High School Junior Timeline
THE MOST IMPORTANT YEAR?
First and foremost, while every year of high school is important, by far, when it comes to getting ready for college, the junior year trumps all. Much of the advice you see in this section will appear in a corresponding section for seniors in most other articles. Here’s where starting early pays off. If you’ve waited to do any of the following until senior year of high school, you’ve simply waited too late.
TAKE ADVANCED COURSEWORK
Hopefully, during your sophomore year you have explored advanced coursework, such as Advanced Placement (“AP”) and International Baccalaureate (“IB”) programs, that not only better prepare you for college, but which may ultimately permit you to earn college credits while still in high school. If you are not already enrolled in more progressively challenging coursework consider enrolling, if not too late, since many colleges are really interested in your caseload during these final years of high school. They really want to know if you have been pushing yourself as you prepare for college.
COMMUNITY SERVICE & EXTRACURRICULARS
As always, continue with your community service and extracurricular activities! When students ask “how much community service do I need,” I always respond by telling them that there is “No such thing as too much community service.” Use that view as a guidepost and give back to your community as much as possible under your particular circumstances because everyone (including prospective colleges and universities) recognizes that service as invaluable. Colleges and scholarship donors will reward you handsomely in the end!
THINK ABOUT YOUR LIST OF COLLEGESIf you have not already (hint: you should have), start seriously thinking about the colleges and/or universities in which you’re interested in attending. I recommend thinking in terms of the following three categories:
- “Get In” Schools:” These are the colleges you are fairly certain you can “get in;”
- “Like to Get In” Schools:” These are the colleges and universities that you would would not frown upon attending;
- “Love to Get In” Schools:” These are the colleges and universities that are at the top of your list – the ones you’d absolutely love to get in.
I got this gem from a very wise college professor, by the way (Thank you John Gates, Ph.D.)! Thinking of prospective schools this way really did serve me well, not only as a college student planning to attend graduate school, but with my own children’s college planning as well. Of course, recognize it does not always work out the way you might plan. For example, I did not get into a school that I was POSITIVE I would have no trouble “getting in,” but got into my first choice (and several others), so keep that in mind when you are categorizing your choices. Hopefully, if you have made thoughtful selections, it will all work out in the end.
ATTEND COLLEGE FAIRS OFTEN
Consider attendance at as many college fairs as possible as mandatory. If you wait until your senior year to begin attending college fairs, you have truly done yourself a disservice. While you are in the process of compiling your list of colleges, it makes perfect sense to use college fairs as an opportunity to learn even more about prospective colleges and universities. If you have an opportunity to make an actual college visit, even better! I was mortified when my youngest daughter was in her senior year and her school only provided for two or three days for so-called “discretionary” absences (during which time a good many parents carted their son or daughter off on a college trek). If the colleges in which you’re interested are geographically on opposite ends of the world, this could present a problem. With this in mind, I would recommend at least initially, splitting the number of colleges to which you plan to apply by the number of months you have remaining in school and us that as a starting point. Alternatively, and at a minimum, plan at least two or three college visits during your Fall of your junior year. You will be challenged for time during your senior year, so do what you can to reduce your college prep workload! I highly recommend visiting as many colleges as is feasible since there is truly no viable substitution for the actual college visit. There is nothing like physically being on the campus of a prospective school to give you a meaningful prospective as to what it would be like to actually attend. I can vividly recall visiting for the first time the campus of a college I had been in love with, well, “since forever” and being completely disappointed with every single aspect of it even before the visit was over. It truly can be an invaluable eye-opening experience.
CONSIDER OTHER COSTS OF COLLEGE
After you’ve got a working list of colleges that you are happy with, start looking into the cost of attendance and highlight that information next to the respective college. Be sure to include not just tuition, but room, board, books, transportation, etc. Also, begin reviewing the scholarships offered by each institution for incoming freshmen. Notate that information, alongside the cost of attendance, making sure to include specific requirements. For example, if there is any possibility that you would like to apply for a scholarship for student volunteers, plan to amp up your community service hours to insure you are a viable candidate. Remember, put yourself in the best possible position. Leave absolutely nothing to chance when it comes to college planning and applying for scholarships.
