. If you’re a student, making sure you connect with your school counsellor throughout the process will set you up for successful applications, and make the process smoother and less stressful. To collaborate well with counsellors, there are some helpful questions that students can ask to guide the application process.

1 - Are there internal deadlines at your school?

This may be the most important question you can ask! Although students are the ones who click ‘submit’ on the Common Application (the main portal for US applications), schools also must submit required documents on students’ behalf. So, if students intend to apply via an Early Action or Early Decision programme, the school will need to know so they can put the application through at their end on time. Counsellors may also need documents or information from students, or need to be added to the student’s application portal account, so it’s really important to stay on top of communications at this time.

Although the main deadlines for US applications are 1 November for Early Action/Decision applications and 1 January for Regular Decision applications, schools may set slightly earlier deadlines to connect with students’ portal accounts or to submit applications. Even if you’re working with an external counsellor on your applications, you will have to comply with your school’s internal deadlines for your application to be put through. So, be sure to find out this information and add it to your calendar!

2 - Whom should I ask to write my letters of recommendation, and when are they due?

For US applications, you will need two types of letters of recommendation: a counsellor letter speaking to your overall involvement with the school community, and letters from two subject teachers. At different schools, different members of staff will write the counsellor letters: likely your head of sixth form, counsellor in charge of US applications, or housemaster (if you attend a boarding school). So, make sure you ask your counsellor who will be writing this recommendation so you’re aware and can communicate with them well ahead of time. Also, sometimes your school will provide a ‘brag sheet’ that you can fill in to give to the person writing this reference, so don’t miss out on that!

For teacher recommendations, your counsellor can help you choose a teacher who knows you well and writes good recommendations, and may be able to contact them on your behalf and ensure they submit your reference, depending on the policies of your school.

As mentioned above, schools may set earlier deadlines for students to contact recommenders or for recommendations to be completed (sometimes as early as the end of year 12!), so be sure to be aware of these.

3- Can you help with essays?

US applications involve several essays, so make sure you touch base with your counsellor about these. Depending on their case load, they may be able to read drafts and provide feedback, but you should be sure to show these to your counsellor far ahead of the application deadline to ensure that they have time to review them, and that you have time to make the subsequent edits. If your school isn’t able to provide feedback on essays, you might want to arrange external support.

4- How do I find a college that fits me?

There are various ways to assess yourself for college fit (explored in a blog post here ), and your counsellor can give you valuable feedback as well. They will have a sense of where students from your school have successfully applied, and of the profiles of these successful applicants. This context can be helpful to you when creating your college list.

5- Should I plan to take SAT/ACT, and how can I prepare?

Your counsellor can also advise on testing. We recommend that most students test, especially since many highly selective universities, like Yale, Brown, Harvard, and Dartmouth are returning to requiring testing in the next application cycle. Your counsellor can draw on their expertise about where other students at your school have had successful applications with certain test scores. They can also let you know if your school is an SAT or ACT test centre, which is useful to know when choosing between tests. When you’re in year 11, it’s good to ask your counsellor if your school offers or recommends a test preparation course, as some schools run these on-site or can recommend a reputable provider.

6- What university events is the school running?

Schools’ careers departments often run events to help students choose and apply to universities, like fairs, presentations, and panel events. Make sure you check in with your counsellor and always open emails from the careers office so you can put the dates for those useful events in your calendar! School counsellors are excellent resources for students in their journeys in applying to US universities. By forming good relationships and asking smart questions, students can have a valuable ally throughout the university application process.

For advice on all aspects of US applications, get in touch with UES! You can set up a free call with a senior member of our counselling team by following this link:

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