What Have You Done For Me Lately? Advocacy in the College Process


What Have You Done For Me Lately? Advocacy in the College Process

Sam Bigelow
Director of College Counseling
Middlesex School

Just as dated as the Janet Jackson 1986 pop smash “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” the concept of the “college placement officer” is of a bygone era. Gone are the days of a college placement officer sitting with a dean of admission and determining who from their senior class can and will be admitted…and who won’t. The term “college counselor” is a title that far more accurately describes the role of the person who, at best, deftly guides students through the murky waters of the college admissions process and serves as an advocate, therapist, and planner as they present their students to colleges. Often, the question of what that advocacy looks like comes up this time of year, when students and their parents anxiously await college news.

Multi-layered Advocacy

The primary form of a college counselor’s advocacy is the counselor recommendation. We spend hours researching and planning for how we can most effectively portray each student. Each letter paints a picture of a student in their best possible light, highlighting overarching themes, passions, strengths, and anecdotes that help add color and detail to an application. These letters are a formal, required part of each college application, and they are a huge point of pride for college counselors.

Additional advocacy can take various forms: a quick email to an admissions representative highlighting a recent story, a phone call to help explain a complicated situation at home, an in-person conversation with an admissions friend at a conference about a student who has identified their school as a top choice. Some colleges allow for “counselor calls” where each applicant is discussed, some of those calls will only involve discussing students that an admissions officer wishes to speak about, and some colleges have policies that no longer allow for counselor calls. In other words, college counselor advocacy is limited by what each college will allow for. We take every opportunity to advocate for our students and we are always thinking about the most effective and innovative forms advocacy and strategy. We also work to understand and respect each college’s approach to making an admissions decision. As counselors, we wish we played a greater role in the outcome, and sometimes, on the margins, we can make the difference that helps create an opportunity for a student. As a general rule, though, we work tirelessly to focus upon the details that are within our control, and the decision rests in the hands of the admissions officer.

Advocacy is a Two-Way Street 

While college counselors advocate for their students in every possible way, students need to be their own self-advocates as well. Counselors should help students grow into effective self-advocates in an era where simply making a phone call can seem like a novel concept.

Respond to emails and requests from your college counselor. Chances are, if your counselor is writing you with a quick request this time of year, your timely and thoughtful response may help make the difference in an admissions decision. It could be that a request from an admissions officer needs to be answered, or that your counselor has an idea that might help shed more light on what a great member of a college community you could be. 

Make sure your college counselor knows what your “wish list” is. If your counselor has a clear sense of what your hopes and dreams are, they will more effectively be able to advocate for you. Having a clear sense of where you want to go to college will help your counselor strategize on your behalf. It may help provide important context for your counselor in seeing the overall picture of how your process is shaping up, and how they can help create the most exciting opportunities possible for you. Remember, if you end up on a few wait lists, your “wish list” might change and your counselor’s advocacy can play a huge role in communicating your increased interest in a college.

In the end, students and parents should have faith that their college counselor has their best interests in mind. We are working with you, and likely doing more than you will ever be aware of (good counselors don’t self-promote) to help build you up, advocate for you, and propel you to your next adventure. 

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