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How to Prepare for College in Your Junior Year

When you are in your junior year of high school, college may still seem a long way off. But the truth is, 11th grade is a critical time to start making college plans. This year, you will begin to study for and take standardized exams, and much more of your free time will go into activities that involve preparing for college. To help you and your family get organized, we’ve developed a detailed checklist to help you succeed, rather than stress about planning for college in your junior year. It starts in the summer and ends at the end of the school year. By following this list and knocking out each activity one-by-one, you can avoid becoming overwhelmed and have time left over to pursue other activities.

The Summer Before Junior Year

Sure, you want to relax and have fun during summer vacation, but these warm months are the ideal time for some pre-planning. There is no reason why you can’t strike a balance between rest, relaxation, and college preparation. This way, when you start the school year, you will be ready to take on the mental challenges ahead. Here are a few tips for making your summer a bit more productive:

  • Make sure you have enrolled in classes that are challenging enough to push yourself academically. Admissions officials will be looking at your transcript, but they will also be scrutinizing the coursework and grades of your junior year. You don’t want to enroll in classes that are too easy, but you also need to be realistic. The goal is to demonstrate your ability to meet demanding coursework head-on.
  • Get a student planner or download a time management app and start using it. In fact, now would be a great time to pencil in the tasks on this list and make some goals. Time management skills will go a long way in helping you succeed in the upcoming year. Set a schedule for yourself that includes classes and time for studying as well as extracurricular activities and personal interests.
  • Narrowing down your list of potential colleges is an essential part of the college preparation process. If you are in the process of deciding which schools will work best for you, this summer might be a good time for a campus visit. If your family is taking a road trip or vacation, try working some school tours into the itinerary
  • Volunteering your services within your community is an ideal way to spend some of your free time during the summer. Not only will it serve as something to add to your portfolio, but you might just find a new interest or passion.
  • To keep your brain in tip-top shape, do some reading. It doesn’t have to be anything too cerebral—any entertaining novel will do. Reading will help to increase your vocabulary and grammar skills and keep your mind sharp.

September

Junior year has begun. Hopefully, some of your prior planning has helped to make it less hectic. Avoid getting overwhelmed by arming yourself with all the tools at your disposal. This month, there are a few tasks to schedule into your planner:

  • As soon as possible, visit your school counselor and make an appointment to work on college preparation. If you have been doing this all along, now is the time for a junior year evaluation. You may want to schedule a sit-down meeting with your parents and counselor together to make sure everyone is on the same page, and you are supported as well as you can be. It’s no time to be a lone wolf. Take advantage of all the assistance available to you. This is one point in your life where counseling will not cost you a dime, so utilize it to your advantage.
  • Find out about any college or career fairs at your school or in your community and make plans to attend them (preferably with your parents in tow). If college representatives are going to be coming to your school directly, find out when and note the dates in your planner.
  • College is an expensive undertaking but if you plan ahead, there is no need to stress. Talk to your parents about how you are going to pay for your higher education. Find out what opportunities are available to you. Yes, tuition is not cheap, but there are many options out there for you, such as student loans, work-study programs, scholarships, and grants. If you have a part-time job, start setting aside money in a savings account and don’t touch it.
  • The PSAT test is generally given in October, so make sure you are scheduled to take it. Then, begin studying in earnest. If you have already taken the PSAT and you believe you might be able to improve your score, consider re-taking it, so you will be ready to sit for the real thing. Not only do your scores on these tests play a role in decisions regarding admission, but higher scores can also increase your eligibility for student aid.

October

School is well underway, and you should be settling into your junior year nicely. Here’s what’s on the agenda for this month:

  • At some point in the days and weeks ahead, you will have the opportunity to take your PSAT, so continue studying. The results of the PSAT won’t be shown on your applications to schools. Instead, they can show you if you are ready for the SAT. Chances are, if you can ace the PSAT, you will have no problem when it comes time for the real deal.
  • Grades are an essential factor for admissions, so make sure you hit the books and do the best you can in every single class. If you are having any trouble, ask for help from your instructors or guidance counselor.
  • Hopefully, you are involved in some rewarding extracurricular activities by now. Consider assuming a leadership role or involving yourself even more. Colleges like to see consistency, dedication, and responsibility. Make sure you keep a record of your activities and achievements in your portfolio.
  • Continue to work on your list of potential colleges and keep attending college fairs or meet with representatives at your school. Explore all of the options in front of you. Make a pros and cons list about each of your top choices. Keep drilling down to the ones that meet your interests and needs best.

November

Its homecoming—the second to last one you will ever have in high school. Enjoy it and take time to be thankful for your educational opportunities.

  • Keep participating in activities that interest you. If you are not having fun, consider trying something else. Remember that volunteering, sports, and other interests should be enjoyable and not feel like drudgery. If you haven’t settled into an activity you can really get behind, sit down and make a list of your interests and explore new avenues.
  • Continue connecting with colleges and keeping all of the material and literature you receive filed in an organized manner so you can retrieve it easily when you need it.
  • Check-in once again with your school counselor to make sure you are staying on course. Be honest about your progress and target any areas that might need improvement. Now is not the time to fall behind, so if you need to log in more time studying, schedule it in.

