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Juniors: Top 5 College Prep Tips from a Former Admissions Officer

By Juaquin, IvyWise Master College Admissions Counselor

Junior year is probably the most important college prep year, and students need to ensure they’re on track in order to be prepared for the college admissions process next fall. The college admission process is about self-discovery and it is important to start by setting clear goals each year of high school – especially junior year!

Junior year is critical. With testing, coursework, activities, and building a balanced college list, there’s a lot to get done in a short amount of time. Whether you’ve been preparing since 9th grade, or you’re just starting the college prep process now, here are my top five college prep tips for juniors.

Make Academics Your Priority
A student’s grades are considered to be the most important factor in college admission. No matter where you are in the college admission process, it is important to make your coursework a priority. Many colleges place the greatest emphasis on junior year grades due to their rigor and they are the last full year grades used when making admissions decisions. If your grades up to this point have not reflected your true ability, this is your last chance to improve your grades and prove you’re ready to be successful in college. Set realistic grade goals and break down the steps you need to achieve your academic goals. Make time to meet with teachers and tutors for additional academic review. Now is the time to get academic help if needed.

Prepare for Standardized Tests
Standardized test scores from the ACT or SAT are an important part of the college admissions process. While many schools are going test-optional, it’s important to prepare for one of these exams in order to have scores within the range needed to gain admission to any schools you apply to that require them. If you haven’t already, plan to take an SAT and ACT diagnostic in order to determine which test is the best-fit for you. I can’t stress enough the importance of preparing for just one of these exams – not both. Preparing for and taking both the SAT or ACT is overwhelming and can keep you from excelling on either. Instead, focus on one in order to get the best score possible.

Create a testing schedule that allows time for diagnostics, practice tests, test prep, and any other exams you may need to prepare for, like the PSAT, which is used to qualify for National Merit Scholarship, AP exams, or SAT Subject Tests. Many highly-selective colleges want to see two or three SAT Subject Test scores, so plan accordingly if you haven’t already taken them. Remember that preparing for standardized tests should not take away from your coursework and you shouldn’t over prep yourself. Students should plan to take the ACT or SAT only two to three times, as scores tend to plateau after the third attempt.

Build Relationships
In college you’ll need to advocate for yourself and know how to seek out resources and support when needed. You also need to build relationships with your teachers and counselors in order to get the most support in high school and so they can write comprehensive and thoughtful recommendations when it comes time to apply to college your senior year. Start by reaching out to your teachers for additional support. Many students meet with teachers during lunch or after school. Continue to explore academic material beyond the classroom and use your teachers as a resource. The more they see you making additional effort to learn, the more evidence they will have to share about your academic curiosity when they write your letters of recommendation.

In addition to your teachers you should also meet with your school and/or independent college counselor. You can discuss a proposed college list after you provide your counselor with a general list of parameters like major, location, and size. Also seek advice on your current applicant profile. What can you be doing differently to stand out or make an impact in your extracurricular activities? What can you do this summer to enhance your applications? Building relationships takes time and it is important to start now if you haven’t already. The college admission office wants to see your development as a student from the perspective of your teachers and counselor, and you can help them paint that picture now.

Contribute to Your Community
Making an impact is important! Finding a passion or developing a skill/talent is important in contributing to your community and, in turn, making an impact. Colleges are interested in who you are as a student and community member, and your contributions inside and outside the classroom matter. Continue to develop your leadership skills junior year by increasing your contribution or involvement with a current activity or club. For example, I worked with a student who was part of her school’s environmental club and one summer she worked in an environmental studies program. She shared what she learned about environmental studies with her fellow club members and student body to lead a school-wide composting project. There are various ways you can demonstrate a commitment to something while also making an impact in your community. Get creative and seek guidance on new initiatives if you need help.

Research Colleges Effectively
It’s critical to start researching and visiting schools as soon as possible, as you want to have you balanced college list finalized by the end of junior year so that you can start on your college applications the summer before senior year. Discovering what excites you about attending college is important and can make researching colleges fun! Check out schools you’re interested in on social media using sites like Instagram and Twitter. You can follow a few colleges of your choice to get a sense of what college life looks like.

If you’re still not sure what colleges you’re interested in, start by attending a school or local college fair. This is the time of year when admission officers travel to cities to share more about their respective institutions. In addition to college fairs, many admission officers host information nights open to the public or visit high schools to hold information sessions right on your campus.

You can also visit college campuses during vacation or weekends. Visiting a college is the best way to get a sense of what excites you about attending college. You can take a tour of the campus, eat in the dining hall, and read the school newspaper. The more exposure you have to colleges the better you’ll get at understanding your needs and aspirations and better determine which schools are the best-fit for you.

Junior year is a big college prep year so don’t get behind! Focus on making decisions about your college prep and reflect on what excites you about attending college. Be intentional and determine the steps you need to take to reach your college goals. If you start now and plan ahead, you won’t feel rushed or pressured and can enjoy the process of reflection and self-discovery.

Need help preparing for the college admissions process? Contact us today for more information on how our team of expert college admissions counselors can guide you through the remainder of the college prep process.

You can also stay on track by downloading our free College Planning Checklist using the form below!