With the new school year approaching, college counselors are once again preparing to face a new group of juniors and seniors in various stages of the college admission process. Stay organized and ahead of the game by mapping out a plan of attack for the coming year.
The junior year in particular is crucial, with students beginning to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives, and seniors will find themselves juggling a multitude of deadlines and responsibilities in addition to the festivities and excitement of their final year of high school. Counselors will likewise find their plates full as they guide their college-bound students toward collegiate success. But all parties involved can avoid becoming overwhelmed and stay organized and ahead of the game by mapping out a plan of attack for the coming year.
Keep juniors and seniors focused
Some of the main things that juniors and seniors should focus on:
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 though their college applications will be going out in the fall, their grades still count and final transcripts will be sent to their schools after they’ve been accepted.
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.
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.
Most college counselors would agree that all juniors should take the PSAT. The results will not only help them to gauge their preparedness for the SAT exam but will also give them a chance to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship program. To get the most out of the PSAT, students should be advised to study for it as they would for the actual SAT test.
The SAT and ACT exams
It’s never too early for students to begin studying for the SAT and ACT exams, 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.
Strong 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.
Sarah Soule, 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 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.
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 definitely 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 in order 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 Sarah 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.”
Following are tentative monthly schedules that may be useful in creating a detailed list of dates and deadlines for counselors and their juniors and seniors:
Junior year calendar
- Students should determine when they will take their SAT Reasoning, SAT Subject, and/or ACT exams.
- Meet with their college counselors to discuss their course selection for the school year and ensure it is appropriately challenging.
- Step up extracurricular involvement and take on leadership roles.
- Participate in community service activities.
- Register for the PSAT.
- This is a good time to begin looking at college reference books and visiting schools’ websites. Students should begin a list of schools they’re interested in applying to.
- Review their transcripts thus far with their college counselors and work on improving their grades and GPA’s.
- This is also a good time to begin working on resumes.
- Take the PSAT.
- Juniors might consider taking career assessment tests to help them explore majors and professions they’re interested in or well suited for.
- Continue to focus on maintaining strong grades.
- Work with parents, teachers, and college counselors to develop a game plan for SAT/ACT preparation.
- Begin a more in-depth investigation of colleges. Continue to visit schools’ websites and consider speaking with current students and alumni.
- It’s never too early to begin searching for scholarships and grants. They sooner they start, the more money they’ll find.
- PSAT scores arrive in December. Juniors and their college counselors should discuss the results.
- Note upcoming SAT/ACT registration deadlines and exam dates and continue to work on test preparation.
- Mid-year evaluation of grades. Look for areas that need improvement.
- Continue the search for scholarships and grants.
- Consider job shadowing and volunteer work to learn more about potential careers.
- Look at schedule of AP exams and register if applicable.
- Continue SAT/ACT test preparation through prep courses, software, and/or practice tests.
- Start selecting senior year courses, ensuring they are sufficiently but not overly challenging.
- Students and their counselors should discuss potential colleges and start narrowing down the list.
- Request admission and financial aid information from colleges.
- Students should create a folder for each school they’re applying to.
- Begin visiting schools and touring campuses.
- Work on applications for summer jobs and internships.
- Continue visiting schools. Attend college fairs and meet with admission representatives.
- Think about teachers, counselors, and mentors who could write letters of recommendation.
- Finalize course selection for senior year.
- Register for summer school, if necessary.
- Continue SAT/ACT and AP test preparation if applicable.
- Students should re-evaluate the list of colleges they’re thinking of applying to and continue to narrow down the list. The list should include “dream” schools, schools where they may be accepted, and “safety” schools where they’ll almost certainly be accepted.
- This is a good time to look into academic summer programs, such as academic summer camps and schools or programs for high schools students at local colleges.
- Finalize summer plans.
- Study hard and end the school year with strong grades. Look at final grades and GPA and determine where improvements can be made.
