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Most counselors have hundreds of high school students to assist with post-secondary planning. With so many students to help, how can you maximize your time with each student and leave them with a strong plan and balanced college list?

Do Your Prep Work

Keep notes of your meetings with each student. It is nearly impossible to keep track of conversations with hundreds of students detailing their academics, families, and post-graduation plans. Taking time to make clear, detailed notes after each visit will help you personalize each meeting and enable you to best help each student.  It is important to take a few minutes to review your notes and records about a student before any meeting with them.

Get to Know Your Student

Devote the first portion of your student check-in time to getting to know them. Find out how they are feeling about their current classes, what’s important to them, what their future goals are, and what role their family plays in their planning process. Encourage your student in each of these areas and find out how you can best support them with information, resources, or connecting them to others.

Build a Balanced List Together

Once you know your student’s situation and their post-secondary goals, work with them to build a balanced college list (if college would help them reach their desired career). This list should include reach schools, likely schools, and target schools. Make sure to encourage students to add at least one reach school to their list, especially if they have a dream college. 

Building a balanced list means that each of the colleges on a student’s list has been carefully added considering these factors: personal values and qualities, institution type, majors and programs offered, and affordability. 

Personal Values & Qualities

What type of experience does your student want in college? Do they want an institution that’s focused on a specific religion? Community service? Athletics? Internships? Do they have a college that they’ve always wanted to attend?

Institution Type

With your student, research and share college completion rates, alumni debt burdens, and unique opportunities offered at each college. Discuss how important each of these factors is in the decision process of your student and their family.


What majors and programs are offered at each institution? How could these programs help your student reach their desired career? What support services are available to students who need additional academic assistance?


Discuss with your student (and their family, if possible) their families financial needs and different types of financial aid awards that may be available to them. You can walk them through Net Price Calculators to help families understand each institution’s cost and financial aid options. 

At the end of the day, your student should be happy to matriculate to any college on their list and all their expectations should be met. This process takes time, and cannot be done in one semester. It requires careful planning across multiple semesters – ideally starting at the end of tenth grade through fall of twelfth grade. This list should be final by August of twelfth grade to hit all deadlines.