- Register for the SAT or ACT (Spring semester)
- Take advantage of free test prep services
- Continue attending college fairs and visits offered at your school
- Make an effort to visit as many college campuses as possible
- Register for AP or IB classes in subject areas where you feel confident
- Keep your grades up!
- Finalize your list of colleges you plan to apply for in the fall of senior year
- Talk with your family about college costs
- Request letters of recommendation for teachers to complete over the summer
- Begin researching and applying for external scholarship programs
- Start thinking about personal statement topics
Most colleges will require either an SAT or ACT score to be eligible for admission. A majority of schools will accept either exam, but it’s best to check with your schools before registering. The SAT or ACT should be taken at least twice – once in the spring of junior year and once in the fall of senior year. Depending on the colleges you are applying to, you may have the option to “superscore” your SAT, meaning that college will mix and match your sub-scores for the highest composite score. Students can register for the SAT through The College Board at: www.collegeboard.org. Students can register for the ACT through the ACT website at: www.act.org. (Note: the ACT cannot be super-scored.)
There are many ways to prepare for the SAT or ACT in advance of taking the test. First, check with your school guidance counselor to see whether your school will be offering free test prep after school or over the summer. If not, you can access free SAT prep services through Kahn Academy. You can get more information about registering for practice exams on The College Board’s website here: http://sat.collegeboard.org/practice/.
As you start to narrow down what kind of college you are looking for, be sure to continue attending college fairs and visits offered by your school. This will help you expand your college search list and explore all possible decisions before making your final list of colleges you plan to apply for.
Nothing beats a college visit. Walking around campus, engaging with current students, stepping inside a classroom – are all ways to get a real feel for what you can expect from a particular college and how good of a “fit” it might be. Some colleges may seem great on paper and disappoint in person, while others may escape your notice in the guidebook but capture your attention and excitement once you get there. Start local, exploring colleges in your area, and then try to expand your reach. Family vacations and school trips can be a great way to visit schools outside of your area. In addition, some schools are so hungry for out of state students that they may pay you to visit! If there is a school you are really interested in seeing, but can’t get to on your own, call the admissions office. They may be able to help.
If you are doing well in your college prep courses, junior year is a great time to step up your game and register for an especially challenging course like Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB). These classes are considered to be the same level of rigor as a college class and are a great way of showing the admissions committee that you are ready for the challenge of college. In addition, students have the option to take exams at the end of their AP and IB classes that can count for college credit. Score requirements will differ from college to college, but usually a score of 4 or 5 on the AP exam and a 6 or higher on the IB exam will count for college credit.
Your junior year grades will be the last piece of academic information the admissions committee is able to see before making a decision on your application (senior year grades are usually not available by the time applications are due). This means colleges will be paying particular attention to these grades as they are the best indication of how motivated, hard-working and academically successful you are right now.
Junior year is a critical time to really narrow down your list of colleges so that you will be ready to hit the ground running senior year. Plan to draft a list of around 10 colleges to which you would like to apply in the fall – 3 “safety,” 3 “target,” 3 “reach” and one more of your choice. “Safety” schools are defined as those that you are more than academically qualified for. Typically this means that your test scores and GPA fall well above the averages listed for the college. “Target” schools are those that appear to be a solid fit for you. Your test scores and GPA should fall within the admission averages and you should clearly meet all qualifications. “Reach” schools are usually those that you may appear slightly under-qualified for on paper, but could still gain admission to through personal factors such as your personal statement, letters of recommendation and activities. If you are unsure how to classify a school that you are interested in, speak with your guidance counselor.
It’s important to make sure that you and your family are on the same page when it comes to college costs and how much you are able to pay to attend college. Be sure to have a conversation early on in the process so that you can manage your expectations, know how much money you will need in either scholarships or financial aid to make a particular college possible, and determine how much you will need to personally contribute towards your college education. You may also want to talk to your family about the possibility of taking out student loans for college. Will they support you if you decide to do this? Would they be willing to help you pay for college by taking out a Parent Plus Loan? Are they opposed to taking on debt for college? These are important questions to ask going into the college application and financial aid process.
When do you usually do your best work? Probably when you have time to really think about an assignment, write something thoughtful and do some proofreading. The same goes for teachers! The earlier you ask your teachers for recommendations the more time you give them to write something unique, thoughtful and positive about you that will stand out to the admissions committee. Try to request your recommendation letters before the end of junior year. This will allow your teachers to write the letters over the summer and give them back to you at the beginning of senior year. As part of your request, you should let your teachers know 1) why you are interested in this particular college and 2) what makes you a stand-out applicant (i.e. leadership experience, activities, interests, etc.) The more information you provide, the more personalized their letter will be!
It’s never too early to start searching for scholarships. Many scholarship programs allow you to apply before your senior year and some even require it. To maximize your scholarship potential, start exploring websites like www.collegegreenlight.com, www.fastweb.com, www.scholarships.com and www.zinch.com. All of these sites act as search engines for thousands of scholarships and can help you find opportunities for which you are uniquely qualified. Remember, you should never have to pay for a scholarship application – the point is for them to give you money, not the other way around!
While you won’t be able to know your exact personal statement topics until your college application forms become available (usually August 1), you can start to prepare by looking at previous years’ essay prompts and brainstorming topics to write about. The best topics are usually those about which you feel really passionate – an experience that changed you, taught you something about yourself or the world around you, or caused you to do some self-reflection. Remember that the point of the college essay is to let the admissions committee get to know you – your voice, your story, your point of view. This is your opportunity to grab their attention – take it!