In addition to planning for junior prom and learning to parallel park, college bound high school juniors should be doing these six things right now:
1).Visit your guidance counselor and review your senior year courses.
If your senior schedule is packed with easy electives, lacks a fourth year of foreign language or math, or allows you to get out of school early so you can maximize your screen time, you need to make some changes. Colleges are most interested in these two things: rigor and grades. They accept students that challenged themselves in high school and met that challenge with good grades. This is not the time to glide; see your counselor and beef up that schedule.
2). While you are talking to your guidance counselor about your schedule, keep in mind that this is the person who will write your “counselor letter of recommendation” next fall.
Most colleges require a counselor letter of recommendation so you should assume that at least some of the colleges on your short list will use this letter as one basis on which to evaluate your credentials. Does your counselor know you well enough to write a comprehensive, detailed and interesting letter? If not, steer the conversation in a direction where he or she learns about you.
Discuss your goals or summer plans and ask questions about the admissions process. When you leave, schedule a follow up appointment to keep the conversation going.
Your grades are key to the college admissions process. Remember that the trajectory of your grades throughout your high school career is also important. Colleges are impressed by improvement on a student’s transcript. Move those B’s to A’s to let the college admissions counselors know you are growing as a student and will continue to grow in college.
4). Intentionally plan your summer.
Video games and channel surfing cannot be listed on a college application. Get a job. Volunteer. Write a novel. Start a blog. Start a band. Do something that will show you have delved more deeply into an interest or expanded your talents and skills.
5). Visit colleges.
Now is the time to be creating the list of schools to which you will apply. You need to visit colleges to learn about your options. If you are not sure where to start, pick a small school, a big school, a rural school and an urban school. Visit them all, and then use what you learn about what you like and dislike to choose the next schools to visit. Waiting until the summer or the fall of senior year to visit colleges will only cause you to feel rushed in the application process.
6). Read the Common Application essay prompts.
They are available HERE. Brainstorm possible topics. (You can write the essay too, if you want!) It is the rare person who writes well under pressure. Thinking about your essay in advance of “crunch time” will take the pressure off, allowing you time to ask various people for feedback on your essay. You will have less stress and the end result is bound to be better. This is your time. Go for it! Good luck!
Michelle McAnaney is the founder of The College Spy, a full service independent educational consulting firm that assists students and families across the US and internationally with the college selection and application process. Prior to founding The College Spy, Michelle was a guidance counselor and educator for more than 15 years, including serving as the Director of Guidance at two high schools, an adjunct college professor and a GED tutor.
Michelle holds a master’s degree in school counseling and a bachelor’s degree in human development. She recently completed UC Irvine’s certificate program in educational consulting and is a MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) Certified Practitioner and a NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) Master Practitioner. Michelle visits over 40 colleges each year so that she has first-hand knowledge of the colleges and universities her clients will be considering. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.