I know college applications seem as though they are a thing of the distant future but I promise you they will be here before you know it. In order to make this process smooth, successful and as stress-free as possible, it is important to get started now. Remember, the more work you do now, the more you will be able to enjoy all that senior year has to offer.
Here are ten things juniors should do by the end of the school year:
1. Develop Your College Admissions Strategy
Although many college applications are largely standardized through formats such as the Common Application™, Universal Application™, and state-specific applications, you are unique. How will you use the limited pieces of these applications to communicate what differentiates you from all of the other smart, talented students who are applying to your top choice schools?
2. Create Your Activity List
Colleges are communities and they want students who will be active members of that community. Your high school activity list gives them an indication what type of community member you will be, what interests you have and, ultimately, what you can teach the other students on campus. Fill out the activity sheet with all activities you have participated in both in and out of school since the summer before 9th grade, focusing on what distinguishes you from others who might have similar activities. For instance, if you were selected, how many people were running? If you raised money, how much did you raise and how did you do it? If you competed on a regional, state, national or international level, be sure to say so.
3. Complete Your College Resume
Once you have completed your activity sheet, a resume is a very easy next step. Whether or not your prospective colleges require you to submit a resume, I strongly encourage you to create one. Your resume is a brief summary of your skills, interests, education, experiences, accomplishments and honors and should strongly corroborate your admissions strategy. If done properly, this document will serve as the foundation of your lifelong resume, which you can continue to enhance as you gain additional skills and experiences throughout college and beyond.
4. Plan Your Recommendations
Don’t wait until senior year to think about your recommendations. Start now! Junior year is the last full academic year you will complete before you apply to colleges; therefore, your junior year teachers are usually best equipped to write your recommendations. Which two academic teachers will you ask and what can you across the rest of the semester to distinguish yourself in their classes?
5. Select Your Senior Class Schedule
Although you may be ready to get done with high school, don’t ease off the breaks just yet. As you consider your senior class schedule, make sure you have the necessary requirements to both graduate from high school and to apply to your target colleges? For instance, do you need AP Calc and/or AP Physics to apply to your target engineering program? Does your dream school require a third (or fourth) year of the same language? Your senior year schedule is important in (1) helping you get accepted to your target colleges and (2) giving you the academic foundation necessary to succeed there. So, resist the urge to arrange your schedule so you can leave school every day at 11 am (unless you have a job, independent research or other challenging activity) and keep pushing yourself with classes that will stretch you. I promise it will be worth the effort.
6. Visit Colleges
While brochures, online research and speaking to alumni can be valuable inputs to deciding on whether a college is a great fit for you, nothing compares to walking the campus and meeting current students and faculty. Are students sitting in groups during free periods or are they working individually on their computers with their head phones on? Is the surrounding neighborhood one where you would want to live? Does campus empty out on weekends or is there a vibrant social life? Do professors seem accessible? Are students and staff friendly? Only by visiting campus will you be able to get a feel for the culture of the school and whether or not it is a place where you feel both supported and challenged to grow.
7. Develop Your Standardized Testing Strategy
If you are a junior, chances are you have already taken your PSAT and have plans to take the SAT or ACT. But, don’t forget about the other standardized tests that are available. If you are taking an Advanced Placement test this May, you should consider taking the corresponding SAT Subject Test (SAT II) at the same time. Although not required by most colleges, the SAT Subject Tests will indicate areas of academic interest and strength which will enhance your overall application strategy. And, if you take them at the same time as your APs, you won’t have to redouble your study efforts over the summer or early fall.
8. Compile A List of Priority Colleges
Rest assured that your college list can change up until the deadlines for each college passes so nothing you decide now is set in stone. But, starting with a prioritized list of “right fit” colleges will help you focus your work and manage your time. Aim for 2-3 colleges that meet your priority characteristics (academic programs, teaching philosophy, culture, etc.) that are a high likelihood of acceptance, 2-3 that are a medium likelihood of acceptance and 1-2 that are a lower likelihood of acceptance. In your list, you should consider at least one in-state option and one school that is close to home. A lot can happen in a year and you want to make sure you have options, no matter the situation you face.
9. Make Summer Plans
The summer ahead is your last opportunity to show colleges how you spend your free time. Will you simply “hang’ with your friends or will you pursue an academic or extra-curricular interest in new and interesting ways? Colleges are looking for students who are intellectually curious, passionate about learning and engaged in their communities. You have approximately three months this summer (that’s ¼ of a full year). Do something with it!
10. Draft A “Why” Paragraph
A “Why” paragraph states, specifically, why you believe a particular school is a great fit for you and why you are a great fit for it. It can include any number of attributes including academics, social activities, religious affiliation, teaching philosophy, geography, history, athletics, etc. Many schools ask a supplemental essay question “Tell us why you want to come to our school” and this will answer that. Even if they don’t ask the question, knowing your “why” will be critical in making a positive impression during any interactions with your target schools, including interviews, meetings with admissions officers, or email communications. And, the best part is, once you have one paragraph complete, it’s easy to version it for the other schools on your list.