Recommended Reading for High School Counselors

When our counselors go through the Collegewise training program, we read and discuss a number of books about college admissions.  Here are a few of our favorites.

Admissions ConfAdmissions Confidential: An Insider’s Account of the Elite College Selection Process
by Rachel Toor

Toor  takes you along with her during her three-year stint as an admissions officer at Duke University.  I include this book in our training because it shows that admissions officers are just regular people, not stuffy educators.  Toor took a job in admissions because she thought it would be more fun than her editing job. She admits to having a soft spot for artsy kids and reveals that she argued most forcefully for those students she felt like she could hang out with.  It's not a book about how to get into Duke; it's more of a revealing account of what it's like to work in a highly selective college's admissions office.

A is for A is for Admission:  The Insider's Guide to Getting Into the Ivy League and Other Top Colleges by Michele A. Hernandez

Michelle Hernandez is not universally loved in the college admissions world (If you'd like to know why, here's an interview on NPR), but I still appreciate that she comes right out and describes exactly how she and her colleagues at Dartmouth actually evaluated students.  It's also refreshing to hear someone else say that a student could scoop ice cream during the summer and still get into a selective college.  Her section on letters of recommendation is especially good.  Though unless you  majored in statistics, you might want to just skip over the section on the "academic  index."  It's complicated and not terribly interesting (to me, at least).

CollegeUnranked College Uranked: Ending the College Admissions Frenzy, edited by Lloyd Thacker
I love this book’s mission—to help students re-take control of a college admissions process that seems to have spun out of control.  The advice comes in the form of short essays from admissions officers themselves.  Some are better pieces than others, but it's a good reminder of something we've learned after doing this for over 10 years–admissions officers are mostly good people who want to do the right thing by kids even if they can't admit all of them.   


 TheGatekeepers The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premiere College by Jacques Steinberg

Steinberg (who now writes the admissions blog "The Choice,") observed the admissions process at Wesleyan University and wove it into what I think is an entertaining read.  You'll learn a lot about admissions, and don't be surprised if you get sucked into the story.  Waiting to find out who gets in is like waiting to find out who the killer is at the end of a taut suspense novel.  And one of the applicants profiled went on to found


HarvardSchmarvardHarvard Schmarvard: Getting Beyond the Ivy League to the College That’s Best for You by Jay Mathews

The title pretty much says it all.  Jay Mathews offers a good dose of perspective and common sense to the process, and even gives readers a list of 100 great colleges worth considering.  I love his honesty about everything from the realities of the waitlist to the search letter scam where kids get warm and inviting letters from selective colleges based on nothing but PSAT scores (which aren't even used during the admissions process).  Jay's also a parent of two kids who've gone on to college and has especially good perspective for moms and dads of the college  bound.  

OnWriting On Writing the College Application Essay by Harry Bauld

It was written nearly twenty years ago, but the chapter about overused essays entitled, "Danger: Sleepy Prose Ahead" is worth the price of the book.  I'll put it this way.  #8 on his list is "Pet Death" of which he says,

"Maudlin descriptions of animal demise, always written by the fluffball.  'As I watched Button's life ebb away, I came to value the important things in the world.'"

C'mon.  You've got to get this one. 

An idea for high school counselors

Here’s my crazy idea of the month for high school counselors.  It will let you get all the necessary information to your students and parents faster, cheaper and more effectively.  And since most high school counselors have way too much work to do and not enough time to do it, this might actually add some time back into your day.

Start a blog for your counseling office.

People tend to think of blogs like online diaries.  But a blog is really just a website that you can update easily, and it could become the one place in your school that people know to go to for information about college.  Here’s my vision.

