College admissions: Junior year in high school

Junior year of high school is the most important time to prepare for college admissions. Hopefully, students have already taken some initial steps to set themselves up for applying to college. Students can use this guide to get into full gear for the college admissions process.


Excel Academically

Students should take a challenging course load and do well.  Admissions officers want to see that students have been taking the challenging courses offered at their high school. Grades are a critical factor in college admissions, but getting straight A’s in the easiest classes will not necessarily be impressive.

However, there’s a college for every student. For a range of colleges, take a look at the profile of the average accepted applicant to get an idea of what it takes to get in. Keep in mind that many colleges accept most of their applicants.

Participate in Meaningful Activities

One-off activities take up time but may not contribute much to a student’s personal and academic growth. It’s best for students to dedicate themselves to a couple of long-term extracurricular activities that they’re genuinely interested in.  Students shouldn’t choose an activity for the sake of college admissions.


Take the PSAT

Taking the PSAT will give students a taste of the SAT under test conditions. Furthermore, if a student does well, they can qualify to be a National Merit Finalist. Many colleges offer merit scholarships to National Merit Finalists and Semi-Finalists. However, colleges don’t require the PSAT for admissions, so there’s no need to stress over it.

Look into the ACT

Students who took the PSAT should consider taking the ACT to compare the two. If it’s not practical to pay for the actual ACT, students should take a practice one at home under the set time limits. Compare the (practice) ACT scores to the PSAT scores, and consider which test was more manageable. Make the decision to focus on either the ACT or SAT moving forward.

Plan to Take the SAT or ACT

Based on the above experience, students should make plans to take the SAT or ACT in the Spring of junior year. Study for the test, because a major part of doing well is test-taking strategies.

Your College Advisors Guide to A is for Admission

Students should choose a Spring date for the SAT or ACT, and register for the test.

Prepare for the SAT Subject Tests

Students should decide on which SAT Subject Tests would be the best. Then, obtain some prep books for the SAT Subject Tests and study. Register for Spring tests dates.

Do Research on Colleges

Start by checking out these resources:

College Board – Big Future
College ScoreCard by the U.S. Department of Education

In addition to aspects like academics and location, parents and students should pay serious attention to the cost of attendance. Do research now to avoid huge student debt.


Take the Tests

Take the SAT or ACT. Also, take the SAT Subject Tests. If the student doesn’t do well, they should plan on retaking the tests in the Fall of senior year.  Another option is to aim for colleges that don’t require or de-emphasize the SAT/ACT.

Continue to Research Colleges

Learning about colleges takes a lot of time. Do research steadily and continue into the summer after junior year and fall of senior year if needed.

Ask for Recommendation Letters

Before teachers leave for summer break, students should ask for recommendation letters. Read tips on how to choose recommendation letter writers and how to ask them for a letter.  Students can take steps to ensure that their teachers write the best possible recommendation letters for them.


Work / Participate in an Academic Program / Study

If possible, participate in a summer academic program. Another option is to work a paid summer job, which would help students develop a sense of responsibility and time management skills. Either way, make the summer productive by participating in enriching activities.

Narrow Down the College List

Parents and students should start to narrow the college list based on the research they have done. Examining the cost of tuition, fees, and room and board will help with choosing colleges you can afford.

Also, a student’s current GPA and SAT/ACT score will give them a sense of whether they’re a good fit for certain colleges. If they’re below average for a college, it’s best to look at other colleges.

Visit Colleges

Parents and students should schedule informational interviews with admissions officers and attend information sessions and tours.

Going across the country to visit colleges is not possible for many students and their families. If that’s the case for you, try to visit the colleges that are within one or two hours of your home.

Keep in mind that college visits won’t give you an accurate understanding of the college. You’ll get mostly or only the positive aspects, because current students who are happy at the college are usually the ones to give campus tours. Nonetheless, a campus visit is a good opportunity to ask questions.

Work on College Applications and Essays

Some people are surprised to learn that students can write their college essays before the official essay prompts are published.  Why? The basic personal statement will almost always be some form of “Tell us your story,” so students can write this in advance.  For example, the Common App essay prompts don’t change at all for stretches of time (the personal statement prompts for 2018-2019 are the same as the ones for 2017-2018).

Moreover, many colleges require a “why this college” essay, so students can research a college and take notes before the colleges release official essay prompts. Even if the college changes its mind and decides to omit that essay prompt one year (this is unlikely), taking thorough notes will help the student learn more about the college.

At the minimum, students can fill out their basic information in college application forms as soon as colleges publish the forms for the next academic year.

Final Thoughts

Junior year is crucial in the college application timeline. With advanced planning, discipline, and hard work, students can set themselves up for success in the college admissions process.

(Photo: University of Minnesota Duluth)

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