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College Preparation: Essential Checklist for Junior Year of High School
High School is one of the most memorable times in our lives but it can also be a very stressful time. Many adolescents have a hard time balancing their school work, social life and family relationships. These years can be overwhelming when students do not have a clear, organized plan. Along with the assistance of parents, teachers, friends, and guidance counselors, students must begin making decisions that will help them achieve their academic and career goals. The most crucial year of high school is by far the junior year. Students planning to go off to college, technical schools, the military or directly into the workplace should begin focusing on strategies to put them in the best position to achieve these goals. It is important that students and parents utilize specific checklists that outline and explain in detail what they need to complete during the student’s junior year.
PSAT/SAT/SAT II Subject Tests/ ACT
- Prior to your Junior year you should start preparing for these tests. During your Sophomore year find study guides and start researching the best test prep courses in your area. Courses are usually available at high schools, libraries, online or with private tutors. Whatever your strategy is, don’t procrastinate. Be sure to allow yourself time to retake the exams if necessary.
Visit www.sat.collegeboard.org for more information on signing up for the PSAT, SAT, SAT II Subject Tests and ACT.
College Prep Courses
- Many high schools offer College Prep Courses as an elective. It is best to take this course in 10th or 11th grade. This will give you more one-on-one attention when researching colleges, filling out applications, or writing college essays. Students can always seek the advice of their guidance counselor but keep in mind that they may be too busy to give every student their undivided attention. Using both the guidance and resources provided by a counselor plus a prep course will give your student the thorough and detailed attention they will need to make the right decisions.
Most Important Grades
- In your Junior year of high school you will take the hardest classes so far in your academic career. This year’s grades are the most important because they are the last set of full year grades on your high school transcript and that affect your GPA when you apply for college.
Choose Classes Wisely
- In 11th grade it is important to consider your future aspirations when creating your schedule. Colleges will want to see that students are thoughtfully selecting their high school courses with their college major or future career in mind. For example, if you’re considering a Business major you may want to take a course in Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Accounting, or Finance. If you are interested in Police work you may want to take a course in Criminal Justice, Citizen Law, or Psychology. Elective courses are especially important for students who are still undecided about a college major. These students should take a variety of electives that may interest them and hopefully will help them narrow down their list of possible career goals.
- Take accelerated courses but do not overwhelm yourself. A 95 in a Regent’s course is better than a 70 in an AP course. Challenge yourself but remember to be realistic. Choose AP courses in subjects that you enjoy and have previously excelled in. Some students make the poor choice of taking too many accelerated classes at once and wind up jeopardizing all of their grades as a result.
The College Board has a plethora of information on available AP courses and AP exams. Visit https://apstudent.collegeboard.org for more information.
- Commitment to extra-curricular activities shows colleges some of your positive attributes beyond what they will learn from a student’s grades like hard work, loyalty, determination, teamwork, responsibility, leadership, and time-management. Activities can include school clubs, sports, volunteer work and even a part-time job. Try to choose diverse activities that you enjoy but do not overwhelm yourself: BALANCE is key. Overextending yourself will only cause unnecessary stress and may negatively affect your grades.
- Many students find the task of writing the perfect college essay daunting. It’s important that students carefully plan out their essays to accurately portray their interests, accomplishments, and aspirations. College essay prompts will vary for each school. Students can use a master list of essential items to include in every one but each essay should be uniquely formatting to fit the requirements of each college. Make sure you ask a reliable person, like a parent or teacher, to proofread your final drafts before mailing them.
Read sample college essays to spark inspiration but be careful not to plagiarize. Your essay should be an original, accurate reflection of you. Visit http://www.apstudynotes.org/essays/ for ideas.
- Filling out college applications and gathering all of the required documentation is time consuming. It is best to begin early so that you are not frantically running around days before the deadline. It may be beneficial for students and their parents to sit down with a guidance counselor, early in their Junior year, to begin this process.
- Students (and their parents) should keep detailed records of their accomplishments starting in early middle school like their grades, awards, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, etc. This will help students build a resume not only for college applications but will also help when applying for a job, scholarships, honor societies and other school programs.
Letters of Recommendations
- It is common for students to feel embarrassed or hesitant when asking teachers for a letter of recommendation. Remember teachers write these letters all the time. If you have had a good relationship with them they will likely say yes. Be sure to choose teachers carefully though. It is best to ask teachers who will not only have positive things to say about your grades but who can also positively attest to your personality, character, and accomplishments outside of the classroom. Teachers’ schedules can be busy so make sure you allow them enough time to dedicate to composing your letter. Also, you should not assume that your teacher knows what you would like them to write. So don’t be afraid to be specific about what you want the college to learn from their letter of recommendation.
- College fairs are a great way to explore your future options. This is truly a pressure-free environment where students and parents can “taste-test” various colleges without the commitment of traveling to each campus individually. Use these fairs to gather tons of information and to ask representatives questions. Be sure to get business cards for counselors for any school you may be interested in so you can reach out to them with any follow-up questions and to possibly set up a campus visit. Most colleges have detailed websites where you can gather a lot of information but sometimes meeting representatives in person can hugely affect your decision.
Visit http://www.nacacnet.org/college-fairs to find national college fairs in your area.
College Campus Tours
- Once you have narrowed your list of possible colleges you should plan campus tours. Visiting your select colleges will help weigh the pros & cons and bring you closer to an informed decision. Visits will be most beneficial if you are prepared with specific questions and know what you’re looking for.
Research, Research, Research
- Often when researching schools students forget to investigate one of the most important aspects: cost. While college is one of the most important investments you will make in life, many of us unfortunately are limited in what we can spend. Research each school’s cost per credit, housing and all additional fees (and there are many) early in the decision process. It will be disappointing if you fall in love with a school and then find out it is unaffordable for your family. Visit each school’s financial aid department on their website and research what loans, grants, and scholarships are available. Also inquire at your high school, local colleges, and public libraries about seminars offered on financial aid.
Visit https://fafsa.ed.gov/ for more information on financial aid available.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help
- The college application and decision process can be quite overwhelming even for the most prepared students. Advice of guidance counselors, teachers, and parents is crucial during this time. No one expects you to have everything figured out by 16 or 17.
Don’t Be Overwhelmed
- Let someone know when you’re overwhelmed or stressed out. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of asking for help navigating through this process.
Make a Plan
- This list itself can make someone anxious about beginning this process and surviving their Junior year. But there are ways you can avoid being overstressed about the process. First make a plan, next break each step into specific tasks and goals and then create a realistic, manageable timeline to complete each step.
I hope this list helps ease some stress for both students and parents preparing for college. Most of my suggestions referenced college but this list can be just as helpful for students going into technical schools, the military or the workforce. Researching one’s options and making an appropriate plan is always helpful in achieving any goal in life. I strongly urge parents not to take over this process, no matter how tempting it may be at times, but instead work cooperatively with your child so that their input is valued each step of the way. Also, this process will advance your students progression into the responsible young adult you hope to send off to college shortly. In the end, remember that this journey will help mold your child’s future and the more prepared you are, the more likely that their journey will be successful. Remember not to overwhelm yourselves and have fun!