1.  Go to Typepad and sign up for one of their services. The cheapest option is $8.95 per month which will let you do everything you need to do except allow more than one person to write blog posts.  If you want that option, it will cost a total of $14.95 a month.  Pick a color scheme that matches your school’s.  And make sure to enable RSS feeds, which will allow people to subscribe to your blog.  Even better, offer to buy lunch for a nice student with blog knowledge and have him or her do it for you.  It will take less than 30 minutes for a teenage blogger to do this for you (and to explain to a newbie what all the blog fuss is about).

2.  Tell parents and students that this blog will be the first place you’ll share information about anything college or counseling related.   Of course, you should only say this if you’re serious, so you could also try this for six months, see how it goes, and then tell everyone.

3.  When you have anything to share with families, write it on the blog.  Handing back PSAT scores next week?  Announce it on the blog.  Notre Dame is coming to visit the campus to do a presentation?  Blog it.  College night?  Time to schedule classes for next year?  SAT deadline is coming up?  Blog ’em.

4.  Invite families to subscribe to the blog (that’s what the RSS feed was for) so that every time you post something, they’ll be notified.

5.  If you’re going to be away at a conference or closed for the holidays, mention it on the blog and your families will know.

Now any time you’ve got important information to share, you or your colleagues can post it right away.  No need to rely on someone else to upload it to the counseling website.  No need to send out emails or print flyers.

Once you’ve done those basics (and depending on your workload), you could also use the blog to bring even more value to your counseling program.  Here are a few ideas:

  • When you have a counseling event–like college night or PSAT scores-back or a financial aid presentation, take photos at the event and put them on the blog along with a short write-up of what was covered.  You could also upload any handouts from the evening.  Those who missed it can still get the information, but they’ll see from the photos just how many people took the time to show up (sometimes a little subtle guilt can be a good thing).
  • When you attend a conference, do a quick write-up of any interesting things you learned and post them on the blog.  I think it will show families just how much effort you’re extending on their behalf.
  • If you read a relevant article in the press, or an entry on another blog that you think is worth sharing, blog it.
  • If you add a new person to the counseling staff, snap a photo, write a bio and introduce them to families on the blog.
  • Offer up timely servings of your expertise for students and parents.  What would you like every student and parent to know about how to choose summer activities, or how to plan a campus visit, or how to handle college rejections?  Blog it once and you can post it again next year when the new class is ready for the advice. You should only need to write a detailed description of your school’s letter of recommendation process once.  Do it once and post again next year for the new class.
  • After you’ve done this for awhile, you’ll have lots of great write-ups with tips and advice to share with families.  Then you won’t always need to keep generating as much new material.  Instead, you could group links to appropriate articles together and post them at the right times.  For example, when college application season begins, post an entry with all of your relevant past articles that the new senior class needs to read, like this.

Sure, there are lots of reasons you could argue not to do it.  Not enough time, don’t know enough about blogging, families won’t use it, etc.  But most high school counselors I know are overworked, and still always trying to find ways to more for their students.  If you’re open to trying something new that might actually let you do more in less time, this might be a low risk venture.

If you’re already doing this at your school, I’d love to hear about how it’s going.

High school counselors: need help writing your school profile?

Northwestern University posted a guideline for counselors that describes what they look for in a high school profile.  Northwestern makes no claims to speak for all colleges (and we’re sure that students at the University of Chicago, in particular, would never permit their arch rival to speak for them), but it’s hard to imagine that a profile that met these criteria wouldn’t be appropriate for other colleges, Northwestern rival or not.

A good resource for high school counselors

If you spend 30 minutes looking around the NACAC (National Association for College Admissions Counseling) website, you’ll find all sorts of useful information, including college planning calendars that you can distribute to your students.  There’s also a solid “Resources” section  with lots of tools to use with your kids.   And the NACAC website is also the first place we go to find the dates for national college fairs and for performing/visual arts college fairs.

In May, NACAC releases an annual “Space Availability Survey” that lists colleges who still have room for freshman applicants (even though many application deadlines have passed).  This survey would be a lifesaver if you had a kid who was not accepted to any colleges.