Counselor and Teacher Relationships: Thinking Ahead to College Admissions

It behooves you to develop good relationships with a number of teachers throughout your four years of high school so that when it comes time to write a recommendation they know you both as a student and a person.
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From freshman through senior year of high school, aside from family members and friends, there is no one with whom you spend more time than teachers. While some large state universities don't require any teacher recommendations as part of the college application process, many colleges ask for at least one, if not two letters of recommendation. Therefore, it behooves you to develop good relationships with a number of teachers throughout your four years of high school so that when it comes time to write a recommendation they know you both as a student and a person.

While completing application school reports is a part of a counselor's job, writing letters of recommendation is not something required of teachers. They usually do it out of the kindness of their hearts; therefore, please don't make the mistake of taking for granted that a teacher will automatically say yes to your asking for a rec. Moreover, know that if they do agree to write a letter for you, they are doing so during their personal time, of which teachers these days seem to have less and less. And... as a result, you need to give them sufficient lead-time -- that means weeks to months, not days! -- to make sure they can plan accordingly.

Finally, if one ends up writing a recommendation for you, don't forget to let him or her know how much you appreciate the time and energy put into it. A genuine thank you, preferably written, is more meaningful than you can imagine. And while you're at it, let teachers know when a class they've taught has been particularly meaningful or when something they said was a "lightbulb" moment for you. Also, remember your teachers with small gifts (as in home made cookies or candies) during the holidays.

Admissions officers pay a lot of attention to teacher recommendations. After all, who knows you better as a student?


Sometimes called a guidance counselor, a college advisor, or a college counselor, a high school counselor is also a part of your high school team. Their availability is much less predictable, since they are often responsible for anywhere from 250 to over 1,000 students at many public high schools. Even private school counselors are in charge of 35-50 or more students.

Developing a solid relationship with your teachers and your counselor is useful not only because they might be writing college application letters of recommendation for you some day, but also because they are among a small group of people who really understand teenagers and their issues. While this might not be true for all, their place in your life usually ranges from passing acquaintance to role model to mentor to good friend, during and even after high school. When asked who influenced them most during their lives, many adults will identify a teacher they knew back in high school.

The better that you and a teacher and/or counselor know one another, the greater the chance that the person will give you a glowing report in a recommendation. This is not only true when you are in high school, but even after you go off to college or into your first job. Obviously, getting good recommendations shouldn't be the only reason you develop relationships with teachers and counselors. These individuals can be wonderful sources of support and information throughout your high school career.

Teachers and counselors who write letters of recommendation want to do so because they have something unique to say about their students. They look for their students to do the following types of things, at minimum:

  • Demonstrate real interest and energy in the classroom and homework

  • Interact, contribute, and work well with fellow students
  • Write well
  • Go beyond what is expected in contributing to their class and extracurricular activities
  • Show growth as a student and person over the years
  • Be unique and/or better than other students in something, big or small, academic or non-academic
  • Overcome academic and personal challenges
  • Both teachers and counselors are impressed with students who are polite and respectful of school officials and other students. They notice when students speak up in discussions, but are careful not to "hog" the classroom and student forums. Use all of your social skills to develop meaningful relationships with your counselor and teachers. College admissions representatives, scholarship offices, and even future employers will pay a lot of attention to what they say.

    When college admissions officers have questions about students and/or their applications, it's high school college counselors that they contact to get the answers.


    Here is a list of things to do during your four years of high school:

    Freshman Year
    Freshman year is an opportune time to begin good teacher and counselor relationships. At the beginning of the year, make a point of introducing yourself to the counselor. With teachers, engage in in-class or after-class discussions; complete papers and homework on time; when you don't understand, respectfully ask for help. Be curious. Don't forget to smile and let them know you appreciate what they do.

    Sophomore Year
    College letters of recommendation may seem like a long way off to you, but sophomore year is when you should be developing good, if not close, relationships with one or more of your teachers and if possible, become acquainted with your college counselor. If you had a favorite teacher freshman year, stop in and chat with him or her occasionally. If a teacher was particularly influential or helpful, let them know. If a freshman teacher you liked is teaching a class for sophomores, try to get in their course.

    Junior Year
    Junior year is the most critical one to have good relationships. Right before you leave school for summer break is when to ask favorite teachers to write college letters of recommendation for the coming fall applications. This is especially important for teachers who will be taking a sabbatical year, maternity leave or retiring. Let your counselor know about your college list and how you plan to work on applications over the summer and in the fall.

    Senior Year
    Senior year is when good counselor and teacher relationships really pay off. See my Letters of Recommendation blog piece for how to ask people to write recs for you and what information and forms to provide them. Always let them know that you want to do anything you can to make their jobs easier... and then follow through on doing those things. Always write a thank you note when they've completed their part. Never take their efforts for granted.

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