EARLY ACTION/EARLY DECISION OR REGULAR DECISION
While you are reviewing colleges, within your categories, preliminary consider whether you might be interested in Early Action and/or Early Decision and create a list of pros and cons for each. Find out whether your decision will preclude you from applying and/or accepting an offer of admission from other prospective colleges. In terms of your institutional scholarship opportunities, specifically check whether the timing of your application for admission will include (or exclude) you from certain scholarship consideration.
PLAN ON TAKING SAT OR ACT
I’m no fan of standardized testing. However, if your prospective college requires it, plan to take the SAT and/or ACT at least once this year. A few years ago, the SAT changed its reporting policies, so today, rather than a college or university receiving all of your test scores, only the highest test scores will be sent by College Board. Prior to that time, ALLl scores were reported. Accordingly, we encourage students to take the tests as many times as they can afford and/or until they have scores with which they are happy. Taking the SAT and/or the ACT in your junior year will allow you to familiarize yourself with the process and help you prepare, should it be necessary, to take it again in your senior year. If you are not comfortable with your standardized test taking skills, we strongly urge you to avail yourself of many of the qualified college entrance exam preparatory services. It will be money well spent.
As a viable alternative, consider applying to colleges or universities that are test-optional, or test-prohibitive. (Link list of test-optional colleges)
PREPARE BASIC SCHOLARSHIP ESSAY RESPONSES
Start preparing general/basic scholarship essays (It will be helpful to look at past scholarship essay questions and a good many colleges and universities keep them posted on their websites) during the summer before your senior year. Plan to revise frequently, as it will certainly pay off later. Begin creating a template of what you think might be an introduction of yourself to a prospective college. Have a working idea of who you are and how best to convey that to your prospective schools because this will be useful not only when it comes to college admission, but for scholarship consideration as well.
THINK ABOUT LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATIONS
Start thinking seriously about which instructors, civic leaders, etc., you would like to approach to request a letter of recommendation for your application for admissions. At this stage, hopefully you have had occasions to request a letter of recommendation, because ideally you have been applying for scholarships already. Prepare draft (and then final) requests for recommendation(s) for any and all scholarship applications for which you intend to apply. Don’t forget to attach a current resume illustrating your community service and extracurriculars!
CREATE A LIST OF SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITIES
Prepare a list of all the scholarships for which you intend to apply. You should have a folder that you created previously in which you have maintained information about scholarships in which you are interested! Begin researching possible scholarship sources/donors of which you might be potentially interested. Our advice is to cast a wide “scholarship net!” Research not only your college scholarship options, but local, regional and national scholarships as well. There are so many generous scholarships that if you started this process in your senior year, you would be wholly behind. There are some scholarships for which you can only qualify for as a high school seniors: Know what those scholarships are, when their applications become available and know their specific requirements. It would be unwise to first learn of them in your senior year, because you may not have sufficient time to submit the best application possible. Add this invaluable/critical information to your calendar of important deadlines.
ATTEND FINANCIAL AID SEMINARS
Find out if your school or community hosts a Financial Aid Night and make plans to attend. You very well may discover valuable financial aid information of which you were previously unaware, so in our opinion, these can be a “Can’t Miss” event! Typically, they discuss the FAFSA, and the different types of aid for which you might qualify, but attend because if there is the slightest chance you may learn of a new financial aid resource, then it is absolutely worth attending.
MEET WITH GUIDANCE COUNSELOR
Plan to meet with your school guidance counselor even more often than you did in your sophomore year (Hopefully you have been meeting with them frequently as earlier advised)! If you have not meet with your guidance counselor during the summer preceding your junior year, meet with them as possible after the academic school year begins. They are the individuals you will turn to when your college and/or scholarship donor needs documents, e.g., official transcripts, as well as when verification is required. Plan to stay in touch throughout the year, contacting them to find out if there are new scholarships available. It can be as simple as scheduling an appointment, or sending an email! Whatever the mode of contact, do it and do it often! Above all else, keep them in your “Scholarship Loop !”
TAKE A PRE-COLLEGE SUMMER COURSE
If you have not previously taken a pre-college summer course, if at all possible, plan to take one during the summer between your junior and senior year. While these courses can be pricey, they carry with them the added distinction of illustrating your ability to do college-level work prior to your high school graduation. Most of these courses allow you to acquire college credit, so in addition to your high school transcript, you will also be sending official college transcripts when you begin applying for college admissions AND scholarships! Here too, your money will be well spent. You have got an entire academic year to save up for these pre-college courses, so estimate the costs and put in place a savings plan.