For better or worse, letters of recommendation are required for most college applications. Unfortunately, asking for letters of rec is a first for many high school students, so it is often a nerve-wracking experience. After all, there seems to be so many opportunities to be slapped with a faceful of awkward: What if he says no? What if he doesn’t like you? And even if they agree to be your advocate to the admission officers of your dream institutions, what’s to stop them from stabbing you in the back?
If you’ve never asked for a letter of rec before, and this is the extent of your worries; check out our very informative walkthrough on obtaining a letter of rec here!
While the disincentives of asking teachers for letters of rec often take on a more personal aspect, the dilemmas that plague letters of rec from guidance counselors are a completely different story. Given that the average public high school employs only one counselor for every couple hundred or so students, it comes as no surprise that for most applicants hailing from such schools, personal interaction with a guidance counselor is a rare commodity. Consequently, these students are usually left with letters from their counselors that are, although generally positive, impersonal and thus seen as lacking by most college admissions officers.
Although the guidance counselor letter of rec is often dismissed as one of the weaker elements of many times an otherwise outstanding applicant, don’t despair, especially if you attend a gargantuan public high school; most admissions officers are understanding and will not penalize you for your counselor’s bland, generic letter. In fact, the widespread scope of this quagmire of a “weakness” among applicants hailing from public high schools makes it so that you can easily convert your guidance counselor’s letter of rec into a strength. All you really have to do is make sure your counselor knows you well.
Easier said than done, right? Not really. Because you see, guidance counselors are people too! (*Gasp*) So, how do you make sure your counselor knows you well? Easy. All you have to do is get to know them. Seriously, it’s not even that hard. Here are a couple of things I did that you can try.
Make appointments to see them/visit. Take the time to introduce yourself and talk to them. You can start with your courses, plans, and such, but slowly (and subtly) ease your way into less academic topics and focus on them. What were they like in high school? What classes did they take? What are they doing now? Do they like what they do now? What TV shows do they watch? Find common ground and latch on.
Eat lunch with them. An extension of my first suggestion, really. It’s just so much easier to commune and relate to another person over food. And if they have a meeting or are eating with other counselors, you can always try again. Persistence matters. And if all else fails, feel free to revert to the suggestion above.
Express interest in their work (especially your coursework). People, particularly guidance counselors, love this. It makes them feel like their work is meaningful, and it is! Especially since their work literally dictates the course of your academic career. Talk to them about it. Express a genuine interest–this is your future we’re talking about here, for goodness sake! Ask them how you can improve, and based on their experiences, what they can recommend. Seriously, this is a win-win course of action!
Try to interact with them outside of the office. Many guidance counselors have other responsibilities (usually in the form of directing some sort of extracurricular activity) on your campus. Ask them about it. If they do, and if it happens to coincide with your own interests, you’re golden. For instance, my high school counselor was also my soccer coach, which went a long way towards us finding common ground and the personalized letter of recommendation that he eventually wrote for me, which is why this is important.
If you’ve reached the point where you can comfortably refer to each other on a first-name basis, you’re set. And when all is said and done, your efforts will have paid off; you will have gained not only a glowing, personalized letter of rec from your guidance counselor, but more importantly, a life-long friend.