Hug Your Guidance Counselor

In case I have insufficiently vented about this topic, the winter holidays are inconveniently located in the middle of our application deadline season. While I realize most of you have visions of sugarplum-coated dreidels dancing in your heads, or something like that, your guidance counselors are working desperately to get that last recommendation letter out that you accidentally forgot to request until this week, despite a January deadline. Without sounding overly like a suck-up, guidance counselors are the unsung heroes of the college admissions process. In between lunch and bus duty, class scheduling and discipline issues, they try their ever-lovin’ best to convince students everyday to look beyond the same three schools where every other member of the class is applying, help your teachers write better recommendation letters, and try to get their own out along with meeting hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of transcript request deadlines. They get very little thanks and praise, although they often give up most of their holiday trying to help you achieve your goals, even when they think those goals are wildly unrealistic.

Then, to make matters worse, they get ALL the blame. When colleges send out thousands of letters saying that transcripts and recommendations haven’t yet been received, even when they’re actually sitting in mail buckets in our office just waiting to be processed, it’s the guidance counselor who gets the frantic parent and student calls (over and over and over…). When you get in you celebrate with friends and family, but when you don’t it’s often your guidance counselor that tries to keep you focused on all the other options available to you, or who shoulders incredibly ridiculous accusations of having sabotaged your chances with insufficient support.

So, in the spirit of these dreadfully timed holidays, do something nice for your guidance counselor. It doesn’t have to be big, but it is richly deserved. Be seeing you.


7 Responses

  1. I had a great relationship with my guidance counselor, so much so that when I decided on a last minute addition of a college (the day the application was due) she managed not only to help me complete it, she also got the school to write the check for me. Guidance counselors rock! As I mentioned before in one of my other posts, I started a web site to help students (and guidance counselors like mine) make the process easier for everyone. We encourage students to begin the conversation about letters of recommendation starting in their freshman year and allow teachers to post evaluations on the student’s behalf. The site is called The whole process of applying to college is less stressful when everyone works together and has the information they need. I hope I can help make that so.

  2. oh, I wish we could hug him, but he gave us very incorrect information. Now it’s going to be up to contacting colleges, letting them know my daughter won’t have all the foreign language requirements and cannot get them, and hope for the best.

  3. Sounds like you’d like to choke more than hug. Some schools are very uptight about the foreign language issue – at others it will depend on how much they want your daughter enrolled – if she has a high profile (or can hit a nice three point shot) at many schools it won’t matter.
    If it’s just one class she’s missing and the schools are of the uptight variety, you might make a plan now to take a course this summer at your local community college and send that information into Uptight U. My advice – bad explanation is that the guidance counselor didn’t explain – good explanation is that the student was focused on broadening her senior year experience and willing to give up her summer to make sure she had the best possible academic preparation. Be seeing you.

  4. I too would like to choke more than hug. I have contacted my daughter’s counselor 3 times in the past 2 months to simply and politely ask when she sent something out, basically because she brushes the kids off when they ask.
    After I called the 3rd time, she dragged my daughter into her office and told her that it was “unethical” for me to help her and that if I bothered the counselor again, she would write to all the schools and tell the schools that my daughter has behaved unethically on her applications simply because I actually know what my daughter is doing and am willing to question the college counselor to insure that she is doing her job!

    My daughter is a straight A student and still needs this woman to get private scholarship applications done, so she doesn’t want me to call the lady on it. I want to meet it head on and bring out into the open the fact that this woman is threatening to tank a kid’s future because she doesn’t like to be bothered by anyone (and I am not even addressing the hypocriticalness of saying that we have done something unethical when my daughter has done all her own work and yet gets threatened).
    If I bring this out into the open, there is the chance that this woman will actually attempt to destroy my daughters standing at her applied-to schools. Don’t the FERPA laws allow us to access to guidance counselor reccomendations and letters that are shared with other parties(“educational records”)? Would I be able to request that schools that deny my daughter provide me this info through the FERPA provisions?

  5. Spike
    I cannot speak for your first paragraph, but as for the second…FERPA laws deal with the schools being able to release information to parties other than the parents/guardians of the student (or other approved parties) without permission. Recommendations that are requested by the student/parent are not normally covered under FERPA, because you are asking for this information to be sent. Many schools cover themselves by putting a “confidential” disclaimer on the recommendation forms – which honestly, protects the teacher or person requested to write the recommendation. If the student waives their right, then the recommendation is completely confidential and is sealed and sent on to the college with the application package – many times, that just gives the teacher the extra assurance that what they write will not be held or brought back against them.

    You can try to contacting a university or college that has denied your student entrance, but FERPA won’t force them to give you information.

  6. well, actually FERPA is a privacy law that only applies to enrolled students – it protects from release of data and doesn’t entitle you to see information. To the best of my knowledge there isn’t much law dealing with recommendations for denied students. Many colleges, having gotten wise to this issue, routinely scrub their paper files and purge all recommendations – the ones that store everything electronically often still keep stuff. Few will want to just show you a file, and most will resist anything but a court order. To do so they will cite all kinds of privacy issues, but mostly they are just covering their collective tush (tushies? tuhsi? plural is so hard in Yiddish).

  7. My child’s guidance counselor has done a marvelous job by dealing effectively with tough issues, submitting documents quickly, staying in touch, and providing useful college admissions insights. So I sent a letter of appreciation to her boss, the school principal. It’s a great way to kill time while anxiously awaiting those admissions decisions.

    Dean Flagel, thank you for writing this outstanding blog and inspiring me to write that letter!

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