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Image from Pexels

So your guidance counselor is more or less worthless. Maybe you go to a massive public high school where your guidance counselor has a thousand other seniors to assist with the college process and can’t give you the personalized attention you need. Or maybe you meet with your guidance counselor all the time, but they can’t seem to give you any helpful information and consistently misplaces your documents. Either way, you’re in a really frustrating situation, and my heart goes out to you. I have been you, darling prospies, and I promise you’ll not only get out of admissions hell alive despite your awful guidance counselor, but you’ll be better for the experience.

I’m not going to lie to you: you’ll need to take up some extra responsibilities to pick up your counselor’s slack. I know, you’re a student juggling everything from SAT retakes to gymnastics training, and you totally don’t have time for this. But grumbling, “Well, I didn’t get into Duke because I had a crummy guidance counselor,” a year down the line, even if it’s true, is not going to convince anybody. You’ll need to put in hard work on your own time to make your college application process a success, so let’s get started.

Start Your Own College Search

Back in high school, I had a very well-meaning guidance counselor whose main flaw was that he fundamentally misunderstood me as a student. He was obviously a really great guy at heart, but as a counselor he was not the best fit for me. He was always perplexed as to why I wasn’t in cutthroat competition to be my class’ valedictorian, didn’t really understand why I quit my varsity sports teams to pursue theatre, and asked me during nearly every appointment why I didn’t have a guy on my arm–which was beyond awkward and irrelevant.

So it should come as no surprise that when it came to the college search, my guidance counselor was unprepared to help me find the right school. Case in point: he highly recommended that I apply to St. John’s College–an itty-bitty school in Annapolis, Maryland that, in place of a normal collegiate selection of classes, teaches “The Great Books” of Western literature. In other words, completely the wrong college for me. So I took matters into my own hands and conducted my own college search, researching schools whenever I wasn’t in class or at lacrosse practice. Sites like Find The Best and the College Board, as well as colleges’ individual websites played the biggest part in my research. Fair warning: the college search takes time. You’ll need to go on tours, sit through information sessions, and find people to advise you outside of the guidance office–but this isn’t anything you’re not equipped to handle, so don’t fret.

Stay on Top of Your Deadlines and Paperwork

My biggest piece of advice for those of you out there with less-than-helpful guidance counselors is to be on top of all your deadlines as you can’t rely on your guidance counselor for reminders. I recommend setting aside a calendar or planner just for your college application-related due dates and updating it religiously. Make sure you know when SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Test dates are, when the deadlines to register for those standardized tests are, what day and time your Common Application is due to your schools of choice, when schools need a copy of your transcripts and recommendations, and when you need to have art supplements in (if you’re sending them).

Beyond keeping a traditional calendar, you should also keep your parents in the loop regarding when you need to have things sent off. They’ll probably be nagging you about your deadlines anyway, so this advice may not even apply, but your parents can make a pretty good safety net if an impending deadline slips your mind. Downloading a countdown app on your phone is another good way to keep yourself vigilant, as is setting alarms for a week prior to major due dates.

When it comes to paperwork, make sure that you keep a log of when you turned documents into your counselor or requested that documents be sent. Things get confusing when you’re sending off ten or eleven transcripts plus recommendations plus additional application supplements, so having a definitive list of paperwork you’ve submitted will cut down on your stress. You can also use the list when you’re begging your guidance counselor to send your documents after days of delay. Having hard dates on hand is a great bargaining chip for making your documents a higher priority. The request “I requested a copy of my transcript on November 20th for Duke University and it still hasn’t been sent. Could you please try to send it off today?” sounds a lot more urgent and authoritative than “Well, I think I requested a copy of my transcript, like, about two weeks ago, for one of my schools, and I was wondering if you could send it off today?”

Be Pushy and Persistent (Even If You Really Don’t Want To Be)

To all my fellow introverts out there, I have to tell you that this was one of the hardest parts of having a guidance counselor who was less than on top of things. Every time I filled out a transcript request form or sent in information about my recommendations, I had to pop my head into the guidance office multiple times a day to make sure everything was getting sent off on time.

I hated doing this. Hated it. I’m the very definition of non-confrontational and being that pushy really went against my nature. But if it takes dropping into your guidance office every day to get your applications in on time, then that’s what it takes. In a few months the guidance office never has to see your face again, so put off your worries about being annoying or irritating. If something goes wrong with your application that could have been avoided with a little bit more persistence, you won’t forgive yourself easily, so bite the bullet and get what needs to be done, done.

Get Thee to the Internet

In all honesty, the internet is what truly salvaged my college search. If you look long and hard enough, you can find whatever information you need regarding college applications online. I mean, if you’re reading The Prospect, you’re already off to a great start! Keep poking around to find sites that will be able to help you with essays, test-taking, art supplements–the whole shebang. I know that The Prospect, The College App Chick, Wise Like Us, Essay Hell, and even school-specific admissions advice sites, like Notes from Peabody and Admit It! were super helpful to me during my college admissions process.

So there you have it. By taking your collegiate future into your own hands, you can achieve fantastic success despite having to be your own guidance counselor. And in the process, you’ll definitely hone your time management skills, your ability to self-motivate, and heck, even your research skills. So don’t let a useless guidance counselor get you down, because you’ve got this!



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the author

Elizabeth Watson (just call her Beth) is a senior at an itty-bitty private Catholic high school in Virginia. In addition to writing for The Prospect, she writes and performs sketch comedy with her improv troupe, rehearses like mad for school theatre productions, suits up for forensics competitions, and writes poetry for her school’s literary magazine. A brief rundown of Beth’s favorite people and things ever to exist in no particular order: hole-in-the-wall bookshops, sweaters, Jane Eyre, peppermint tea (in a Troy and Abed mug, of course), Broadway musicals, British period dramas, Neil Patrick Harris, and Hugh Jackman. Beth’s long-term goal in life to is to become Julie Andrews, but for now she’s focusing on surviving the final stretch of high school and getting into college–hopefully as an English major

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