By IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
Just as hard as it is to look outside in the middle of winter and imagine tulips popping up in nearly two months, it may be hard to comprehend that less than one year from today, current high school juniors will have submitted all of their college applications. These last few months of your junior year involve critical steps that can make or break your chances of admission to the most selective colleges and universities, so make sure you’re prepared.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to plan ahead when preparing for the college admissions process. Spring semester of junior year is the final push before students actually start applying to college in the fall, so students need to get serious about their college plans.
Knowledge is power, so use this handy roadmap to optimize your chances of getting accepted to the college of your dreams. Here’s what high school juniors need to be doing this spring to get ready for the college admissions process in the fall.
Build Your List
By now, hopefully you have begun to research schools and prepare your balanced college list. There are endless online resources that will help you search colleges based on a wide variety of criteria, including selectivity, public vs. private, academic majors/programs offered, location, size, and more. Ask your teachers, guidance counselor, mentors, parents, and friends for their ideas, but remember that you are in the driver’s seat of this journey.
The best way to know if your list is right for you is to…
Viewbooks and university websites can be like Facebook and Twitter; they usually only display the images that they want to portray. You won’t see photos of dreary rainy days or stressed out, sleep-deprived students in the library. While online resources can help lead you to an initial list of good-fit schools, nothing compares to the college visit where you can get a “gut feel” for the school.
Take advantage of campus tours, information sessions, informational interviews, special visit weekends, and opportunities to sit in a class, chat with students, and meet with a professor. Consider using spring break as an opportunity to see college campuses during the school year when they are in action. Not only does the campus visit help you to imagine yourself as a student there, but it also demonstrates your interest in the college or university. These days, most selective institutions track whether or not a student has visited, so try to see all of the schools on your list!
As you plan your college visits, don’t forget to…
Meet with your College Guidance Counselor
Your relationship with your college counselor is more important that you may realize. Most selective colleges require a letter of recommendation from this individual, and you want him or her to be able to address your personal qualities, not just your academic performance.
While it may be challenging, do your best to meet with your counselor at least twice during your junior year. He or she can help recommend best-fit schools for your list, as well as help you sign up for the classes you need to be a strong candidate for admission.
He or she can also help you to…
Make a Plan for Standardized Testing
The dates, acronyms, and differing requirements for each college can make your head spin! If you have not already made a plan, you need to first decide whether you will take the SAT or ACT. Most colleges accept both and there is no reason to spread yourself thin by studying for both. Once you select the test you want to take, talk to your counselor about the many options for test preparation, including tutoring, classes, and self-study. Also make a plan and sign up for AP exams.
One of your biggest challenges will be balancing test prep with homework so you can…
Ace Your Classes
In many cases, especially if you apply early decision or early action, college admission officers will only have access to your grades through the end of junior year, and they will look at all grades up until this point! Because of this, it’s important to kick your academic performance into high gear and finish your junior year on a strong note.
And don’t forget that…
When you sign up for senior year classes, remember that colleges are as interested in the rigor of your curriculum as your performance within those classes. Therefore, you should take the most rigorous classes available to you in the core academic subject areas of mathematics, English, social studies, science, and foreign language. If your high school does not offer a class that you would like to take, consider taking a course at a local community college or online as you…
Make Summer Plans
Whatever you choose to do this summer, make it meaningful and enriching. Whether you opt for summer courses, pre-college programs, internships, research opportunities, service trips, studying abroad, or working a job, there should be a reason behind your choice. Your summer endeavors should be long-term, purposeful, and aligned with your academic and/or extracurricular interests.
Colleges look for students to get experience in the areas they wish to study, and summers are often the best time to explore your interests in-depth. Deadlines for the most competitive internships are as early as January, so don’t wait until May to begin making your plans.
There are a number of things that high school juniors should be doing now to prepare for the college admissions process come fall, so there’s no time to waste. Meet with your college counselor ASAP to create a college prep plan that will help you get and stay on track through senior year.