A College Planning Checklist For Juniors

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    Junior year is busy as you begin to plan for the college application process. Here’s what you need to check off your list in order to have a successful junior year.

    By now, you’re probably involved in a number of clubs, societies, and volunteer opportunities. You’re likely taking the hardest classes you’ve taken thus far, while, at the same time, beginning to imagine your future after high school. The fact that there are countless opportunities you could pursue may feel a bit daunting. That annoying question rattled off by relatives over a holiday dinner may come more frequently now. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” While you will certainly be many versions of yourself throughout your lifetime, junior year is the time to start thinking about what you want to tell colleges and universities. Junior year is the time to seriously consider what you want out of a higher education. In other words, what you want to learn to what end goal and where you want to accomplish this.

    It’s Important to Start Planning Early

    It is important to start preparing for the college application process early, especially if you are considering applying to competitive and highly selective schools. Maximizing your standardized test scores requires many study hours and getting that perfect personal statement requires many drafts. The more proactive you are in preparing your application materials, the more competitive your application will be.

    Additionally, getting a head start your junior year and the summer before senior year will likely mean you will be able to apply early action and/or early decision to your top college(s). Early action and early decision applications [see description here] are generally submitted in November of senior year. There are many potential perks to applying early to colleges and universities, including increased chances of acceptance, increased consideration for merit aid, and/or receiving a decision on your application several months before regular applicants.

    Preparing for Junior Year

    Here are some things to check off your list junior year as you prepare for the college application process:

    Develop a rough draft of your college list. Shoot for a list of 12-15 schools that you are legitimately interested in. Try to get an even spread of ‘safety’, ‘match’, and ‘reach’ schools. Safety schools are those that you are reasonably sure will admit you. Match schools are those that are over 50% likely to admit you. Reach schools are those schools that have a competitive application process and will be difficult for you to be accepted to. Never include a school whose name you’ve heard a lot, but you don’t actually know much about it. You might research factors that make a school a good ‘fit’ for you, such as majors, location, financial aid, and internship/research opportunities to narrow your list down. To read more on finding schools that are a good fit for you, check this out. College Board’s Big Future search engine is a good tool to use when beginning your search. With this tool, you can narrow down schools by location, major offerings, financial aid, school type, religious affiliation, size, and more.

    Brainstorm ideas for your personal statements and begin writing a draft. The personal statement is your opportunity to tell a story of some event, experience, or identity that has shaped and defined you. It is your chance to showcase what is unique about you and why you are an integral part of any college community. Your personal statement is a way for you to communicate how you came to be, what you’ve done so far, and where you hope to go.

    Typically, the personal statement prompts for the Common App and Coalition App do not change much from year to year. Past personal statement prompts include:

    Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.Common App, 2019-2020

    Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.” Coalition App, 2019-2020

    Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.Common App, 2019-2020

    Given that the personal statement is often one of the most difficult parts of the college application process, starting early allows you to get feedback from trusted teachers, mentors, and friends.  You can learn more about writing the personal statement here.

    Take the SAT and/or ACT at least once. You will need to register for a test several weeks in advance. Look up all testing dates at the start of your junior year. Be sure to study before. Never take these tests cold without studying. Some colleges have a test score policy that requires you to submit all test scores, so if you do poorly because you didn’t study, they’ll know. If you try both tests, pick your favorite and focus on studying to take the test a second time.

    Khan Academy has great SAT prep resources and the College Board has 10 full sample tests with solutions online. For the ACT, Kaplan has a daily practice question, as well as 20-minute ACT prep workouts.

    Consider taking SAT subject tests. If you are applying to highly selective schools, they may require that you submit scores from 1-3 SAT subject tests. If some schools on your college list require subject tests, consider taking the tests that correspond to your AP coursework. For example, if you are currently in AP Calculus AB and AP U.S. History, you might take one or both of the math subject tests and the U.S. History subject test.

    Practice questions for each of the subject tests can be found here on the College Board website.

    Plan out whom you may ask for a letter of recommendation and continue to cement your relationship with them. Colleges and universities may require 1-3 letters of recommendation from teachers. Some schools may allow you to submit letters from a volunteer/work supervisor or a coach as well. Knowing who you might ask early on will allow you to have conversations with potential recommenders about your future academic goals and help them get to know you a bit more.

    Work on your résumé. Some schools allow you to submit your résumé as an optional component of your application. Should you choose to interview with an admissions officer or alum as part of your application process, you’ll want to have a resume ready to bring with you. Building a resume–a record of your work/volunteer experiences, accomplishments, and activities–is a good place to begin thinking about who you are and what you’ve done in preparation for writing your personal statement.

    Meet with your counselor. Be sure to meet with your high school counselor at some point during your junior year to speak with them about your college goals. Your counselor will likely have to write you a counselor recommendation as a part of your college applications. Getting to know them well early on is the difference between a vague recommendation and a glowing recommendation. Plus, counselors have lots of resources and are there to help you throughout your college application process.

    Keep up with your grades. Junior and senior year grades are the most important on your transcript. It’s important that college admissions officers see evidence that you are not only taking challenging coursework but excelling in it.

    Plan your summer. The summer before senior year is the last chance to gain experiences to incorporate into your college applications. Arrange to do something interesting, valuable, and/or useful during this time off. Research opportunities in your area.

    Things you might do over the summer include:

    • Participating in a summer college program at a college or university in your area or beyond

    • Interning at a local business or organization that you’re interested in

    • Working a paid job to save up money for college

    • Volunteering with an organization whose work you’re passionate about

    • Taking a test-prep course to prepare to take the SAT or ACT one last time at the start of your senior year

    • Completing an individual creative project

    Develop a game plan for your senior year. As your junior year is wrapping up, make sure to set aside some time during the summer to develop your college application game plan. You’ll want as much time as possible during your senior year to put together your applications and you’ll feel much better if you get a head start.

    The summer before your senior year is a good time to work on any of the following:

    • Drafting your personal statement and getting feedback

    • Finalizing your college application list

    • Practicing to take the SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Tests at the start of senior year

    • Calendering all of your application requirements and deadlines

    • Familiarizing yourself with the components of the college application process and financial aid application process

    Preparing for Success

    Deciding to go to college is a big decision, as is deciding where to go to college. Getting an early start on the college application process is crucial for allowing yourself the time to thoughtfully plan out this next phase of your life. With a world of opportunities ahead of you, please consider using the college planning checklist attached as a guideline for your junior year and beyond.

    Download our College Planning Checklist for Juniors to make sure you’re checking things off your list throughout the school year!

    Have more questions about how you or your child can thrive in their junior year? Contact us by filling out the form below!

    Anna Lenaker

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