Last Updated: Oct 22, 2020
At the beginning of high school, there was an ominous feeling surrounding my junior year. It’s known as the most stressful year for any high school student: you’re overloaded by pressure to know exactly what you’re going to do with your life, where you’re going to go to college, the never-ending scholarship hunt, and the dreadful SAT or ACT. How could you ever find the time to start your college applications when you’re struggling to balance school, work, extracurricular activities, and a social life? Check out these tips on how to get a head start on your college search and application process!
Find time to work on the basic info
As stressful as junior year is, we always manage to find time to sit on the couch and watch Netflix. No matter how riveting the next episode of Grey’s Anatomy is, you can find some time to fill out basic information on your college applications too. Most schools use programs like the Common App or Coalition Application, so you can build your application all in one place. The basic information at the start of your application will cover things like your address, graduation year, and demographics. Filling this information in won’t take too much away from watching Meredith Grey’s next surgery—junior year is all about multitasking, after all!
Start the college search
You eventually need to send your application somewhere, so building a college list is important! Websites like CollegeXpress and the College Board have great resources for starting your college search. It’s also important to figure out what your priorities are. Do you want to stay in state? How about a private or public college? How much financial aid will you need? Does the college have your major (and your backup majors)?
Use your summer wisely
While we all want to spend our entire summer poolside, we could devote some of that time to our college apps too. The summer before senior year is a great time to work on your applications: you won’t have much school work to worry about (other than summer assignments), and you’ll have a lot more time allotted to start writing your college essays and building a killer application.
Think about when you want to apply
Colleges have several different ways of applying. The three most common application deadlines are Early Decision, Early Action, and Regular Decision.
- Early Decision deadlines are early in your senior year, typically around November. The great thing about Early Decision is that you can find out about acceptance before the winter holidays. But it’s a binding contract, so you can only apply to one school when doing Early Decision (unless you are denied). If you get accepted to that school, you have to go.
- Early Action is similar to Early Decision in that you apply earlier in the year, but it’s non-binding. This means you can apply to several schools early and choose whether you’d like to attend or not if you are accepted.
- Regular Decision is later in the year, with deadlines usually in January or February, and applicants are notified of their admission status by April.
- Rolling admission is another option in which there's no deadline, per se: colleges evaluate applications until all of the available spots are filled for that year.
Talk to your high school counselor
Your counselor is your best resource for anything college, so don’t be scared to set up a meeting! Their job is to help guide you. Tell them what your current plan is, and if you don’t have one, they can help you get started. They’ll be more than happy to look over your college applications and provide you feedback. They also know how to find all of the best local and regional scholarships.
Apply for scholarships
It’s no secret that college is expensive, and not having the proper funds to pay for tuition is a common issue. Scholarships are important, and it's never too early to start applying for them. Some great resources can be found on CollegeXpress, Unigo, and Cappex. If you can find local scholarships that are specific to your state, region, or even high school, those are the best: there will be a smaller applicant pool, which means you’ll have a greater chance of winning.
Build your résumé
College is competitive, so your application needs to show how motivated and involved of a student you are. If you’re not already part of a club or organization, it's not too late to join one, become an officer, or find a way to make your own club! If you love animals, volunteer at a rescue center. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved at school or in your community, and colleges love to see that you are.
Application season is fast approaching and will be here before we know it. It’s important to take advantage of junior year before senioritis sets in—and trust me, it will. The college admission process can be stressful, so there’s nothing wrong with getting ahead!
Find more advice to get ahead on your applications in our College Admission section.