Montgomery Blair High School's Online Student Newspaper
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June 30, 2016

Getting to know you

by Benjamin Yokoyama, Online Sports Editor
It's senior year, and students have to figure out what they're doing after they graduate. Some students look around for jobs or apprenticeships, but for most students, their time will be spent going through the arduous college application process. Students are applying to the schools of their dreams and are putting every aspect of their life out there for complete strangers to read.

One of the most crucial parts that ties together every college application is the guidance counselor letter of recommendation. There are only 12 counselors at Blair to oversee the almost 3000 students, leaving each with a caseload of over 200. This leaves seniors wondering if their counselor has enough time to make their letter truly represent who they are.

Blair's counselors go through a lot to make sure their students are well-represented to their colleges of choice. Most of Blair's counselors go through at least fifty recommendations. Jane Godwin, who as the resource counselor only does about 15 recommendations per year, knows about the time commitment needed for each individual. "Each letter is different, but to write a quality letter, it takes me maybe an hour," she says. "It's a huge commitment."

Every Blair junior receives their Trailblazer Packet, filled with tools that counselors use for the student's recommendation. Charles Lott
Every Blair junior receives their Trailblazer Packet, filled with tools that counselors use for the student's recommendation.

But even before writing the recommendation, the Blair counselors need to make sure each student gives them all of the requisite resources and forms. Each student must take a lot into account: the three blue teacher recommendation forms, the parent/guardian questionnaire online and the student's transcript. Sometimes it can be seen as regurgitation of facts, and senior Ramya Durvasula knows that her counselor cares about all her students, but could also see how the letter could end up being a simple list of numbers and accolades that each student received. "The counselors definitely work on it enough to be able to write about us well, but a lot is based on facts and reports from other people," she says. This way, counselors can write a positive recommendation without interacting extensively with every student.

Counselors do often take into account their interactions with their students, which works very nicely for students who have a good relationship with their counselors, or see them on a regular basis. Godwin mentions that her students come to her for a very wide range of services. "It's so varied. I see them a minimum of twice a year for the mandatory services, but other students it can be three times a week, or as needed," she says. While some students come to her for advice in school and in their social life, she may only see others twice a year to set their schedules. Many students wonder if their relationship with their counselor will get them a better letter and, in turn, a better chance of getting into college. Durvasula only saw her counselor five times during her junior and senior years.

The College Board has a whole page on the importance of counselor recommendations for universities. They advise counselors: "If you work in a large school or are new to your school, you may have to write letters for students you don't know very well. Solicit information about students: Have the student complete a self-assessment. Ask the student's teachers to fill out a teacher information form. Ask the student's parent(s) or guardian(s) to complete a questionnaire." Coincidentally, this is exactly what Blair students do through Naviance and the blue forms.

While this could be considered an admission that counselors don't know some of their students as well as they'd like to, it has been proven to be a winning formula. "What goes into the letter ends up being a lot of what you tell them. The survey was longer than I thought, and my counselor could fill in things as if she knew me," Durvasula says, thinking back to the spring of her junior year.

The idea that the counselors can get by without knowing the student too well plays out just fine for the College Board, and right into the hand of the counselors. They ask for anecdotes about the students as well as anything that would set them apart from the pack of applicants. Even if you went to your counselor every day, it may have never come up that you were a black belt in karate and help teach elementary schoolers twice a week, but the student survey has a wealth of information. "If the student answers the survey right, the counselor letter is much more in-depth. It's more holistic, more of a general overview of the student and school," Godwin says.

The personal letter isn't the only source of information for colleges. Along with the letter, the counselors may send a school profile to help the college understand what the school has to offer. For Blair that report will highlight the large number of students and the large array of classes to choose from. They also send profiles of the programs and academies that Blair has to offer.

Every student who wants to go to college will find a great resource in their counselor, even if they don't know them too well. Their letter is just one of many important parts to a complete application. If you and your counselor aren't as intimate as you think you need to be for a good letter, think again. The counselors have the resources to figure out all they need to know about you, and will take the time necessary to help you make the leap from high school to college.




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