Inside: A guide with helpful advice and tips for you and your high school junior as you prepare for college and the upcoming college admissions process during their senior year.
Junior year is in many ways the most crucial year in high school for preparing to apply to colleges. Granted, they won’t actually start applying until the beginning of their senior year, but this is when all the ground work needs to be laid. Junior year is also one of the last times your teen will have to improve upon their portfolio, whether that means making an extra effort to improve their GPA, investing time into prep for the PSAT in hopes of increasing their chances for merit aid and other scholarships or for diversifying their activities.
This is often when the stress can really start to build and sometimes It can be difficult to know where to start. Course loads are heavy junior year, your teen is most likely driving and so they may have a more active social life or even have started working part time. The biggest key to keeping things from getting too overwhelming is to create some kind of a plan at the beginning of the year. Don’t try to tackle it all at once, but just sit down with your high school student a few times for 30-45 minutes and discuss the college preparation items listed below that will need to be completed.
It can be helpful to create a shared family spreadsheet, a calendar or even use a white board and plot out the college prep “to dos” along with your general schedule for the next few months. This way you can spread out tasks and actions items, assign due dates and then touch base occasionally just to see where things stand.
Here Are The 5 Things Every Junior Needs To Do To Prepare For College
Start Visiting Colleges
At this point, if you have been following the preparing for college yearly plan, as part of the sophomore year tasks your teen should have a fairly solid list of some schools they’re interested in. Most likely some research has been done and there are a fair number of schools they’ve decided they want to consider. If not, no worries, but go ahead and get that list created ASAP. You want a good mix of reach, target and safety schools (p.s. safety schools should not be considered last resort schools, they should be several schools that your child feels are a good fit for their personality and interests, they should be financially feasible and should have a high acceptance rate)
Now, research is only part of the process of finding the right college(s). Every college has a it’s own personality and now is the time for your teen to discover what the colleges they’re interested in are actually like. Take the time to start scheduling appointments to see those colleges! Even visit a few that might not necessarily have been on their list if they’re in the area. These visits give your teen the chance to take in campus life and see what each school has to offer. Not to mention your teen may be able to narrow down their list even further, because they’ll probably find that some schools are a better fit on paper than they are in person.
Get Ready To Take The SAT or ACT (Or Both)
Coming into junior year, it’s time to start getting your teen ready for the SAT and ACT standardized tests. And while it is true that some colleges are going test optional, many schools (such as MIT) actually reversed course on this policy for the 2022/2023 application process. These tests still remain very important for college applications and selection, and while they are not the end all be all of being able to get into their college of choice, your teen probably wants to do some preparation to get ready for them. There are a wide variety of options for test prep to choose from that include free options like Kahn Academy and test prep books your high school student can check out from the school library or purchase. But there are also test prep apps your teen could consider or it may be worth investing in a test prep course like The Princeton Review if you’re looking to get a particularly high score or to significantly improve a test score. as So look into your options (there are quite a few) and determine what you and your teen think will be the best test prep choice for their success.
Also, as a note, many high school college counselors will not suggest that students take the ACT or SAT until spring of their junior year. Taking them earlier then this may seem counterproductive, but the opposite is actually true. Remember that both tests can be taken multiple times and test scores are not automatically sent unless you not this on the registration. It is good to get your teen familiar with these tests as soon as possible. While they may not score their absolute best on the first go around, chances are they will learn quite a bit about where they need to improve and what to expect. And at this point you can determine if you want to invest in more rigorous test prep.
Also, students have a tendency to do much better on one test or the other. Figuring this out early, can help with test prep strategy and allow the student the maximize their time prepping for the test that they are likely to do the best on and see the best score improvement. It will also take away some of the nerves for the next time if you have a student with test anxiety.
So while your teen certainly can wait to test, we recommend not waiting too long, because early junior year is generally a good time to start testing. Once your student has obtained the best score they think possible, then submit the tests to the schools they plan to apply to. Yes, all the test scores will be sent at that point, but the schools will superscore, meaning the’ll take the best scores from the different sections of different tests to determine the final optimal score. (Click here for more info on superscoring)
Start Looking For Financial Aid Options And Scholarships
It is a known fact that college is expensive, so as you start to narrow down which colleges will be the best fit for your junior. Many parents are surprised to discover just how expensive has gotten and that scholarships and financial aid are not nearly as plentiful as hoped.
Take this opportunity to look at what financial aid options are available. You will need to fill out the FAFSA the beginning of your teen’s senior year, but many families who thought they would qualify for need based aid actually do not. This is why it is important to talk about the costs of colleges on your junior’s list and what is affordable. Then begin researching scholarships as well as investigate if schools on their list offer merit aid. Merit aid isn’t quite what you think, as its more like a discount some schools offer. To better understand merit aid, we highly suggest reading “The Price You Pay For College” by Ron Lieber.
There is a reasonable chance that scholarships and merit aid will impact where your teen eventually ends up going to college, so it’s never too early to start finding what sort of aid schools offer. It also helps to get a jump start on the competition for those scholarships as there will be many students hoping to get them. Not to mention that as senior year approaches your teen will likely have too much on their plate to spend enough time looking for scholarships.
Pay Close Attention To Grades
At this point you’ve probably heard about grades a million times, but when it comes to your teen’s grades, junior year may be the most important. Their junior and senior years will show colleges that they’re able to handle the heavy rigor of their final years in high school and keep their grades up. It shows colleges that your teen is ready to make the transition into more difficult classes without issue. Not to mention that the classes your junior will be taking are going to of much greater interest to colleges and they may look at solid grades in those classes much more favorably than others.
On the topic of those harder classes, your junior doesn’t have to take all AP classes, but it’s important that they at least take a few to best show that they can handle more challenging courses. Also, while they may not be the number one thing colleges look at on an application, AP scores matter, so it’s a good idea to make sure your junior is studying for them. Not to mention that if they do well then they can get credit for those classes in college, which could also help offset some of the cost of tuition.
Begin Working On College Essays and Request Teacher Recommendations
Yes, believe it or not, starting this process at least near the end of your teen’s junior year is a really wise idea. Teachers are often inundated with requests for recommendations. Giving them the summer to work on them means the teacher is more likely to have more time to craft a truly thoughtful letter. Waiting until the fall means competing with all the other requests they’ve gotten on top of the fact that they are trying to do their job and prepare and teach classes.
Essays are also a good thing to get a jump on as senior year will be busier and more stressful than either of you think. The deadlines for college applications will sneak up on you and in some cases your student may have to write multiple essays and short answers. Yes, common app is generally one essay, but if they’re applying to honors programs, scholarships or special programs those often require separate essays. Plus, many schools have supplements to the common app that also have short essays.
Another reason to get essays done earlier is the growing trends towards students applying early action and early decision as it is shown to improve acceptance chances. For these deadlines essays need to be finished sooner than you realize (generally no later than Nov. 1st).
No matter what college your junior plans on attending after high school, we promise that these tips are going to help make admissions easier and put them on the right path to getting into the college that is the right fit for them in all ways – financially, academically and personally.
Looking for additional support as you navigate the college admissions process? We encourage you to join our Facebook group – Changing the College Conversation. It can feel like this process had gotten so out of control and this group helps families find a more sane and common sense approach.
Other Resources To Help With The College Admissions Process
Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College AdmissionsWhere You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions ManiaColleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges