For counselors: two questions for student meetings

For counselors meeting with students and parents to discuss college planning, those 60 or 30 or 15 minutes are precious. Here are two questions to ask—one at the beginning of the meeting, the other at the end—to help you make that time count for you and for them.

Before we start, what do you want to make sure we cover today?

Asking this question right at the beginning, and paying close attention to the answer, shows the family that their needs are your priority. But it also allows you to triage the topics. Not all topics deserve the same amount of time or priority. Some may merit diving into right away. Others might make more sense to talk about after you’ve progressed through your own topics. You’re their counselor. And part of helping them means prioritizing their concerns and using your time together in the best way. Getting their most important topics on the table at the start puts the focus on them, but keeps you in control of the meeting flow.

What else?

“What else?” is general. It’s borderline vague. And that’s intentional. Asking, “What other questions do you have?” or “Is there anything else I can help you with?” makes people think twice about whether or not their remaining topic fits in with your proposed subject heading. But when you ask something as open-ended as “What else?” you give people room. And they’ll often surprise you with what they bring up.

Some counselors might resist that final question. After all, it’s not always helpful to have another item spring up on the agenda at the last minute. But that question, concern, or other topic is still there, unaddressed. Better to get the chance to address it now than to wait until the final application minute.