High school has changed in the last few years—and not just because of technology. The college admissions process has become more intense, and the time frame has moved forward. Most students who want to attend selective colleges now apply for early admission in November of senior year.
That means juniors—and even sophomores—are visiting more campuses, doing so earlier and getting more serious about their college lists.
I’m urging juniors and their parents to heed this trend and get on board. It would be lovely to experience 11th grade without focusing much attention on college. But, if you’re hoping to attend one America’s top 50 schools, that’s no longer wise. With that in mind, you’ll need to juggle multiple steps of the process at the same time. You’ll be thinking about test prep while researching schools and planning your campus visits. Getting a head-start in junior year was once a luxury: now it’s pretty much a necessity. Here’s a rundown of what you’ll need to do.
Sign up for the most challenging classes
Colleges look for students who’ve risen to the academic challenges offered at their high schools. You should take the most challenging classes you can handle: AP or honors classes if they’re offered. No matter what classes you enroll in, be sure to do your very best work this year.
Excel in your extracurricular activities
Choose extracurricular activities you love and throw yourself into them. They don’t have to be activities at your high school. In fact, sometimes the most interesting ones aren’t. You may want to join a local community or arts organization, start your own group or develop your own project. Make sure it’s something that will help you grow and learn.
Meet with a college counselor
Meet with your school counselor to make sure you’re on the right track. A counselor can help you figure out if you’re taking the right classes and scheduling the appropriate tests. They can also help you understand how your academic and extracurricular record stacks up against that of other students, and how you might improve it. A good counselor should give you advice on how to tackle your college search. If your high school counselor can’t offer the help you need, look for an independent counselor to guide you along the admissions path.
Get ready for the PSAT test
If you didn’t take the PSAT test last year, you should take it this year. It’s a good way to gauge how you’ll do on the upcoming SAT or ACT and whether you’ll need test prep. It also makes you eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Competition, if your scores are high enough.
Plan for the SAT or ACT test
After reviewing your PSAT scores, decide whether to take the SAT or ACT test and register to take it. (You can try samples of both on their websites to see which test you’re most comfortable with.) If your PSAT scores aren’t as good as you hoped, schedule time for test prep before taking the big ones.
Consider taking the SAT Subject Tests (SAT 2s)
Some of the most selective colleges require two–or even three–of the SAT Subject Tests. They test your knowledge in specific subject areas and can be quite challenging. If you’re going to take these, it’s wise to do each one right after finishing the particular course of study you’ll be tested on. Plan ahead and register in advance. Schedule time to prep for each test before taking it.
Begin by flipping through the book, “Fiske Guide to Colleges,” to get an overview. Then continue your research on the Internet. What sort of college might you like best: a big or a small one? a school that’s close to home or far away? one that’s in an urban, suburban or rural setting? Doing research before hitting the road for visits will save you and your family time and money.
Think about financial aid
Will you and your family need financial aid to help pay for college? Now’s the time to discuss this with your parents. If you’ll need aid, that’s something to consider from the very start of your college search. You’ll need to research the different forms of aid that are available and find out which schools offer which forms of aid.
Develop your college strategy
Have you considered what you want to study in college or where you might be heading in life? Do you know what makes you different from other teenagers? Considering these questions will help you figure out what sort of college you’d like to attend and how to present yourself to college admissions officers.
Plan your college visits
Plan your college visits carefully so you don’t waste time on the road. Some juniors visit during school holidays, others on weekends. Before you head out, check the colleges’ websites to see when they offer information sessions and tours. If you can, sign up for both.
Start planning next summer in January
The summer after junior year is very important. Yes, it’s a chance for you to relax and unwind; it’s also an opportunity to explore interests you may not have time for during the school year. Colleges want to know how you spend your free time—and that includes your summers. Since this one will be your last summer before applying to college, schools will consider it most carefully. Think about applying for an internship, volunteering in your community, taking classes or getting a summer job. Since you’ll be competing with other students for many of these positions, it’s wise to start planning in January. Don’t forget to leave some time in your summer for additional college visits. It’s the rare junior who manages to visit every school on his or her list before June.
I hope this helps you get organized for junior year. Have a great one!