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High School

4 Ways to Connect With Your Student's High School Counselor

Paige Buttels


Your high school student likely has access to a wizard who can help them explore academic and career interests, prepare for college and assist with college planning. This wizard, who wears many hats, is also trained in mental health and can provide brief social-emotional counseling at school during any rough patches your student encounters.

This wizard is a high school counselor.

If you and your teen don't know your school counselor yet, make sure to connect with them — the sooner the better — to optimize your student’s high school experience. Here are my top tips.

1. Your student should meet with their counselor every school year.

Unless there’s a valid reason, such as a need to change class schedules, wait until at least mid-September. School counselors usually have a caseload of 250 to 400 students, so at the beginning of each semester, usually August and January, they are inundated with schedule change requests and drowning in paperwork.

October, November, February, March and April are the best times because typically there are fewer major events (such as SATs, PSATs, college fairs and career days) that they are also coordinating.

It’s very important that rising sophomores and juniors meet with their counselor before course selection, usually during the previous spring. Seniors should meet to discuss college choices. The timing for freshmen is less critical.

2. Help your student prepare for their meeting with the counselor.

The counselor, besides getting to know your student, will want to know which post-secondary pathways and careers they are considering; which college majors are most interesting; and, if the college search has begun, which fit factors are most important.

Most freshmen and sophomores haven’t considered which colleges are a good fit yet, and that’s okay. They should be focusing on which careers intrigue them and which pathways they want to explore after high school, whether or not that means college.

Juniors should have a preliminary idea of what types of colleges they want to explore. This is a conversation that starts with you, the parent. For example: How far from home is financially reasonable? Students often think they don’t have to limit their searches geographically, but when asked if they have the money for an airplane ticket, they realize they have to talk to Mom or Dad.

Seniors should have a list of colleges they plan to apply to and be ready to share their plans. If a student is undecided, that’s alright! The counselor can help in the decision process.

Students should ask their counselor which classes will help them explore their career interests, prepare for the college they want to attend, and help them the most with their future major. Your student and the counselor should create a four-year plan that includes all of these classes, along with requirements for high school graduation and college admission. The plan needs to be reevaluated every year.

3. Collaborate with your student’s high school counselor.

The goal is to have family members and counselors work together to support a student's college/career planning, not for the counselor or parent to do it in isolation.

The first time you speak with the counselor, a phone call is appropriate. You can email simple questions to counselors throughout the year, but if the questions become more complicated, a phone call is warranted.

Counselors have coveted information about scholarships, course selection timelines, career events, college fairs and other helpful resources that parents and students should take advantage of throughout each grade. Ask how these are communicated. Do they have social media accounts, a newsletter, morning announcements, posts on the school’s website?

Most school counselors teach in classrooms about academic, social/emotional and college/career planning. The frequency, depth and lesson delivery vary at each high school, so feel free to ask the counselor whether they teach these topics, what to expect at each grade level, and what is being taught. If not, how should students go about this process?

Ask the counselor if they have an online college/career platform (such as Naviance, Xello, Youscience or Scoir) for which you can set up a parent account.  You can also ask if they work with or can refer private college advisors such as the one I work with, My College Planning Team.

4. Ask if you can join your student’s annual college/career planning meetings during junior and senior years.

The school may prefer for parents to join via phone conference or virtually, or they may welcome parents in. Often, when family members join, the meeting is much longer than it would be with just a student, so the school counselor would want to know ahead of time that a parent is joining to be sure the length of the meeting is appropriately scheduled.

As a school counselor, I always welcome parents to meetings, but I like to have met the student first to understand their perspective and what they want to pursue. I have found that in parent/student meetings, most often the parent speaks more than the student. That makes it harder to build a relationship with the student.

In the end, it's important to know school counselors and parents want the same things for students:

We both want your student to have thoughtfully explored potential careers in high school via course selection that supports career exploration and rigor for college preparation.

We both want your student to be academically successful and reach their highest potential.

We both want your student to be socially and emotionally well.

Paige Buttels is a college/career counselor at a public high school in suburban Chicago and works with parents and students as a member of My College Planning Team (mycollegeplanningteam.com). She holds a master’s in counseling from Northern Illinois University and bachelor’s in psychology from Illinois State University.
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