Will you be a high school junior this coming September? If so, you’re getting closer to the college search. Soon you’ll be visiting campuses, prepping for the SAT or ACT. You’ll also be pondering whether you should apply for early admission–the deadline is in November–or regular admission–the deadline is January 1.
Before things become too hectic, get an overview of what’s ahead. Here are some things to plan for.
Sign up for challenging classes
College admissions officials look for students who’ve consistently risen to the academic challenges offered them in high school. That means you should sign up for the most challenging classes you can handle. If your school offers honors classes or AP classes, take them. But if your school doesn’t offer such classes, don’t worry. You can find other ways to distinguish yourself.
Throw yourself into your extracurriculars
Make sure you’re happy with the extracurricular activities you’ve chosen—then throw yourself into them. These activities don’t need to be associated with your high school. You can participate in the arts, community organizations or anything else you think will help you grow and learn.
Prepare to take the PSAT test
If you haven’t taken the PSAT test during sophomore year, you should take it during junior year. This is a good way to get a sense of how you’ll do on the upcoming SAT or ACT tests, and how much more preparation you may need.
Plan for the SAT or ACT tests
After reviewing your PSAT scores, plan your SAT or ACT test schedule. If you did very well on the PSAT, sign up for the SAT or ACT quickly and get it behind you. If you didn’t do as well as you had hoped, you can schedule time for test prep before signing up for the big ones.
Consider taking the SAT subject tests
Some of the most selective colleges require two (or occasionally three) of the SAT subject tests, often known as the SAT 2s. These test your knowledge in specific subject areas, and they can be quite challenging. If you’re going to take these tests, it’s important to take them right after you finish the particular course of study you’re being tested on. This means you need to plan ahead.
Start researching schools
You’ve probably heard about a few famous colleges. But there are hundreds of options. Flip through a copy of the “Fiske Guide to Colleges” to get an overview. Then continue your research on the Internet. Ask yourself what sort of college you might 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? Then do your research before hitting the road for visits.
Think about financial aid
Will you and your family need financial aid to help pay for college? Now is 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.
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 them.
Plan your college visits
Plan your college visits carefully so you don’t end up wasting time. Many students visit during the summer or school holidays; others visit on weekends. Before you head out, check the colleges’ websites to see when they offer information sessions and tours.
Meet with your college counselor
Meet with your school counselor to make sure you’re on the right track. She or he can help you figure out if you’re taking the right classes and scheduling the appropriate tests. They can help you understand how your academic and extracurricular record stacks up against those of other students, and how you might improve it. A good counselor should also give you advice on how to tackle your college search. If your high school counselor can’t offer the help you need, now is the time to look for an independent counselor, someone who can guide you along the admissions path.
Plan your summer
The summers after sophomore and junior years are important in many ways. They’re a chance for you to relax and unwind. They’re also an opportunity for you to explore interests you may not have had time for during the school year. Colleges will want to know how you’ve spent your free time—and that includes your summers. That’s another reason why it’s important to combine both fun and productivity.