Why I Wish I'd Had College Counseling

[fa icon="calendar"] 2/26/20 8:00 AM / by Sarah Palmer

What can a college counselor offer me that I don't already know? Sarah Palmer offers up a cautionary tale and encourages utilizing college counseling resources. 


Young woman has a good idea

A little piece of irony: even though I work in college counseling, I never actually used a counselor. In fact, I flat-out refused when my dad asked me to see a college counselor in my senior year of high school. I was a very strong-willed, confident sixteen-year-old and I thought – what could some college counselor tell me that I didn’t already know?

Turns out, a lot. Here are a few mistakes I made in my application journey that college counseling could have helped me avoid.

Develop a customized school list

I applied to 13 colleges in total. After admissions results came out, I realized – I never intended to actually attend most of them, and in fact I had just wasted hundreds of dollars in application fees. 

Why did I apply to those schools? I applied mostly because everyone else applied to those schools. I applied because those schools were featured in my favorite TV shows. I applied to some of them because they didn’t have a writing supplement requirement. I applied for a lot of reasons that had very little to do with my own goals.

A college counselor familiar with my interests and abilities could have helped me select a list of schools with environments best suited to my future development. A college counselor also could have helped me research each campus toward understanding how each school could further my academic goals. This would have better informed my essays and interviews, too. At Empowerly, we have an amazing Research Request team doling out expert advice. The team is at your disposal for any and all admissions questions you may have, so you don’t have to waste time and research it yourself. Go ahead and ask—we subscribe to the belief that there are no bad questions.


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Find more challenging extracurricular activities

I was fairly active in high school—I competed in Academic Decathlon and worked as a Math teaching assistant—but my activities were all fairly common across other applicants. To really stand out, I needed to push myself to find unique, competitive activities such as internships, high school research positions, and pre-college summer programs.

This is where meeting a college counselor early on in high school would have been useful. I didn’t know where to begin, but a college counselor could have helped me reflect on my interests and pursue activities to further develop them. These activities would have not only boosted my extracurricular profile toward college admission, but would have also given me insight into major and career planning.

Check out Empowerly’s Digital Toolkit. It offers a large database of ideas for extracurricular activities and scholarships to help you discover your passion and stand out in the crowd. You’ll also find a bank of internship and research opportunities, summer programs, volunteering opportunities, and even a successful admitted college essays bank to help end your writer’s block when applying to summer programs and colleges. All of these resources are free to you with the touch of a button

For more tips on building your extracurricular success, register for an upcoming free webinar!

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Save money

This last point makes me want to laugh because if anyone knows anything about education in America, it’s that college is expensive. 

I mean, even sixteen-year-old Sarah knew this, but what I didn’t know was that even applying to college would also rack up a pretty big bill for my family, too. I wish a college counselor had warned me about: 

Registration fees for standardized tests like the SAT and ACT

And waivers for them based on FAFSA eligibility. Plus, a college counselor could have helped me organize my deadlines to register, so that I didn’t sign up too late and force my mom to drive 3 hours to the nearest available testing center. Sorry, mom.

Test prep tutoring rates

It turns out that just because your tutor went to Yale, that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be helpful to boosting your scores, but their degree does mean they’ll charge a hefty rate. Sorry, mom. 

College counselors can help you find scholarships and navigate other forms of financial aid like filling out your FAFSA, qualifying for work-study programs, and taking out loans.  College counselors can also help you avoid financial traps, making the cost of their services well worth the investment. They can recommend free or cheap self-guided test prep resources that have actually yielded tangibly boosted scores for their past students. 

In conclusion, I wish I’d had a college counselor 

Because I was the first in my family to ever apply for a four-year university, there were many aspects of the college application process that we just didn’t know about. I made a lot of mistakes that cost me thousands of dollars—mistakes that were avoidable. If I could go back and talk to the sixteen-year-old me, I would do everything I could to shake some sense into her—c’mon, Sarah, give college counseling a chance- you stand to gain a lot! 

Since time machines haven’t been invented yet, here’s some advice. Learn from my mistakes, and  make an appointment with a college counselor for your free profile review. You’ll receive a free, holistic review of your current applicant profile, and an assessment on gaps and areas for improvement moving forward. From there, if you want to work with a counselor, you can! 


Working with an Empowerly college counselor can also help you develop a growth mindset and bounce back from setbacks. We're here to support your process, minimize your stress, and remind you of your incredible achievements when you forget. 

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Topics: College Applications, College Essays, College: Deciding Where to Apply & Attend, Summer Planning, Study Tips & Stress Management

Sarah Palmer

Written by Sarah Palmer

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