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8 Things I Wish My High School Counselor Told Me About Applying to College


Being a high school senior is tough. With the competitive nature of college admissions these days, balancing academics, extracurricular activities, family commitments, and applications is truly a feat. While high school counselors are at their disposal during the crucial months of October through December, seniors are tirelessly scouring college confidential forums, messaging alumni, and hacking into college admissions databases simply because they aren’t getting the information they want and need. So here’s the million-dollar question: What questions do 12th graders have that aren’t being answered by the school counseling department?


(Photo Credit: John Althouse Cohen/Flickr)

The following list are questions I asked my counselors; let’s just say I got less than satisfactory answers.

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1. What is dual enrollment?

Unknown to most, you are able to enroll in community colleges, and even some university courses while you’re still in high school; this is called “dual-enrollment.” College classes are impressive on resumes and more than often, more interesting than the courses you take in high school. Additionally, high marks in these community college courses will jump-start your college GPA (a word of caution: only dual-enroll if you personally feel as if you can do well in the class; nothing is less impressive than getting a D in a class).

2. Can I apply for scholarships earlier than the spring semester of my senior year?

Yes. While most seniors apply in their second semester of senior year when they have more time, scholarships are available to juniors as well. Use reliable college admissions websites such as Cappex,, and others. Apply early enough, and you could even have a scholarship to list on your college applications.

3. Does a low admission rate mean a school is better than another?

A low admission rate does not automatically mean a school is amazing; the converse is not true either. To evaluate whether a school has a rigorous program that will challenge you if you choose to enroll, examine admission statistics in comparison to how many applicants there are.

Naturally, schools like Stanford, Harvard, and other known colleges will have more applicants and thus lower acceptance rates. Additionally, liberal arts colleges such as Wellesley, Vassar, Carleton and other reputable undergrad institutions will have higher rates since they have a smaller applicant pool. Arguably, these liberal arts colleges have similar curriculum and faculty to Ivy Leagues and other top schools; they simply as less well known. Look at school rankings for the department you are interested in, not just the school as a whole.

4. How do I demonstrate my artistic talent if I’m not an art major?

If you’ve hammered your craft to perfection, you want to be able to show it off. More than often, the arts is a hobby for a lot of students and they aren’t sure how to demonstrate their talents without actually pursuing them professionally. As a rule of thumb, most visual art portfolios should be contain 10-12 completed pieces with prepared artist descriptions and titles.

Most audio files demonstrating finesse in musical training will last at most five minutes; try to keep most recordings less than two minutes. Dance and theatrical arts will have the greatest difference in criteria depending on school, but prepare recording equipment and know how to frame yourself so that when you perform, your skills will not be rendered differently because of technical difficulties.

Most private universities will use SlideRoom to allow you to upload your supplemental materials. There is often a $10-20 processing fee to do so that won’t be waived, so be sure that you will be able to pay several of these processing fees if you choose to send several supplements.

5. What’s good about enrolling in community college?

At many academic high schools, there’s a taboo about attending community college after laboring for four years in AP, Honors, and IB courses. Community college is a much more affordable alternative to a four-year university. Additionally, two years of community college will allow you to know your GE courses and boost your GPA, so if or when you do decide to transfer, the likelihood of you getting into a better school will have increased.

6. How can I connect with students at _____?

More often than not, to narrow down which colleges to apply to, seniors want to talk to people who are there now. Without any connections to the school, it’s almost impossible to do that though, so utilize what you have: social media. Most if not all universities will have admissions pages on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and other platforms. Use these social media sites to your advantage and reach out to students who are running these outlets; they will be more than happy to help you learn more about the school than what’s on the pamphlet.

7. How do I get fee waivers?

Fee waivers are a must during application season, especially if you are of a low income bracket. With that said, the waiver process is different for every school. For the most part, if your family makes less than $12,000 a year, you will qualify for a waiver for the application to every private university you apply to and four free waivers for the UC system, one of the best collegial public school systems. Utilizing the fee waivers given to you automatically by the College Board are supposed to help tremendously (though I admit, I never used them myself).

8. Do my senior year grades really matter?

Every counselor will tell you yes, but in all honesty, your applications come first. The reality of the situation is your first semester senior year will not make or break your admission unless you drastically plummet academically. This is the time for you to showcase what you’ve done the last three years of high school, not to put in a last ditch effort to get into your dream school. Continue to pursue your academics, but don’t sweat over a B if you spent time on an awesome application instead of studying.

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If you could go back and do it all over again, what would you do differently about your high school and college experience? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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JandyEMaherJJoneseugene mena Recent comment authors
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Number 8 makes me nervous. You really need to get rid of that. I agree with JJones above. Colleges do withdraw admissions. In fact, colleges and universities will tell the kids to talk to us about making their senior schedule more rigorous to increase their chances of admission.


Having seen three admissions offers withdrawn based on senior schedule and senior grades on final transcript I take umbrage to this statement.


Most college application deadlines are prior to the end of first semester. The colleges’ decisions are based upon mostly 10th and 11th grades GPAs, less of 9th and 12th. One way to get your admissions withdrawn is to fail a core class. A college counselor told us that a student failed English, thus, it left him without the 4 years of required English. Otherwise, unless there is a super tank in the GPA, like all C’s, the admissions should be… Read more »

eugene mena
eugene mena

Fantastic writing ! I was fascinated by the insight ! Does anyone know if my assistant would be able to get a template IRS W-2 version to type on ?

parent of high achiever
parent of high achiever

So if you ask the admissions folks about number 1) I think you’d get a different answer — the uniform response we’ve gotten is “take the more challenging course” — a lot of community college courses are not on par with very good HS courses.

The other thing is that college admissions folks don’t have a good answer when confronted with MOOC’s — there are some very good ones out there.


As a high school counselor for 8 years, while I know most of us do a far from perfect job in college counseling large caseloads of 450+ students, I definitely cover all of these with my students with all the nuance it seems you would like. Including #8, which I try to explain as consistency. Don’t sweat over a B, that is absolutely true, as long as the rigor of your senior year schedule matches or exceeds prior years and… Read more »

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