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Countdown to college: Checklist for high school juniors

While most seniors are happily done with their part of the college admissions process, now it's time for juniors to get engaged. Here's what high school juniors and their families should be thinking about and doing over the next few months.

Start talking

It's time for parents and their children to have an in-depth conversation about next steps after high school. This is a time to discuss realistic expectations.

Parents need to be honest about their financial capabilities and their willingness to contribute financially, through their savings and/or taking out loans. If up until now your message to your children has been, "don't worry about the cost, if you get in where you'd like to go, we'll make it happen," then make sure you can live up to that lofty goal.

With price tags above $50,000 per year at many private colleges, that can be an unrealistic promise. You are far better off being honest with your children before they become invested in specific colleges than having to disappoint them once they are accepted and you can't deliver.

Get to know yourself

Juniors need to start taking the college process seriously and invest their energy into assessing what their academic and social needs are. Do they have any idea of what they'd like to study? Are they interested in experiencing a rural, suburban, college town or urban environment?

Have they figured out their ideal learning style or learning environment; in other words, do they prefer lecture-based classes where they take notes and then exams, or do they want to be more involved in class discussions and write analytical papers?

Focus on academics

Select senior year courses thoughtfully. The rigor of the senior class schedule is an important admissions factor. Colleges like to see that students continue to challenge themselves. Even if the student has satisfied all their high school requirements, they should still maintain as rigorous a schedule as possible.

Participate in class

It's important for students, particularly juniors, to get to know their teachers. If a student is curious about a topic discussed in class, let the teacher know. The teachers from junior year will most likely be the ones writing the letters of recommendation.

If a student isn't performing to the best of his or her abilities, arrange for tutoring after school. Help students manage their time better. Remember that the transcript that most colleges will see only includes grades through junior year, so this may be your last opportunity to dazzle.

College list

Use the GPA and the rank in class as well as the most recent standardized test scores to determine whether the current colleges on your list should be considered: reach, target or safety.

There is no right number of colleges to apply to, but students should make sure they are being realistic as they categorize each college. Use a college guidebook and look at the acceptance rate, the middle 50 percent range of the test scores of accepted students as well as the GPA listed.

The GPA is the least reliable measure because high schools across the country vary so dramatically in their course offerings. At some schools, Advanced Placement courses have a maximum 6-point value (A) and a school just down the street could offer a 5 for an A in the identical course.

By now you know that nothing is more important than the rigor of a student's curriculum and their performance. Colleges want to see students taking the most challenging courses where they can be successful. So all the accolades, fabulous community service commitment, soccer trophies, etc., are more often tie-breakers than major acceptance factors. Keep this in mind as your students register for courses for their senior year.

Campus visits

Start making arrangements now to visit the colleges that you're certain will stay on the list. Focus your travel on reach and target schools, so you can decide if they are truly worthy of applying. If possible, make maximum use of teacher workdays and spring break for traveling to see colleges that are further away. Group colleges by location and be realistic, especially if you'll be dragging younger siblings, about everyone's campus visit tolerance.

Test prep

Juniors have received their results from the October PSAT and many schools now offer either the ACT or the PLAN. Compare the scores using a concordance chart and select a test, but just one. I do not recommend prepping for both ACT and SAT. Identify need areas and get organized about test-prep plans; purchasing test-prep books, doing an online program, attending a class or hiring tutors. Look at the upcoming test dates for the SAT (March 9, May 4 and June 1) and the ACT (April 13 and June 8) and decide which give you the most test-prep advantage.

National College Fair

National Association for College Admission Counseling will host a college fair from noon-3 p.m. March 3 at the Tampa Convention Center, West Hall, 333 S Franklin St. , Tampa. For more information about the event, email Rasheena Wilson at, or call (703) 299-6851.

To register for the event, go to EventSelectForState?stateName=All, select the Tampa fair, and click on the "Register Now" button.

Countdown to college: Checklist for high school juniors

02/23/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 5:49pm]
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