December

As you head into the holidays this month, you may feel like you are trying to juggle a lot of activities at once. However, there are only a few easy tasks on the roster for the next few weeks:

  •  December is the ideal month to take on a small volunteer project. There are plenty of organizations in need of a helping hand during the holiday season. Check with your church, local community leaders, or even at school to see what needs to be done. Remember to add any volunteer activities to your portfolio.
  • Wrap up any unfinished projects and tests and meet with your instructors to make sure your grades are on par before the winter break.
  • During vacation, practice your time management skills by setting aside a dedicated block of time each day to study for the SAT. Even if it is only 15 or 20 minutes, discipline yourself to cut out all distractions and focus on improving your odds.
  • Enjoy some well-deserved rest and relaxation with your family and friends.

January

You’re halfway through junior year and should have a pretty good handle on your schedule and the tasks ahead of you. There are a few necessary action steps to take this month to make sure you stick with the program:

  • Meet with your counselor to look at your progress so far and chart a course for the remainder of the year. You might want to take this time to have a preliminary discussion about the coursework you need to prepare yourself for as a senior.
  • If you haven’t already, you will want to register to take the SAT or the ACT. Knowing exactly when you will be sitting for the tests will give you plenty of time for some hardcore studying.
  • Begin exploring the AP program. If you’re getting good grades in your regular classes, it might be time to consider advanced placement classes.
  • Continue researching financial aid and scholarships. Check out the College Board’s new scholarship program, where you can win up to $40,000 just by completing some of the tasks on this list!

 February

As winter marches on, it’s easy to start losing motivation. However, you’ve got some deadlines this month, so keep moving!

  • Registration closes this month for the March SAT exam and the April ACT exam, so if you have been procrastinating, stop that.
  • It won’t be long now and it will be application time. You need to start narrowing down your college list and get real about your choices. Decide on the most critical attributes like cost, location, housing, etc.
  • If you did not get the opportunity to check out the schools of your choice during the summer, spring break could provide the ideal chance to set up campus tours. Start planning now so you will be ready for the adventure.

March

Winter is nearly over and if your high school has a spring break, you’re probably looking forward to a reprieve. Keep in mind there are still some important things to take care of, though.

  • You will likely be taking the SAT this month. Make sure you are well prepared by getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy, and staying hydrated. Be sure you know the exact time, date, and test location ahead of time to avoid unnecessary anxiety.
  • Check in again with your school counselor and find about any college fairs you should attend. You should also include your parents in on this meeting to look at potential scholarship opportunities and financial options.
  • Reach out to university representatives and alumni for insight about the colleges you are considering. Ask questions about the culture, activities, quality of the programs, and anything else you can think of that can help you whittle down your list and make some solid decisions.
  • If you missed the February signup deadlines for the SAT or ACT, you still have a chance to take them in April (SAT) and June (ACT), so get on that immediately. If you have already registered, pat yourself on the back and hit the books!

April

Spring has sprung. At this time next year you will begin hearing back from the schools you have applied to and see your hard work paying off.

  • If you registered for the ACT, you will be sitting for the exam this month, so make sure you are prepared. Testing can be stressful, but if you are ready ahead of time, you can take the edge off. Eat healthy, well-balanced meals, stay hydrated, and get plenty of sleep.
  • Your college list should be filling out nicely by now. A list of 10 to 20 potential schools is a good goal to shoot for. While you may have your heart set on one particular University, know that many colleges can meet your criteria and go into things with an open mind.
  • Plan to apply at schools that are both highly selective and not selective, with a good mix of public and private colleges in various locations. This will ensure you end up with plenty of options from which to choose.
  • Start gathering all the documentation you will need for financial aid and keep it in a dedicated file. You will want to make sure you have essential paperwork like a copy of your tax returns, which you will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). While you won’t need to apply until fall, you don’t want to be scrambling to find the documents at the last minute.

May

You’re on the home stretch now. Stay focused on finishing the year up strong.

  • If you did not take the SAT in April, you will likely be sitting for it this month. Be sure you are entirely prepared.
  • Make another appointment with your counselor before the end of the school year to make sure you are on track and that you have a solid game plan for summer.
  • Since you will soon be filling out college applications, consider which teachers you could ask for letters of recommendation. Do you have a teacher or two that knows you better than most and can speak well on your behalf? Touch base with them to discuss your plans and ask them if you can contact them for a recommendation.
  • Continue researching colleges and scholarship opportunities.

June

Phew! You made it through your junior year. You’ve probably got a lot on your plate this summer, so take some time out to set a summer schedule. That way, you will be sure to fit in all the tasks ahead and still manage to have some fun!

  • If you are taking the ACT this month, make sure you are completely prepared.
  • Do you plan to pay for part of your tuition yourself? Start looking for a summer job. If you don’t plan on working this summer, consider volunteering, community service, or job shadowing. Andy of the above will help bolster your portfolio.
  • If you are an athlete planning to play sports in college, you will want to sign up for an NCAA student-athlete account.
  • You will need to register to get an FSA ID before you can apply for financial aid, so be sure to register at the FAFSA web page well ahead of time.
  • Summer is the time to finish campus tours if you haven’t already.
  • You will want to make a list of your top choices and go to each school’s website to download an application and instructions. Make a note of all the deadlines in your planner and refer to it often, so you get everything in on time.

Final Thoughts

If you follow the simple steps in this article, you will be well on your way to preparing for college in your junior year. Breaking it down month-by-month, you can easily get everything accomplished and still leave time for all of the other exciting things going on in your life.

Remember that if you start to feel overwhelmed, you have plenty of support and resources. All you need to do is reach out for help. Take a deep breath and relax. You’ve got this!

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How to Prepare for College