You may not realize it, but your high school has an invaluable resource that can make it easier to get into college and secure financial aid: your high school counselor.
Most schools have counselors available to students; in fact, 85% of public schools and 48% of private high schools have at least one counselor on staff. But you may not realize all of the assistance that your high school counselor can provide.
If your school has counselors available, these are the best questions to ask your college counselor so that you’re prepared for college.
15 Good Questions to Ask Your College Counselor
Although some schools may have counselors dedicated solely to navigating college admissions and financial aid, most counselors are more generalized, and assist with everything from choosing classes in high school to handling personal issues.
The best questions to ask a college counselor depend on what stage you’re in right now:
About High School Coursework
You can start planning ahead for college as soon as your first year of high school. As a high school student, ask your counselor the following questions:
1. What is the right high school schedule for me?
If you want to go to college, balancing coursework with extracurriculars is key. Colleges look beyond grades; they want well-rounded students that can enhance the campus. Your counselor can help you look at both your college’s requirements and your interests to develop a schedule that incorporates your classes, community service, and extracurriculars like sports or theater.
2. What courses do I need to take to be ready for college?
Colleges take your grades into consideration, but they also want to see that you took challenging courses. Top-tier colleges, such as Ivy League Universities, often expect applicants to complete AP- and honors-level courses.
Ask your counselor about what classes to take based on your targeted list of potential universities.
3. Should I take the SAT or ACT? Do I need to take both? Or do I need to take them at all?
The SAT and the ACT are two standardized tests that most colleges require as part of the admissions process. Some schools have a preference for one test over the other, and some schools don’t require either of them (also called “test-optional” applications). Your counselor will identify what test is best for your selected universities.
4. How do I prepare for the SAT/ACT?
Your SAT or ACT scores can help you get into your dream school — and potentially qualify for merit aid. Ask your counselor about the best way to prepare. Your counselor may be able to recommend free books, online resources and test prep materials that you can use to study for the exam. They may also be able to direct you to practice exams you can take to get an idea of what to expect.
5. Are my current grades high enough to get into my first-choice college?
Some colleges are extremely selective; for example, Harvard University’s acceptance rate was just 3.41% this year, making it the toughest school to get into in the country.
Your high school counselor can review your transcript with you and let you know what grades you need to get into your first-choice college. If your grades aren’t where they need to be, your counselor can give you an idea of how much you need to improve them to increase your chances of getting accepted — or help you identify alternative schools.
About College Prep
In your junior or senior year of high school, the college admissions process heats up. You’ll narrow down your list of colleges, tour campuses, and fill out and submit applications. Your counselor plays a pivotal role during this period, and asking the following questions will allow you to prepare:
1. Is there a college fair nearby?
If you aren’t sure where you want to go to college, college fairs are a great way to explore your options. Colleges from all over the country come to these fairs to share information about their programs and campuses, and the school representatives can tell you what makes their college stand out. Your counselor can give you the details for upcoming college fairs in your area.
2. When should I start applying to colleges?
When it comes to applying to your dream school, timing is critical. Some schools have strict deadlines, and your counselor will be able to tell you when those deadlines are and gather the right materials so you can submit your application on time.
In most cases, you have until January or February to submit your application. But some schools give preference to students that apply early action or early decision, which would require you to submit your application months earlier; the deadline for early decision and early action is usually in November.
Your counselor can also remind you of important tasks ahead of the deadlines, such as requesting transcripts or asking teachers for letters of recommendation.
3. What do college admission officers look for in a college essay?
Your college essay is one of the most important parts of your application; it’s your opportunity to tell your story and give admission officers a better understanding of who you are. Your counselor can review the essay with you and give you feedback that will improve your essay.
4. What should I expect in a college interview? How should I prepare?
ome schools require — or recommend — applicants to complete an in-person or virtual interview. If you haven’t participated in a college interview before, it can be nerve-wracking. Your counselor can ensure you’re prepared; they can provide typical questions interviewers ask and give you tips on how to give the best answers to showcase your talents and achievements.
5. What should I do on a college campus visit?
If you have the option of arranging a campus tour, it’s an excellent idea. There’s no better way to get a feel for the campus. Your counselor can help you create an agenda for the visit based on your interests and goals so you don’t miss any important spots on campus.
About Financial Aid
When it comes to paying for college, your high school or college counselor is a critical resource.
As you begin the financial aid process, ask your counselor the following questions:
1. How does the financial aid process work?
The financial aid process is complex, and many students find it overwhelming. Your counselor can explain the different types of aid, such as scholarships and grants, and identify resources that can help you find additional aid. They will also outline what steps you need to complete to qualify for aid, such as filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or state-based forms.
2. What forms do I use to apply for financial aid and where can I find them online?
All students should fill out the FAFSA. But depending on where you live and your selected college, there may be additional forms to complete such as the CSS Profile. Your counselor can tell you what forms you need to fill out for state-based or institutional aid.
3. Are there any good scholarships or grants you think I could qualify for?
Many students are surprised to find out that there are billions of dollars available in scholarships and grants that you can use to pay for college. Your counselor will be able to share valuable resources on where to find these opportunities, such as The College Board’s Scholarship Search Tool and Fastweb.
4. When is the deadline for financial aid?
Financial aid applications have strict deadlines. Although the federal FAFSA deadline isn’t until the end of June, many states and colleges have deadlines that are much earlier and some financial aid is first come, first served, so it’s beneficial to complete it early. Your counselor can tell you when to submit your financial aid applications to ensure you don’t miss a deadline and get the maximum amount of available aid.
5. What do I do if I don’t receive enough financial aid?
Unfortunately, it’s a common problem: after receiving your acceptance letter and financial aid package, you find out that you didn’t qualify for enough aid to cover the total cost of attendance. If that happens, you may feel like your dream school is out of reach. But your counselor can work with you to identify other options.
In some cases, your counselor may be able to help you submit an appeal for additional financial aid. Or they can help you find other financial aid opportunities, such as independent scholarships, work-study programs or student loans.
Preparing for College
Now that you know the best questions to ask your high school counselor, you’ll be better prepared to start the college admissions process.
Asking your counselor the right questions will give you the information you need to pick the classes in high school, select a college that’s the right fit for you and qualify for financial aid. Having these conversations with your counselor early on in the college admissions process will make the transition much easier.