Are you starting junior year and worrying about college?
As your junior year starts, and the college search is not far behind, you (or your parents) might be wondering what you should be focusing on.
Here are the two most common mistakes high school juniors tend to make:
- Waiting too long to prepare for and take standardized tests
Many students think they can wait until they get their PSAT scores back to decide when, and even if to take the SAT, or it’s cousin, the ACT. This is a mistake. At Admissions Accomplished®, we counsel our students to develop a testing plan early in your junior year. That way you will have plenty of time to determine which tests you want to take to best position yourself for the college application process.
- Prematurely visiting colleges and universities
Some students start visiting colleges during their sophomore year. Unless you are a recruited athlete and the time frame for your college search is accelerated (more on that in another post), there is no reason to start your college search for real that early. In fact, prematurely visiting colleges and universities before you know which schools are a match for you can be a bad idea. Why? At Admissions Accomplished®, we help our students look at the big picture of themselves as an applicant and develop a college search plan. This plan must take into account your GPA, test scores, and interests. You really don’t have all of that information in hand until the middle or end of your junior year. Looking at schools much before then is helpful in some ways (keep reading to see how), but if done in any big way, is nothing but a waste of time.
So what should I be doing during my junior year?
First and foremost, your focus this year should be on doing as well as you can in your classes!
Is that all? You will hear lots of conversation about college starting. You will be taking the PSATs this fall, you will start to hear your friends signing up for standardized tests, and some will even start visiting campuses. All of this activity might make you wonder what your tasks should be to position yourself well for the college application season that will truly be upon you in one year. You will hear about friends visiting schools with dorms that look out on snow-covered mountains at the University of Colorado or the fantastic food at Bowdoin College, or the beautiful campus with many coffee shops at High Point University…. Don’t get caught up in the hype! There is plenty of time. Make a note of these campuses, for sure, and maybe you will visit them as you move through your college search process, but early in your junior year, that is not something you have to worry about.
Standardized testing – (which one to take and when)? You might be confused about all the choices, and rightly so! Last year the College Board launched a new version of its SAT test, and many students decided to take the ACT while the College Board works out the kinks. Additionally, more and more colleges and universities have joined the test optional movement. You won’t know for a while (and shouldn’t feel you have to), which schools you are applying to, so you won’t know whether you will need test scores to complete your applications. In general, most competitive colleges and universities still require the ACT or SAT. At Admissions Accomplished®, we advise our students to start thinking about their testing plan early in junior year, and it would likely be to your benefit to do so even before you get your PSAT scores back.
So how do you make a testing plan? There are a few ways you can proceed. You can go onto the College Board’s website (www.collegeboard.org) and do some practice questions, and you can visit the ACT website (www.actstudent.org) and check out their sample questions too. You can set up an appointment with a local test prep center (ask around for recommendations or search SAT/ACT test prep in your town on Google) to take a diagnostic SAT and ACT test.
These steps will help you determine which test – the SAT or the ACT – seems more natural for you. These exams are considered equivalent and either is acceptable at any college or university. Some students do better on one, some on the other, and for some, either test is just fine. You want to choose the test that is best for you. Generally, Admissions Accomplished® will advise students to develop their testing plan in the fall to early winter of junior year. That way you will be able to sign up for winter and spring test dates with the ultimate goal of having adequate time to prepare for the exam and take it up to three times before the early application deadlines in the fall of your senior year. If you need more guidance regarding your testing plan, we can help. Reach out to us at www.admissionsaccomplished.com/contact.
Besides the SAT and/or ACT, some students will want to take SAT subject tests. Generally, we advise you to take these at the end of junior year in the subject area that matches an AP you are taking this year (i.e., if you are taking AP US History, then you will want to consider taking the US History subject test). Not all of the schools you are applying to will require subject tests, so taking these might not be necessary for you. Generally, the more competitive schools will want to see these test scores, especially if you are taking the SAT for your main test. Increasingly, schools are not requiring these especially if you are submitting ACT scores. Schools as competitive as Columbia, Dartmouth, Williams and Amherst, among others, dropped the subject test requirement this year (2016).
What about visiting schools? When should I do that? In the next year, it will be hard not to let the increasing hype and anxiety you will see growing around you get to you. At Admissions Accomplished® we advise juniors starting their year to just start thinking about what type of setting you might like to be in for college – do you think you’d like to be in a city, a suburban setting, a small town, a rural area? Do you think you might like to go to a big school, or a small? No idea? That’s ok too! During the winter or spring of your junior year, visit a school that fits each category. You might consider sitting in on the same introductory class at schools of different sizes. Even if you can’t take an organized tour, walk around campus. Get a sense of how you think you might feel in that setting. But don’t log too many miles visiting schools until you get your test scores. If you fall in love with a school that admits students with ACT scores twice as high as yours, you will be left very disappointed. It makes more sense to wait for your scores, and then make a list of realistic schools (with a few “reach” schools of course!) and get out a map then to plan your tours!
When do I need to have a list of schools I really like? At Admissions Accomplished® we remind our juniors that it isn’t until the summer after junior year when you will need to hone your list.
So spend this year focusing on your classes, starting to take tests, starting to visit a few campuses, and thinking about what you like. And, don’t forget, enjoy yourself along the way. There is plenty of time to think about college and next year will be upon you before you know it!
Need some guidance as you move into this first phase of the college planning process? We at Admissions Accomplished® are here to help. Check us out at www.admissionsaccomplished.com. We have a strong track record of helping applicants get accepted at their top choice schools.
We would love to help you! In the meantime, happy junior year!