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How to Prepare for Your College Search as a Junior

Rising juniors, it's your time to shine. Junior year is tough, but preparing for your college search a year in advance will make it easier in the long run.

The last two years of high school are always a flurry of exams, homework, deadlines, and making plans for the future—including college. I'm preparing to apply to college this fall, but I started my college research junior year so I could be better acquainted with my options and have a comprehensive plan of what I want to do next year. That's why I’m sharing the following steps to help you lay the foundation of your college journey. It may be just the first stage of months of research—but the more planning you do, the more self-assured you'll feel about your college search progress.

Think about your interests and abilities

The first order of business is to consider your own skills, interests, and preferences. You should have an idea of the type of study environment you want to be in for four years (or more) of your life. What kind of college and academic atmosphere do you think you’ll need to be happy and successful?

You should also think about your academic proclivities, achievements, and grades and search for colleges that match. Before undertaking my own college research junior year, I took a close look at the QS World University Rankings for my academic subjects of interest so I would have a sense of the top, second-, and mid-tier universities I might consider applying to later. This helped me compare my own potential and capacity with the average success rate of applicants. Keeping in mind my academic capabilities, test results, and other extracurricular activities, I am now more aware of the universities that will be a stretch for me to get into as well as my safety schools. And for all you high achievers out there, remember that even some of the most talented people in the world don’t make it into the Ivy League and elite universities. So don’t focus all of your emotional and mental capital towards these schools.

Get the right emotional support

Going off to university when you’re 18 or 19 will help you set foot on the path to a successful future and career. But, naturally, there are feelings of apprehension! Surround yourself with friends, teachers, and family members who will inspire more confidence and make you feel positive about accomplishing your ambitions.

Ask these special people in your life for advice, and keep them abreast of your college plans and goals for the future so you can confide in them. My parents are an especially strong pillar of support for me, and I always tell them about what I am up to and the college research I’m doing. I also believe it is very important to stay away from people who are a hindrance and spread negativity and cynicism.

Related: How to Ask for and Get Help in College

Understand what admission entails

You should find out everything you can about all the requirements you will need to meet in order to apply and be eligible for acceptance from your target universities. You don't need to worry about your admission essay quite yet, but standardized tests should be at the forefront of your ind.

The SAT and ACT, and other more specific exams such as SAT Subject Tests, are typically taken during junior year. For international students who do not speak English as a first language, exams like the TOEFL and IELTS are additional essential requirements for many universities in English-speaking countries around the world. You need to be mentally and amply prepared to sit for all of these examinations in the coming months. Steadily work towards studying and practicing for these tests sooner rather than later.

Research your potential majors and course work

It is important to be aware of what your future academic path might look like, so you can find colleges and universities that offer such an experience. This is typically the course work ascribed to your intended major, so make sure that you get the necessary information about the majors you think might fit you. Try talking to people who have had the same or similar majors and course work or are currently involved. The majors should be in line with your interests and skills, so you are invested in and enjoy the projects involved, papers to write, and research to conduct. Even though you may not have to declare your major right away at some universities, it is beneficial to have a clear idea of what to expect.

As universities offer a variety of degrees, classes, and curricula like liberal arts, joint-degree programs, honors courses, double majors, and much more, it is helpful to think about whether one of these offerings will help you realize your academic goals as well. I have especially benefitted by reviewing the scope of my potential college courses, which helped me realize that liberal arts programs were not particularly suited to my interests.

Related: How to Choose a College Major When the Options Seem Overwhelming

Be active, assertive, and engaged

Ensure that you are dedicated and actively involved in your college research. This encompasses attending college fairs, going for open houses, asking questions, sending e-mails, getting in touch with students and teachers, and consolidating college brochures and other mailings.

You should stay on top of things and ensure that you have all the relevant information about colleges that you would need to map out your way through your college search. Keep up with your college search timeline, and mark your calendar to keep track of crucial deadlines, university fairs, campus visits, helpful college search or financial aid seminars given by your high school or local library, and more. Good time management is the only way to stay on top of it all junior and senior year of high school—and stay sane!

College research is essential to determining which schools fit your aspirations and strengths. It is also a good way to recognize where you currently stand and the amount of work you would have to put in in order to get into a good university. A thorough college search often unfolds over a year’s time, so beginning junior year is usually the most advantageous. So begin now and lay a strong foundation for your future that will not only make your plans more concrete but also lead to less stress, procrastination, pressure, late nights, and confusion in the long run!

Okay, rising juniors...what are you doing to get ready for your college search? Let us know on social media!

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About Shivani Ekkanath

Shivani Ekkanath

As a person applying to college this year, I want to chronicle this crazy and unpredictable yet rewarding and fascinating journey so that the experience feels less daunting. I am currently preparing to study political science for my undergraduate degree, along with trying my best to win a battle with the pressures of the IB diploma. I am a lover of music, debating, reading about current affairs, dancing, baking (not too well), and writing. I am also an an aspiring journalist and hope to attend Columbia University one day and work for The New York Times or Wall Street Journal!


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