- Continue to visit colleges, setting up interviews, meeting with admission and financial personnel, and talking with current and former students.
- Get a job and try to put away some money for college.
- Continue to visit and research colleges.
- Get leadership experience through volunteer activities.
- Stay sharp by doing things like participating in academic summer programs and reading challenging books.
Senior year calendar
- Determine which schools don’t have online applications and request paper applications as necessary.
- Meet with any visiting college representatives. Go to college fairs. Continue to visit colleges and do online virtual tours.
- Students should register for and take the SAT/ACT if they haven’t already or if they were unhappy with their original scores.
- Begin requesting letters of recommendation.
- Students and their counselors should consider creating a “master calendar” of all their application and financial aid deadlines.
- Review transcript and make sure everything is accurate.
- Students should note the deadlines for any schools they’re applying to Early Decision or Early Action -- these dates will come very quickly.
- Take on leadership roles and be as involved as possible in extracurricular activities.
- Begin thinking about essay topics.
- Continue to focus on grades. Students must remember that their final transcripts will be sent to the schools they’re accepted to.
- Gather documents needed for the FAFSA.
- Go to any financial aid nights/events available.
- File the FAFSA. Once students have filed their FAFSA, they can start watching for their Student Aid Report (SAR) and review it for accuracy.
- Submit Early Action/Early Decision applications.
- Start writing essays.
- Continue to attend college fairs and college nights.
- If distance permits, student should visit their top choice schools. If they’re too far away, they should visit the schools’ websites, do virtual tours, and communicate with admission and financial aid representatives.
- Maintain an organized folder for each school.
- Find out what financial aid forms each school requires, note the deadlines, and begin gathering the information that will be required.
- If required, begin working on video auditions, portfolios, writing samples, and other application supplements.
- Students and counselors should work together to ensure transcripts and test scores will be sent to the schools.
- Continue working on applications and ensure all deadlines will be met. Be sure to make copies of everything.
- Follow up with everyone who wrote letters of recommendation and ensure the letters will be sent on time and to the correct schools.
- Finalize essays. Scrutinize them carefully, get second opinions, and re-write as necessary.
- Start wrapping up applications.
- Continue searching for scholarships and grants.
- Notification of admission decisions for Early Decision and Early Action applications generally arrive in December or January.
- Continue to focus on grades—they still count.
- If required, send first semester transcripts to schools.
- Finalize any applications not already submitted.
- Note the dates of upcoming AP exams and begin studying for them.
- Review all applications and make sure all required materials have been submitted and all deadlines have been met.
- Continue searching and applying for scholarships and grants.
- It’s courteous to send thank-you notes to anyone who sent a letter or recommendation or helped in the application process in some way.
- Admissions decisions will start coming in. Students should work with their parents and college counselors to rank their options and evaluate any wait lists.
- Look for summer jobs and volunteer opportunities.
- Students who have been accepted to more than one school and are unsure of which to attend might consider visiting or re-visiting the campuses to help in making their decision.
- Once financial aid packages start coming in from each school, review and compare them.
- Students should decide on the school they’ll attend by accepting and declining offers as necessary and sending any required deposits, usually by May 1.
- Note orientation, registration, and other important dates and deadlines for the upcoming school year.
- Even at this point, continue to look for scholarships and grants.
- Don’t lose focus -- finish the school year with strong grades.
- Finalize summer plans.
- Students should analyze their financial situation and work on a budget for their first year of college. Save money from summer jobs.
- Get ready for graduation!
- Work and continue saving money for college.
- Students should attend orientation and any other activities for incoming freshmen.
- Shop for dorm furnishings and make a list of things to pack.
- Find and connect with future roommates.
- Stay sharp by reading challenging books, brushing up on math skills, and maintaining proficiency in any foreign languages taken in high school.
- Relax, travel if possible, and spend time with friends and family. The next four years will be a busy and exciting whirlwind!