I Got Bad College Planning Advice

Megan at GW

(Megan as a freshman at The George Washington University)

Week after week I share with you my knowledge and experience in the field of test preparation and college admissions counseling, but I don’t want you to think I’m infallible.  In fact, my personal college experience includes a string of mistakes and some bad college planning advice.

Working With My High School Counselor

Like many high school students, I got little help from my guidance counselor.  I was a good student in the top 3% of my graduating class and I held many leadership positions on campus.  I did all the right things to prepare for college, but I got bad advice. I took the initiative to go to the college counseling office in the fall of my senior year.  I met with my counselor and told her I was interested in law, which made sense given my involvement with mock trial and debate.  My counselor gave me a huge printout with hundreds of colleges and universities and sent me away to narrow down the list.  She said I was a good student and would do well at any of the schools. In the days before the Internet, my research included talking to friends and sorting through the bags of college brochures we collected from the mail.  All I knew was that I wanted to attend a good school and preferably one in a more exciting locale than my hometown of Colorado Springs.  I never visited any universities. I met with my counselor a couple more times as she worked on letters of recommendation, but she never helped me evaluate schools. I was given the impression that all schools were pretty much the same and my decision was based on geography and reputation.  Saying my counselor gave me bad advice may be overstating things.  She gave me no advice.

My First College Acceptance

In January of my senior year I thought I hit the jackpot.  I was accepted by The George Washington University and offered an honors scholarship.  The first time I saw the GW campus was when I attended freshman orientation in June.  At first everything seemed perfect.  I was part of a selective residential-learning program and I was living four blocks from the White House. As many positive points as The George Washington University had on paper, it was lacking the single most important element – fit.  It just wasn’t the right school for me.  I was making good grades.  I had good friends, but I wasn’t happy.  I didn’t realize how unhappy I was until I took my younger sister on a college visit to William & Mary over spring break. I knew I couldn’t spend two more years at GW. So I began my college search all over again in March of my sophomore year. Next week:  what I did better the second time around and the mistakes I made (so you can avoid them.) Let me know what college planning mistakes your family has made.  Share in the comments below, so we can learn from each other.]]>

college planning, college planning advice, high school counselor

Comments (4)

  • Hi Megan,
    I am planning to apply for MS for Fall 2014.
    Even I am very skeptical of these college counselors.
    Could you please tell me at which colleges for MS within top 50 I can minimize my tuition fee using means like scholarship, grants etc.
    Any help will be highly regarded.

    • There are a lot of individualized factors that go into this such as grades, classes taken, test scores, extracurricular involvement, and personal strengths. You may want to find a qualified college counselor if you do not feel your school counselor is able to provide the type of advising you need.
      Best of luck in your college search!

  • I made the mistake with my son assuming that his average grades wouldn’t translate into a college acceptance. Because of this, he opted for the Marine Corps after high school. Eventually, he made his way to college and graduated. His high school counselor was little help and his ROTC teacher encouraged him to join the military. The second time around with my daughter, I did the research myself, read books, talked to experts, and she got accepted to a good college with scholarships. I thought only the top 10% could get into a good school. I was so wrong.

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