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MIT staff blogger Bryan G. Nance

Time To Have A Sit-Down With Your GC. by Bryan G. Nance

Can we tawk?

If you are a senior, you know that you are playing for all the marbles this year. You know that it is important that you take proper time and care with the application process. You also know that this process is to be respected and taken seriously. There is no doubt in my mind that you are ready to get down to business. So, your first step is…? (Hint: see the title.) Aren’t you fortunate that I’m here to help you answer this most deep and profound question?

It’s all about the Guidance Counselor – or, as we call him or her in the admissions business – the GC. In case you didn’t know, the GC is the guardian and gatekeeper of the college process for most high school students. How important is your GC? Outside of your parents and teachers, your GC is one of the most important people in your life during your senior year.

So what is it that GCs do that make them so valuable to you? For starters they:

  • Help you register for standardized tests.
  • Help you complete and mail you college applications.
  • Help you with the financial aid process.
  • Help you apply for outside scholarships.
  • Plan college visits/college fairs/ college nights for you and your parents.
  • Write letters of recommendation for you.
  • And most importantly: give YOU solid advice about the college process.

As you can see, your GC has a very important role in the College process. So what can you do to maximize this relationship and make it work the best for you? Great question! I’m so glad that I asked it. Here are some ideas that may help you build a great working relationship with your GC.

  1. Do you even know who your GC is? If not, find out now. Usually this information can be found on your school’s website. Once you find out the identity of your GC, be sure to introduce yourself post haste. In fact, if you are able to get his or her email address, why not drop a note introducing yourself.
  2. Do your homework! Many schools have websites that give very detailed instructions explaining the college guidance process for seniors. Learn it. Know it. Adhere to it. Remember, GCs have many, many students to assist. The better you know the rules, the better the process will be for all involved.
  3. Never be flaky. Make sure that you are taken seriously. Although you may not have narrowed your college choices down to, say, less than 30 schools, it doesn’t mean that you should be seen as flaky. How do you avoid being seen as a flake? Again – do your homework. Even if you have 30 schools on your list, be able to explain why. If possible, divide your choices into categories. Categories may include: public schools vs. private schools; or reach vs. middle vs. safety. It is up to you to create the categories and to be able to explain them.
  4. Respect the process and your GC will respect you. Enough said.
  5. Zen is your approach when dealing with your GC. Be firm in your convictions yet open to suggestions. Bend like a reed in the wind. If not, you will snap like a maple tree in a hurricane. (I have no idea what that means but it sure sounds cool!)
  6. Know what you don’t know. This process can be overwhelming. Be honest with yourself and with your GC about your interests, hopes and dreams for college. Most of all, be honest about what you don’t know or understand about the process. This admission to your GC will show that you are mature and willing to seek assistance. Both are really cool characteristics that we love on this side of the desk!
  7. Trust your GC. If there is something important going on in your life that impacts your application or your high school career, tell the GC. The GC will in turn tell us. When it comes to the details of your college application, less is not always more.
  8. Create a working, professional relationship with your GC. Your GC is not your mom/dad. My GC’s name was Bernie Cohen at Cardozo HS. We had a real love/hate relationship. He’d suggest and I’d ignore. He’d strongly suggest and I’d strongly ignore. Wisely, he told me that he had nearly 1000 other students to help and that I should come back when I was serious. Somehow I expected him to keep nagging me the way my parents had. I took his advice and we began a great relationship that lasted almost 20 years. How proud was I to visit Cardozo as a College rep some years later knowing that he had a hand in my success.

Any questions?

27 responses to “Time To Have A Sit-Down With Your GC.”

  1. Hunter '11 says:

    As someone who recently went through application season, I’ve got this to say – even if you think you’ve got it all figured out, ask a counselor. I had all my schools on my list, my SATs planned out, etc etc, but getting someone to look over everything is useful in case you’ve forgotten something. GCs are resources – might as well use them!

  2. Kate says:

    My questions regarding the guidance counselor are these:
    -Would the admissions staff rather see a secondary school report from a guidance counselor or an administrator? Does one carry more weight than the other?

  3. Travis says:

    “A maple tree in a hurricane” – Very nice !! Also, I second Kate’s question…

  4. Reg says:

    Our careers teacher doesn’t help us much, but I guess handling the applications in an international school takes a lot more work…

  5. AnotherMom says:


    Glad to see you blogging again. Hope all is well.

    To the seniors – to add to what Bryan said, please do not wait until the last minute to contact your GC. They have a lot to do and not much time to do it if you want their portion of your application completed that reflects you in the best light.

