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    Planning and organization are essential for your college search.

    Ann S. Utterback

    Prepare For CollegeIt's the first warm day of spring, but the temperature in your high school guidance counselor's waiting room is hotter than July. It's fueled by tempers.

    Justin is furious because the college of his choice has just turned him down. With a 3.9 grade-point average and straight A's in math, he only applied to one college. He was certain he would be the first student selected at this prestigious engineering college.

    Alicia and her parents are upset because they just learned Alicia lacks two credits to graduate and will have to attend summer school.

    Mark is angry because he is a senior, and he has to wait to see the guidance counselor. After all, he only recently decided he wants to go to college, and he's anxious to begin the process.

    What Justin, Alicia and Mark do not realize is that the cause of their anger is also the cause of a counselor's chief complaint: Some students do not make the most of what a guidance counselor has to offer.

    Since he was a top student at his high school, Justin thought he didn't need any help with his college search.

    Alicia was too busy with cheerleading practice and her social life to see her counselor during her senior year.

    Mark waited too late to begin his college search because he wasn't aware of deadlines.

    The guidance counselor is there for you—wanting to help and assist in your college and career search. Yet to get the most out of what your counselor has to offer—and to avoid the mistakes made by Justin, Alicia and Mark—you need to understand your role and your responsibility.

    Information You Need

    Counseling offices are packed with information collected for the purpose of helping students. Chances are that the guidance office can provide information about colleges, jobs and goals. But to benefit from this information, college-bound students need to know it's there.

    Justin, however, believed he had no need for such information. He knew which college he wanted to attend and figured that was all he needed to know. Likewise, he didn't think it was necessary to discuss his plans with his counselor.

    If he had read some other college brochures, used the computer-matching program, or leafed through college guides, he might have realized that more than one college could be right for him.

    Take Responsibility—Right Away

    Ninth grade is the time to become familiar with the counseling office. Your guidance counselor can help you plot a four-year plan to outline which subjects you want to pursue in your high-school studies. This plan often is guided by the results of personality tests and interest inventories that are offered in most counseling offices. Your guidance counselor also knows what you need to do to fulfill your graduation requirements and what courses you need to prepare for college.

    Alicia learned the hard way that college-prep planning is essential for anyone thinking about college after high school. Your responsibilities continue to increase as the years advance toward graduation. By the time you're in the twelfth grade, you'll need to be responsible for knowing what requirements you need to graduate.

    The first step is to spend some time reading information on education and career—again, available through the guidance office.

    In addition, the libraries in counseling offices contain college brochures, catalogs, college guides, and information on careers and job hunting. The counseling office can also put you in touch with a ton of online resources, too.

    Get Organized

    Organization is another key to a successful student-counselor relationship. Don't depend solely on your counselor's organizational skills. Develop some of your own.

    As you progress through high school, create your own "resource center." Find a box or a file to hold your important papers. Each year's report card should certainly go in this file. Also put in any certificates, letters or newspaper clippings relating to personal accomplishments.

    When keeping records, it's sometimes hard to know what is important and what's not. A good rule to follow: Collect or record anything that might help you complete a college application.

    You can use a notebook to record test scores from standardized tests like the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT), SAT or ACT. Be sure to record activities like club involvement, volunteer service, employment and education-related travel. If you update your record at least every six months, you'll eventually have a fairly accurate description of your high school career.

    You will discover that your "resource center" contains the information needed to help with your college application questions. From this one source, you can review the courses you've taken, what your test scores were, and the honors you achieved.

    And if you're required to write a college admissions essay, you'll have plenty of events and activities to draw from. In short, you'll have a complete record of your high school years.

    Your files also will make the time spent with a counselor more productive. A glance through your information will show which direction your education is headed. If, for example, all your honors and achievements are related to work with your school's theater department, but all your courses are in the sciences, you may realize a conflict of interest. Perhaps your real interest is not being reflected in your course work; a counselor can help chart a new curricular direction.

    Avoid the Frustration

    Learn a lesson from the mistakes of Justin, Alicia and Mark. Take time to get organized and visit your guidance office regularly. Your hard work and early planning will help you in your efforts to conduct a successful college search.