For high school juniors, college admission season is right around the corner and will be here before you know it. College applications that stand out from the pool of other applicants aren't built in just a few weeks or months—you need to start planning as early as possible. Here are a few things juniors should do now to create a successful college application in the not-so-distant future.
1. Review your testing plan
Standardized test scores are something that most colleges will review—unless you’re planning to apply to test-optional or test-blind schools. While many schools remain test-optional, selective schools like Georgetown University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Georgia Institute of Technology all require applicants to submit scores. Especially for very selective schools, your standardized test scores will matter. You may have to take the SAT or ACT multiple times to get the scores you want, so it’s best to start preparing now.
2. Concentrate on your academics
Admission officers will look at what classes you’re taking vs. what’s available to you at your high school. Did you challenge yourself? You don't have to take every AP course available, but you should take at least a few honors and/or AP courses each year. You want to showcase to admission officers that you can handle the added rigor of college-level courses. Colleges will especially be looking at your grades from this year, so it’s important to put your full effort into your academics. Find a balance between your extracurriculars and academics for a well-rounded application.
Related: Improving Your College Competitiveness: What Classes to Take Each Year of High School
3. Plan your summer wisely
The summer before senior year is one of your last chances to build your résumé. Attending competitive summer programs and getting hands-on experience can help students prove their interest in a certain field of study. You could also consider volunteering, job shadowing, or working on a passion project to enhance your résumé further. Remember, there’s no need to do every activity available to you. It’s better to build on your interests and add layers to your activities than join five new clubs this summer.
4. Get recommendation letters lined up
Before school ends for the summer, you should identify who you want to ask for a letter of recommendation in the fall. Most colleges require two teacher recommendations, so you'll want to determine who will give you the best and most personalized letters. Teachers receive a lot of recommendation requests each year, and they might not be able to say yes to everyone, so it’s a good idea to get on their radar now and let them know you’d like them to write on your behalf.
Related: Letters of Recommendation: Who, How, and When to Ask
5. Visit your colleges of interest
Spring and summer breaks are perfect opportunities for juniors to visit colleges. It's a good idea to visit a variety of schools—private and public; big, medium, and small—to see what type of environment you would thrive in. You don't need to visit every school you’re interested in; just focus on a few you’re most interested in or ones that are easiest for you to visit to help you build your college list. If visiting colleges in person isn’t a feasible option, taking a virtual tour is a good alternative.
6. Brainstorm ideas for college essays
The personal statement is the best way to showcase your personality on your college applications. If you start writing it the summer before senior year, you can produce a well-thought-out essay that showcases your personality and have plenty of time for edits and multiple drafts. You should also look at the Common App essay prompts and start thinking of stories you could share to boost your applications. Take your time and make your essay(s) personal!
Related: Our Best Advice for College Application Essays
Junior year of high school is a busy time, but next year will more enjoyable and less stressful if you start preparing for college application season now. Outside of in-person college visits, these steps are easy to take whenever you have a free moment, so be sure to take advantage of any chance you have to get a head start on the admission process. Your senior-self will thank you!
If you’re stressing about getting through junior year, check out Junior Year of High School: Our Best Survival Advice for other helpful articles and blogs.