The minute college-bound students begin their junior year of high school, they should hit the ground running.
Junior year is the all-important year for college admissions. It’s when students begin to get serious about college choice, concentrate on test prep, do their best with academics, start working on college essays and intensify the scholarship search. It might seem overwhelming, but starting early and chipping away at tasks bit by bit can make a big difference this year and next.
Here’s a to-do list to talk over with your student. And while you’re talking, agree on what your role as a parent will be in the college application process.
1. Think about basic college criteria.
Should the school have a liberal arts focus? Should it be focused on STEM careers or art and music? Is location important or class size? Is your student interested in Greek life or study abroad? What distance is practical or desirable? Do you need to stick to affordable state schools? Once you have narrowed down general interests, dig deeper into individual colleges.
2. Figure out how to organize everything.
You can use online services or “lockers,” spreadsheets, Pinterest, even a shoe box, but decide what system works for your student.
3. Set aside time to look at schools, in person or virtually.
Use college visits and college fairs to learn more about the colleges. Most high schools count college visit days as excused absences so take advantage of these to visit schools if practical. The college visit is a crucial part of the decision-making process. If you can’t visit schools now, talk with college representatives online, interact with students on social media, and take virtual tours to get a feel of the campus settings and surroundings.
4. Figure out a test strategy.
Juniors may take multiple standardized tests: PSAT, the SAT and/or the ACT. Study and practice tests can have a significant effect on scores and could significantly affect a college’s decision to award merit aid. A student taking the PSAT and qualifying as a National Merit finalist can score substantial scholarships and awards from many colleges. The PSAT taken junior year is used to qualify for National Merit status.
Parents often wonder whether hiring a tutor for test prep will help. It’s certainly a personal financial decision, but if you can afford it and your student is motivated, a tutor can usually help. These days, there are many tutoring options, both online and in person, and some are free. Work with your student to pick the style of tutoring that will really help.
5. Keep focused on academics.
The junior year GPA will be the one colleges consider when making their decisions. This is the year students should get serious about studying, focusing in class and doing well on tests. If your student is struggling in math or with study skills such as time management, this is the time to get help. Schedule a meeting with your student’s high school counselor, verify credits are on track for graduation and college applications, and brainstorm how to address any weak spots.
6. Start writing college essays.
Encourage your student not to wait until the last minute to start college essays. Common Application essays are posted online, so students can start thinking early. The college essay can often influence an admissions officer’s decision on whether to place the application in the acceptance or the rejection pile. Are there any good high school essays that could be adapted for applications? Check if any colleges have their own requirements for essays. This early preparation will allow time for rewrites, proofreading and editing.
7. Get serious about scholarships.
It’s time to begin searching and applying. Use scholarship apps, scholarship search engines, social media, local media, your high school counselor and the library to find scholarship opportunities. Is applying for scholarships worth the effort? Look at it this way: Scholarship money is free money. It’s money you and your student will not have to repay after graduation. Why pay for college if there is free money out there?
8. Set regular check-ins (and a time NOT to talk about college).
Set a time interval to check in about college and how junior year is going. Are there any areas of your student’s high school resume that need improvement? Is here a problem subject? Do extracurriculars or community service reflect real interest? Is test-prep an issue? And set a regular college-free time zone when you and your student can concentrate on all the other things in life, like friends, family and fun.