    Good luck!

  6. For Kate’s (and Travis’) question, I’m gonna attempt to answer it the way I think an admissions officer would, and that would be to choose from whomever knows you the best.

    Afterall there are questions on the secondary school report where the it is required for them to at least know a little about your character/personality thus you wouldn’t want to pick someone who doesn’t know you as well even if it might be an administrator.

    In my case I would without doubt ask my counselor, who also happened to be my sophomore history teacher and the advisor for my international service project. My principal…well honestly I don’t think she even knows I exist since my school has nearly 2000 students.

    Anyway, you get the point. Find someone who knows you well! smile

  7. donaldGuy says:

    So .. I have a weird situation. My GC retired in the middle of last year, and her replacement was in turn replaced at the beginning of last year. Thus, I was left with a GC who seems nice enough, but doesn’t know me at all ..

    My old GC, who I had for 3 years, and have known longer than that (she was my sister’s GC) still lives in the city (despite working in another nearby school division) and has agreed to still do the personal evaluation section of my School Report since she knows me better. My current GC also signed off on this idea and will fill out the strictly biographical and academic information and include a cover letter explaining this situation.. They will both sign the form

    is there any problem with is?

    ~Donald Guy

  8. Sauza says:


    Good idea, I had a similar problem senior year; my guidance counselor of three years who knew me very well retired. The new one was nice, but somewhat clueless as far as the application process was concerned. I still got in, but I’m sure it will help to have some input from someone who has gotten the chance to know you personally

  9. Mom08&11 says:

    Great post, lots of information.


  10. Paul '11 says:

    @ Kate and others: I’m not sure if it’s fair to ask whether MIT would “prefer” to see a letter from a principal or other administrator, rather than a GC. It’s a tricky issue, and ultimately the right answer differs for each applicant.

    I ended up asking my principal because I had worked closely with him on several projects, including founding a new political club at my school – which was one of the main elements of my application anyway. Although my GC knew me and was very nice – he even wrote me a rather good letter of recommendation that I used for some other schools – ultimately I didn’t have the same connection with him that I did with my principal.

    My twin sister, on the other hand, asked that same GC for her recommendation, since she had helped him coordinate a new tutoring program at our school…and now she’s in the Ivy League.

    Bottom line: what really matters is not the recommendation writer’s official title, but rather their relationship to you.

  11. Isshak says:

    He, lucky you, you have GC, we don’t.

  12. Nihar says:

    My school doesnt provide Guidance Couseling through GC’z. The students are expected to know whats good for them and handle all the app-related stuff independently. Wish I had a GC… now that I know how important they are at this stage.

    I guess your advice proves very useful to me because I do have teachers who know me really well, even if they dont sit down and discuss College options with me.
    Thank you!:)

  13. Taylor says:

    Being in a school of 2,500 with 4 GC’s makes things a little difficult. I’ve actually never even met the person, she’s new to the school. My old GC I met twice.

    So, uh, hopefully things work out.

  14. Hunter '11 says:

    Just to add on to what Paul said – my GC wrote my letter, and… I got in. My GC and I got along well, while I’ve only met my principal once or twice. Definitely go with whoever can give you the extra dimension – not the higher title.

  15. Ellen Stordy says:

    Bryan –
    Good sound advise on GC’s – They are great resouces for majority of applicants
    Your a credit to the Admissions process @MIT –

  16. Shruthi says:


    Like Nihar said, our school doesnt really have any Guidance Counsellor… Just the Principal…. :(


  17. Homeschooler says:

    I homeschool my kids, so does that make me their GC? My son knows what he wants to do~ what is the procedure for homeschoolers?

  18. J says:

    I’m an international applicant.My GC isn’t that fluent in English.. Would this affect my recommendation and my chances?

  19. Ces says:

    Of course, having a decent guidance counselor really helps. My own is absolutely rubbish – he has several times given me incorrect information, leading to headaches and heartbreak (You mean I can’t send in my application for Finalist status in the National Merit Scholarship program because I’m not American? Why couldn’t you tell me that before I filled out all the forms?!??????!?!?!?!?! etc.) As a result, I’m pretty much going it alone. Oh well.

  20. sue law says:

    My GC’s are fine but is there a quota for foreign students at the moment?

  21. M says:

    As far as I have thought about things, I will ask my teachers to not write in English but translate the letters myself later, and attach both the original and the translation to the application.
    Is this alright with MIT?

