With a new school year starting, junior and senior students will soon find their plates full of college planning. Counselors will likewise find their plates full as they guide their college-bound students toward collegiate success. Here are some of the main things you can help your juniors and seniors focus on this year to keep them on track for the future.
According to Bev Taylor, an independent college counselor at The Ivy Coach, “Junior year grades need to be as stellar as (or better than) freshman and sophomore year grades.” Counselors should sit down with their juniors at the beginning of the school year and review their transcripts, noting any areas where they need improvement. Seniors must be reminded that even when their college applications have been sent out, their grades still count and final transcripts will be sent to their schools after they’ve been accepted.
2. Course selection
Both juniors and seniors should take the most rigorous courses they can in English, social science, math, science, and foreign language, and students applying to highly selective colleges should take those courses at the AP level. Taylor recommends that students take AP courses in the discipline they wish to study in college to help demonstrate strength in their academic passion. College counselors should begin discussing their juniors’ senior year course selections in the spring, being careful to settle on a course load that is appropriately challenging.
3. Extracurricular activities
Extracurricular involvement can turn a good college application into a great one. Both juniors and seniors will benefit from stepping up their participation in extracurricular activities and should be encouraged to take on leadership roles. “While colleges look for a student’s depth as well as breadth of involvement,” says Taylor, “extracurricular activities should be great fun but they should also be activities about which the student is passionate.” In the end, these activities should give an admissions official a glimpse into an applicant’s lifestyle and personality and should demonstrate his or her passions, primary interests, and commitments.
4. SAT and ACT exams
It’s never too early for students to begin studying and preparing for the SAT and ACT exams—including taking the PSAT—but Taylor does recommend they begin preparing by July before their junior year and continue until they’ve taken their last exam. Ideally, they will take their exams before the end of their junior year, though if they aren’t happy with their scores they might, in some instances, consider retaking them in their senior year. Students should discuss the best test prep method for them with their parents, teachers, and college counselors. Tutoring, study guides and software, and practice tests should all be considered. Once the results are in, students and their counselors can use them to help narrow down the list of colleges to which they’ll apply. They should also search for any scholarships or grants that may be available based on their scores.
5. Relationships with counselors and teachers
Juniors should develop meaningful relationships with their college counselors, teachers, and other mentors who will be writing them letters of recommendation. They can foster these relationships by speaking up during class discussions, taking on extra assignments, and volunteering for after-school projects. Seniors should be sure to send thank-you notes to anyone who wrote a letter of recommendation on their behalf.
6. College choices
Sarah Soule, former Director of College Counseling at Vermont Commons School in South Burlington, Vermont, believes that “in order for a student to find success at the collegiate level, they must enroll in a college that best fits their academic profile, is in an ideal geographic setting as based on the student’s personal preferences, has the desired major, and offers appropriate athletic and extracurricular interests.” To give themselves enough time to find the perfect school, students should be encouraged to begin researching colleges and universities in the spring and summer of their junior year. Attending college fairs is an excellent way for students to learn more about various schools and meet with representatives, as are searching through schools’ websites and taking virtual tours. By their senior year, students should have a list of 10 to 12 colleges they’re interested in that they can review and further narrow down with their parents and college counselors.
7. Campus tours
Touring campuses is essential to the process of selecting which schools to apply to and, once accepted, which school to attend. Bev Taylor recommends that students should consider visiting schools as early as their freshman year of high school, and they should begin touring campuses by fall of their junior year and continue throughout their senior year as well. Visiting schools allows students to get a firsthand impression that brochures and websites simply can’t compete with. Students should try to schedule their tours while classes are in session to get the best idea of what life on campus will be like. Counselors can help them plan their visits by mapping out the schools that could most easily be visited over spring break and by helping them create a list of places to check out, people to talk to, and questions to ask.
According to Soule, “The knowledge gained from a personal visit to an institution, combined with a working knowledge of the statistics and data about admissions enrollment information and an understanding of a student’s specific talents, academic profile, and desires, will lead to finding the most appropriate match in creating a list of colleges where they will apply for admission.” The college preparation process is going to look a little different for each student, so remember to remain flexible in your planning and ready to adapt to changes. This is a good guideline to follow to keep you and your student organized and on the right track to academic success and college admittance.
To help your students stay organized and on track during the last two years of high school, use this monthly two-year college planning calendar.