Remember when daredevil Nik Wallenda crossed the Grand Canyon on a tight rope? Well, dealing with a slacker guidance counselor can also be a balancing act, albeit not quite as dangerous.
When the counselor has already dropped the ball once, it’s reasonable to worry that it could happen again. But the counselor–who prepares each student’s School Report (which includes a potentially important recommendation) —is holding a lot of cards. So it’s also reasonable to worry that pushing too hard may put you … and your child … in the counselor’s bad graces.
So here are some steps to take that can help allay your fears and improve the odds that your child’s college deadlines are met:
- Most high schools have a system in place for requesting transcripts and school reports online. Commonly schools use “Naviance” (or other less common types of software) that allow students and parents to indicate where transcripts and school reports must be sent. The software even automatically inserts the college deadlines. (But always double check the dates that are listed online. Sometimes, especially when students apply to a special program or major, the deadlines are atypical.)
So your first job is to find out how your high school expects these requests to be made and then to follow the protocol. (Some high schools have special online parent accounts which are separate from their child’s, but your life will be easier if you ask your child for the password and share one account.) Once the online request has been made, Naviance (and most other programs) will tell you when the submission is complete. Thus, if you or your child puts in an electronic request, it’s easy to track it.
Make sure that you respect the high school’s timeline. Most high schools expect transcript and recommendation requests to arrive at least two weeks before they are due at the college and they may want even more lead time around the holiday season.
- IF you see that the deadline looms and there is no sign that the materials have been submitted, it’s time to contact the counselor. Always do so via email so there is a written record of the correspondence. Ask politely for an acknowledgement that the message has been read and that the appropriate action can be taken. Ideally the email should come from the student, not from the parent.
- Better yet, befriend the secretary. Never mind Donald Trump. If you’re looking for someone with organizational expertise to be the next U.S. president, vote for a high school guidance secretary. These folks are often the unsung heroes of the college process. So if you notice that materials aren’t being submitted in a timely manner, you may find that the guidance secretary is your best ally.
- Allow extra time for non-standard materials. For instance, you mentioned that your counselor missed a scholarship deadline. Applications, recommendations, and transcripts that go to scholarship organizations, summer programs and other places besides colleges may have their own separate protocol. So ask the counselor (or the guidance secretary) what special rules might apply to these materials.
- Take ultimate responsibility for safe arrivals. Many colleges provide applicant portals or other online ways for candidates to track application materials and to know when their application is complete. But if the college doesn’t offer this option, then it is up to the student to telephone the college to ascertain that everything reached the admission office. I recommend waiting about two weeks after the materials were submitted. It can take at least that long to get it all properly coded and filed. Even if those two weeks extend past the deadline, colleges will almost always allow students to track down or re-send missing materials if they do so promptly, or they may even recommend waiting another week or so to make sure that the coding and filing are up to date. “Missing” materials often do turn up without any need to re-send. (Note that scholarship outfits may be pickier about deadlines than colleges are. So start early and make the follow-up phone call BEFORE the deadline, if you’re not sure that all materials arrived on time.)
- Contact a high school higher-up, but only when it’s the last straw. If materials are consistently late or AWOL, if Naviance is repeatedly showing that transcripts aren’t going out or deadlines aren’t being met, then it’s time to risk the counselor’s wrath by speaking to his or her supervisor … probably the head of guidance (but if your child’s counselor IS the head of guidance, then your meeting should be with an academic dean or principal). And, if you have to blow the whistle on the counselor, it may be time to ask for a different counselor!
Like most things in life, there is lots of inequality in the college admissions process, and this can start close to home, when a student draws the short straw and gets the crummiest counselor. There may not be a silver bullet to completely remedy this problem, but politeness and persistence can help to get you through the admissions maze. And, above all, recognize that this person probably has far more work than he or she is paid to do, so cut the slacker counselor at least a little slack. 😉