  22. Hyun Jin says:

    “Bend like a reed in the wind. If not, you will snap like a maple tree in a hurricane.” I agree. It does sound cool.
    I also agree with the rest, GC’s are great, they really get you help, plus they notify you of events and programs that you didn’t know about as well.

  23. Rahul says:

    What if your G.C. has retired and has another job? Well I have tried to contact her but no luck… will my superintendent do…?

  24. leah says:

    yeah, ive got the same problem as a lot of other intls. no one in my school -student, teacher or otherwise(GCs dont exist)- has any experience with the american application process, so im having to walk my teachers through the whole thing, even though i barely know what im doing either. and the school system here doesnt really allow for any student-teacher interaction even in class, so there are very few teachers( that i feel really know me. but im doing my best and hopefully itll work out:)

    good luck to all intl applicants!

  25. @Leah:
    Here in England no one has any idea how to fill out the Secondary School Report forms. Students from the UK almost never apply to American colleges because tuition is so much cheaper here, so no one has any experience of the process. My son’s school counselor thought I would be able to guide her through the forms, since I went to school in America, but although I tried to help, I now realize I got it all wrong.

    Ranking wasn’t a problem; they just used UCAS points to rank everyone. But what is the GPA of a student with all A grades at A level? I thought it must be equivalent to a 4.0, since A is the highest grade at A level, and there’s no weighting.

    But that makes no sense at all! A levels are graded A through E (U is failing), so a 4-point scale can’t be right. And now that A levels are modular, should the GPA be calculated from all of the individual module grades rather than the final A level grades? UCAS now requires module grades as well as final grades, and Cambridge University even asks for UMS points for each module.

    Also, a GPA covers four years of school, so GCSE grades (which replaced “O levels”) should have been included in the average. But GCSEs are graded A* through G, so the scales aren’t the same, and GCSEs are not comparable to A levels, so you can’t really average them together anyway.

    They probably should have just left the GPA field blank. They had no idea how to do a transcript, either.

    After my son’s forms were mailed to MIT (just in time, before the postal strike!), the school asked me if I would be willing to help a counselor at another school who had two students applying to American colleges. I said of course I’d be glad to help. Then it hit me that I had done it all wrong and that I had absolutely no idea how to do it right.

    Bryan, I don’t want to lead all these people astray. Is there someone in the Admissions Office who understands the UK system who could help me figure this out? It’s too late for my son’s application, but there are some very confused counselors in the UK, and I’d like to help them, if only I knew what they were supposed to do.

  26. Hi, I’m from Israel. I’m currently not a senior, but in my last year of 3 years mandatory army service (which means I graduated over 3 years ago)… I am currently going through the difficult process of applying to MIT, which is becoming especially hard for me on several levels. I have accumulated many many questions about my application, and I am at a loss at who to turn. My school GC is absolutely clueless on the matter, and if anything helped me raise more questions… (She was very proud to write “letter of recommendation to MIT”, a first for her smile) of course, I’m not even in school right now, so I have to take a day off especially in order to see her or any other teachers from my school for recommendations…

    So the situation for international students is much more difficult. I find an increasingly amount of information on this site useless for my situation, and being international, I only get more questions and problems and less who to turn for these. The best idea I’ve had on who to ask all these questions is my interviewer, which I plan to do soon…

    Sorry for this semi-rant, I just feel I have to point out all this somewhere, and I found this blog entry particularly ironic for my situation (“make sure you ask for help from the person who knows least on how to help you!”).

  27. Ghysella says:


    This is the one blog that I really need.
    First of all, I’m an international student currently residing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The International school I currently attend is one that really pays attention to college application (all of my apps are due mid Novemeber to avoid tardiness). And to add to that, my counselor tries his hardest to find universities that provide financial aid for international students.

    So far so good, right?

    Well, despite his good and overly realistic intentions, my counselor can be rather demeaning. Two weeks ago, I went to an individual senior meeting with him and informed him that MIT is on my university list. The first thing he said was “You’re not gonna get in. They don’t accept anybody.” (I’m not exaggerating, he actually said it). I just nodded when he said that because I knew that arguing would be pointless and I had other things to discuss during that meeting. That being said, I also know that I have a strong academic record. Otherwise, I wouldn’t even dream of trying to apply to MIT.

    So, my question is: Should I really listen to his… overly pessimistic advice? It only concerns the first part of his statement, though because obviously MIT accepts a lot of students. Plus, it’s sort pf ironic because I am still applying to MIT. But his words did affect me because it makes me constantly wonder if I’m a passable application candidate…