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By Lee Bierer | McClatchy Newspapers
While most seniors are happily done with the college admissions process, now it’s time for you juniors to get engaged. Here’s what juniors and your families should be thinking about and doing over the next few months.
Juniors have received 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. Many counselors 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 gives you the most test-prep advantage.
Use the GPA and the rank in class as well as the most recent standardized test scores to determine whether 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. Use a college guidebook and look at the acceptance rate, the middle 50 percent range of test scores of accepted students and required GPA.
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 how important the rigor of the curriculum and your performance is. 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.
Participate in class
It’s important for students, particularly juniors, to get to know their teachers. If you are curious about a topic discussed in class, let the teacher know. The teachers from junior year will most likely be the ones writing your letters of recommendation.If you are not performing to the best of your abilities, ask for help, including tutoring after school. Manage your time better. Remember that the transcript most colleges will see only includes grades through junior year, so this may be your last opportunity to dazzle.
Start making arrangements now to visit colleges that you’re certain will stay on the list. Focus your travel on reach and target schools, so you can decide if you really want to apply there. If possible, make maximum use of teacher workdays and spring break for traveling to see colleges that are farther away. Group colleges by location and be realistic, especially if you’ll be dragging younger siblings, about everyone’s campus visit tolerance.
Get to know yourself
Juniors need to start taking the college process seriously and invest your energy into assessing what their academic and social needs are. Do you have any idea of what you’d like to study? Are you interested in experiencing a rural, suburban, college town or urban environment?
Have you figured out your ideal learning style or learning environment; in other words, do you prefer lecture-based classes where you take notes and then exams, or do you 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.
It’s time for you and your parents 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 their message to you has been, “don’t worry about the cost, if you get in where you’d like to go, we’ll make it happen,” discuss with them whether they are able to live up to that lofty goal.
With price tags above $50,000 per year at many private colleges, that can be an unrealistic promise.