by Lorraine Petrie

I went to a private high school, so the teacher-to-student ratio was low, our class sizes were small, and we received more personalized attention than public school kids. But while my college counselor didn’t have a heavy caseload of students, I didn’t feel like I had any sort of connection with him. I don’t even recall him having any “real” counseling background or certification (aside from helping other kids in the previous graduating classes). He didn’t get to know me, care about what I was really interested in, or even seem remotely excited about helping me get into college. For me, our meetings were a waste of time, and I honestly didn’t like him very much. Rather than being encouraging, supportive, or invested in my plans or guiding me towards the best path, he was deflating and belittling. As a high school student, I chalked it up to “that’s how it’s supposed to be.” But now, as an adult, I know better.

I was a pretty independent kid as it was, so I was okay with the idea of navigating the waters on own. My parents weren’t the overly involved types, plus they had no idea about the college application process or standardized testing. They trusted me to research my options, figure out what I wanted to do, and decide where I wanted to go to college. I told them about schools I was interested in, they went on the college tours with me, and then they wrote the checks I requested for application fees and test registration. I wasn’t one to usually ask for help, which -- looking back -- is something I’d discourage in any high schooler today. While being self-motivated and self-sufficient is still important, the resources available now are so invaluable that it opens up so many more doors for students if they just had a little more guidance and encouragement.

I wanted to stay in California and applied to only 3 schools, a number that would be dangerously low these days. When I was notified that there was an error with my application to my top choice school, I had no one to help me figure out how to resolve the issue. I was so upset. I did my best to correct it myself on the day it was due (no thanks to my high school counselor), but when I received my rejection letter, I couldn’t help but wonder if it had been because of the application issue, whether my scores were too low, or that I just wasn’t what they were looking for.

I ended up at a university I loved, so my college experience still had a happy ending. But as I look back, I sometimes wonder if I could have been accepted to my top choice school had my application been completed differently: if I had written more compelling or unique essays, if I had taken advantage of every opportunity to stand out from the rest of the application pile, et cetera.

Every student’s ideal situation is to receive as many acceptance letters as possible and have plenty of options when deciding which college they’ll be attending. So my biggest piece of advice? Get real, experienced help with the process. Whether it’s from your school counselor, a mentor, a family member, private counselor, whoever…just be sure it’s someone you like, trust, and WANT to work with. Don’t do it alone -- being your own college counselor is a risky move!