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A School Counselor’s Wish List

A School Counselor’s Wish List

Traci Flowers
Deerfield High School

As a family, we celebrated Thanksgiving early the past two years. Once was to accommodate out-of-town relatives and once was to take advantage of the warmer weather and hosted Thanksgiving outside before the temperatures dropped. Thanksgiving is often passed on by and we move right towards planning for December. Not sure if this is a growing trend in other families but right after Halloween – Holiday decorations started appearing in stores, and some even started decorating. I’m not saying I agree, but it seems like more of a reality these days. 

But alas, November is coming to an end and we are officially about to cross into December and the holiday season and I’ve started thinking about my holiday wish list. And this isn’t just any holiday wish list … this is my big dreaming, pie in the sky holiday wish list for college admissions. Hopefully, Santa will see some of my wishes and bring some changes to the process of the next admission cycle. Hey, a girl can hope, can’t she?! 

  • Letters of Recommendation: I wish colleges could limit the letters of recommendation they will accept. If students see 9 optional letters are available to submit, they believe 9 is better than one. The request for teachers’ letters of recommendation has become overwhelming, with students asking for 3+ teachers and 3 other evaluators (coaches, clergy, employers) because the college allows this. This is not manageable, for students or staff. By limiting the number of letters you accept, it sends a clear message that they should not ask everyone in their life. Thank you, Villanova and Notre Dame who limit teacher submission to ONE! And Illinois and California have found a way to make decisions without any letters – Bravo! Also, the role of the school counselor has changed over the past decade. If you have not read the State of Mental Health in America, school counselors are not only managing ridiculously large caseloads, they are dealing with a mental health epidemic in our schools that did not previosly exist at the level it does today. It can be incredibly difficult for school counselors to know their students at the level expected for a meaningful letter of recommendation. As a student advocate, every school counselor tries to write letters to the best of their ability – but with a demanding workload and the shift in mental health counseling, this creates additional pressure that did not exist years ago. I hope that offices are asking….. “Why are we asking for Counselor recs? What purpose do they serve?” If access and equity are important to your institution – who is getting a more compelling counselor recommendation – a well-resourced school with smaller caseloads and countless professional development opportunities on crafting a compelling letter or underresourced schools with counselor caseloads of 650+ students?
  • Deadlines: I wish for clear communication and transparency on policies, dates, and materials. My wish is for colleges to create clear deadlines for student submission and supporting documents. Even better if supporting materials can be SENT within one week of your stated application deadlines. Or two weeks. (Thank you, UNC-Chapel Hill, UVM, Georgia Tech, and Tufts!!) This can reduce the panic our families experience if we can easily point students to your website that shows delineated deadlines. P.S. Another wish: changing the communication timeline for missing documents to start after application submission deadlines and not the moment the application is received? Can this be a universal best practice?? Too much to ask?? 
  • Student PortalsI wish for colleges to acknowledge in emails and/or portals that it may take X number of days or weeks before documents are processed and recorded in the systems and then show up in the students’ portals? Counselors spend a lot of time and energy explaining this to every panicked student and parent who believes we did not send the documents. It would be helpful if this communication could also come from colleges. Thank you University of Chicago!
  • Counselor Portals: Speaking of Portals – I wish SLATE users could, pretty please, activate counselor accounts for decisions? Many colleges are now using Slate which is a great resource for counselors and we love it! However many institutions do not share admission decisions through this portal, just names of applicants. At large public schools, this data is invaluable. We would love to have accurate records of where our students apply. (Believe it or not, most students do not report this or report inaccurately.) Tools like this would help us better serve students. Thank you to those who release decisions on Slate, through counselor portals, or share applicant lists! Thanks for collaborating with us and sharing important data! Wishing more schools follow this practice!
  • Common Application: Counselor Documents – I wish the CA school report and counselor recommendation were separate. Please distinguish that the school report is the transcript – to make clear to students what the college is receiving/requesting. Instead of stating Counselor Recommendation is “not started” when it appears that something is missing when the school does not require a letter. Maybe state instead –  “optional” or not required. Change the language to not induce stress/anxiety that something is missing when in actuality it is not a required part of the application. Mid-year report- why is this necessary? A mid-year report is often the requested document that counselors are forced to spend a day or more processing. A mid-year report is often not required and the college is only requesting a mid-year transcript. So why are we requiring counselors to complete a  “mid-year report” that is not typically used in the evaluation process? If the purpose is to notify the college of a schedule change – why is it required for every student. Can this just be completed for those that have a change or something substantial to report? Could the mid-year report go away?? Phew, I maybe went on a rant there, sorry, mid-year report, don’t take it personally.  
  • Final Transcripts: This one gets the CAC group fired up every year. Being mindful of automated emails to students about the final transcript that give rise to fear and anxiety. We understand colleges need final transcript as soon as possible. Please be mindful of the tone and messaging to students about final transcripts and understand our school calendars are different. Schools will send transcripts as soon as humanly possible, so to publicize a deadline that can’t be met, causes distrust in our procedures and even more stress than is already inherent in the process.
  • Summer Programs: We do not have the capacity to host an internal database for all the summer program invitations we receive. We strongly encourage colleges to add your programs to a database like the Illinois Association for College Admission Counseling Summer Programs Database: This directory is crowd-sourced from information submitted by program representatives and is available to students and counselors everywhere. We do want the information to share with our students but would love to see the information featured in the database so that it is all in one place. 

I’m not the first to have an admissions wish list…. groups like Hack the Gates and ACCEPT  have been re-envisioning admissions for years – Go Test Blind, End Early Decision, Stop lunch visits and I won’t get into the SRAR…. But I am also interested in what is on YOUR Admission Wish List? Be sure to come tell me in the members only portal forum discussion! Here’s to a new year and new collaborations that help best serve students!

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