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8 Tips for College-Bound Juniors

Amber Gilsdorf August 15, 2023

The often overlooked key to a successful high school junior year is keeping one eye on the now and one eye on the future. The now involves focus on your current academic coursework, exciting extracurricular activities, and social/family life. It also encompasses planning for the chapter after high school. Here are some tips that help juniors and their families approach this year with their college futures in mind.

8 Tips for College Bound Juniors 

1: Consider Your Academic Plan

When selecting coursework for junior year, students should focus on areas that are of the greatest interest to them, while also balancing rigor. In the eyes of college admission representatives, ‘A’ and ‘B’ grades in rigorous classes are preferable to the ever-so-tempting “easy A” schedule. In contrast, students should be careful to not overload their schedule with too many higher level courses (Honors, AP, IB) at the expense of their sanity and grades. It’s important to remember that the high school transcript that the school counselor sends to colleges where a student has applied will include grades and cumulative GPA through the end of junior year. For this reason it’s important that students stay on top of their school work and have a strong academic year.

2: Narrow Your Extracurricular Focus

Each academic year, colleges are looking to admit a well-rounded class of students. If all students are well-rounded, it would make for a rather ordinary class. Instead, it’s okay to consider what makes a student “pointy." Rather than continue to give 10% of themselves to 20 activities, students should invest 100% of themselves into the five or so activities that speak most to their head and heart. In other words, what are they most passionate about? That’s what the colleges will want to see on your applications.

3: Put Yourself Out There

Whether a student is incredibly outgoing or more reserved, junior year is the time to strengthen the impression they make on their teachers and school counselor (AKA the people writing their letters of recommendation). Students do not need to be the best or the most vocal to make an incredibly favorable impression. Instead, they can share their viewpoints in class discussions, ask questions, show engagement with content, and make an appointment with their counselor to talk about their goals for the future. Come letter writing time, the recommenders they have selected will have plenty of material with which to work.

4: Begin Drafting Your College List

Junior year is the time when students should really begin looking closely at what colleges might be a good match for them. Large school? Small school? Located in a huge city? Suburb? Corn field? Liberal arts curriculum? Traditional curriculum? Every school has aspects that make them unique. The more students examine what matters to them in their future school, the more targeted their application list will be. A draft list is just that: a beginning. Remember that there are approximately 4,000 colleges in the U.S. alone — that’s pretty daunting. Students can begin narrowing that number down by simply identifying what they’re looking for in their ideal campus.

5: Demonstrate Interest

Many colleges keep track of how interested students are in their institution. This “demonstrated Interest” factor is often used as part of the evaluation of applicants when determining their admissibility. A few easy ways students can demonstrate to a college that they are on their list is to visit their campus or meet with the admission representatives that visit their high schools. If students aren’t able to do this, it’s important to take the time to complete the prospective student inquiry forms available on the college websites under the Admission tab. By completing this form students will be added to the college mailing list and begin receiving info on opportunities for campus visits or hosted events in their area.  

6: Plan Your Campus Visits

As mentioned above, campus visits are one way to demonstrate interest in a college. It’s also a great way to begin expanding and narrowing down a list of potential schools. Keep in mind that most campuses are open for formal tours Monday through Friday and occasionally Saturday mornings. Take advantage of days off of school during junior year by planning ahead for campus visits. One tip: this is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t try to squeeze too many visits into a trip and definitely limit yourself to two campuses per day. Your mind and your feet will thank you.

7: Make a Testing Plan

According to the national non-profit FairTest, 85% of colleges and universities in the U.S. have made submitting scores from the ACT or SAT optional. Does this mean that students no longer need to bother with taking these standardized tests? Not at all. In fact, because most students don’t have their college lists fully formed by their junior year, it’s tricky to know if all of their selected schools will, in fact, be test-optional. In addition, some colleges still require test scores for scholarship purposes or for admission to special majors or programs. For this reason, students should take both tests at least once early in the junior year to determine which is their stronger test. Once they’ve done this they can retake as needed to increase their scores. 

8: Have the Money Talk

During the junior year it’s important for families to revisit (or begin) a discussion about the cost of college. Start by establishing clear communication about savings, cost, and expectations surrounding affordability. Discuss how short-term costs (e.g., the registration cost of ACT and/or SAT testing, travel expenses for campus visits, etc.) will be covered. In addition, families should complete Net Price Calculators for each school they’re considering to get a better sense of “out of pocket” costs to their family. Once completed, these can help families determine the budget for annual out-of-pocket college expenses.Transparency and open discussion promote the greatest opportunities for students to learn about future planning and personal finance.

8 Tips for College-Bound High School Juniors

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Tagged: college admission, college applications, college planning, junior year, testing

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