What Juniors can do now to prepare for the college process

Commit to your classes. By now you have heard it dozens of times: Your junior year grades matter a lot. It is true. College admission personnel will focus on your performance in this year’s core academic classes. Your first semester is now behind you. How did you do? Are you proud of your effort and results? Set new goals for the second semester and plan a schedule that allows success. If you need a tutor for a difficult class, get one. If too many extracurricular commitments dragged down your grades, consider taking a break from one or more non-favorite activities.

Participate in class. Many college courses are seminar-style, with lots of student interaction. Admission officers are looking for lively, engaged students who speak up in class. If you have been a wallflower until now, force yourself to participate. Plan ahead to share one or two ideas or questions in at least one class each day. Do not be afraid to let your teachers know when a topic ignites your curiosity. These teachers will be writing your college letters of recommendation in just a few months. Give them something special to say about you!

  • By the end of May, identify 2 teachers who you think would write good recommendations on your behalf and ask them before the school year is out.
  • Go out of your academic comfort zone at least once, you might be surprised by the result.

Save your best work. A few colleges may require you to submit a graded essay, science lab report, or other academic work. Start a folder of your best tests and papers – with teacher comments and grades. Some testing optional colleges may also permit you to submit a portfolio of schoolwork instead of SAT (or ACT) scores. Also, when you ask for letters of recommendation, you can ask your teachers if they’d like a copy of what you felt was your finest work in their class.

  • Create an electronic/paper folder and include your best work each semester.

Do SOMETHING this summer. If you are planning to enroll in a pre-college summer session, travel abroad program, or other summer activity that requires an application, This month is the time to gather that paperwork. Figure out if you will need to write an essay or create a resume. If you need to submit a teacher’s letter of recommendation, ask for that this month. Plan to get your applications filed early because many programs fill up on a rolling basis – the first qualified applicants get the spots.

  • Plan 1-2 things this summer that will help you get a better understanding of what you might want to study in college.

Build a “schools to consider” list. Now that you have been to our office and reflected on your values, it is time to start your list of colleges you would like to learn more about. Cast a wide net: guidebooks, college-planning Web sites, college fairs, family, friends, teachers and guidance counselors are all good sources of college ideas at this early stage.

  • Add at least 15 schools to your “schools to consider” list on MyCCA.
  • Begin requesting information from colleges at the top of your list. Also, ask for the name and email address of the college representative assigned to your high school.

Arrange campus visits. Start making arrangements now to visit the colleges that you are certain will stay on your list. Talk as a family regarding your priorities for school visits. Make a general plan as to what schools you want to see and when is the most convenient time to go. If traveling is a time or monetary hardship, visit locally first. It does not take too much time to visit UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis Santa Clara University, University of San Francisco, St. Mary’s University, Sonoma State. (next blog posting will be able making the most of college visits)

  • Visit at least 3 campuses before the end of the school year.
  • Attend a local college fair or visits from college reps to your high school. There is a NACAC college fair (National Association of College Admissions Counselors) in San Francisco on April 20th and many WACAC (Western Association of College Admissions Counselors) in April and May.

Register for standardized tests. Juniors have received their results from the October PSAT and perhaps taken a practice ACT. Compare the scores using a concordance chart and select a test to focus on. 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 (February 9, April 13 and June 8) and decide which dates are best for your schedule.

  • Create a calendar (February-June) that has important school dates, standardized testing dates, AP/IB exam dates, final exam dates and vacation dates.
  • Make sure to adhere to the registration deadlines for all tests you plan to take.

Be wise about the internet. Consider creating a separate email account for college (set up email forwarding to the account you use the most often). You do not want your Facebook page to be linked to your college email. If you now use AOL or Hotmail, change to Yahoo, gmail or cable accounts that better work with online college applications. Also make sure your computer has the most recent version of Safari, Chrome or Firefox so you can make full use of online resources and applications.

  • Create an email for the college application process.
  • Google your name and see what come up.
  • Update your internet browser.

*** Thank you to Lee Bierer a columnist at the Charlotte Observer  and also Jessie Brumfiel at the New York Times “The Choice” blog for inspiring much of this content.