The other day I was at lunch with two of my favorite college counselors, Betsy Bell (in Wilton, Connecticut) and Jennifer Soodek, owner of Head 4 Success in Westport, Connecticut, when we started talking about what high school juniors can be doing now to start planning for college.
The answer is plenty.
Junior Year Checklist: An Action Plan to Prepare for College
1. Create a Common Application account. When you create your account, you have a choice of checking “applicant planning to enroll in the next 12 months” or “other.” Check “other.” (Although, Betsy and Jennifer assured me that if you check “applicant planning to enroll in the next 12 months” you’ll be fine—this is only for Common App record keeping, so it’s not a problem if you don’t click “other.”)
2. Fill Out Your Application. After you create a Common Application account, you can fill out most of the application. You can’t enter your GPA or your senior classes yet, but you can fill out the rest.
Tip: When you’re filling out your activities, remember to pretend that it’s September and that you’re filling them out as a senior, not as a junior.
3. Brainstorm Topics for Your Common Application Essay. If you have time, you can start writing your Common App essay now. Otherwise, start writing when school ends and aim to finish before senior year starts. You can find all the Common Application essay prompts here.
4. Get to Know Your Essay Supplements. In the Dashboard section of the Common App, enter the colleges you’re interested in and look at last year’s supplemental essay questions. (Most colleges haven’t published their new supplemental questions yet, but many keep the same questions.) If you visit, ask about the current questions. If you’re not visiting and want to know, call the admissions office.
5. Visit Colleges. Schedule a tour and an on-campus interview. (Even if it’s just informational, you want to make contact with a college rep and start to let them get to know you.) Walk around (take time by yourself if you can manage it) and imagine yourself as a freshman on campus. Say hi to students on campus and ask them what they like about the school and what surprised them when they arrived on campus. Get a feel for the atmosphere, the culture and the students. Take notes about what you like and don’t like and collect the business cards of all the people you talk to on your trips—you may want to contact them later if you have more questions.
6. Email Your Schools. Begin to contact all the colleges you’re interested in. Contact them through Naviance or email them from each college’s web site. If you work with Naviance, it makes it very easy to do.
When you send your email, introduce yourself and ask questions that will require an admissions person to answer, so you don’t get an auto reply response. You can ask questions such as: Will you be the reader of my application? If I submit my application early, will it be read early and will I receive a decision notification early? I want to get a head start on my supplements, so could you tell me if your supplemental questions will be the same for my class as they were for the previous year? Will you be visiting my high school in the fall? If you will be visiting could you please email me your visiting date?
Tip: Include your email, cell number, phone number and address in the body of the email so the school has all your contact information and they know how to reach you.
7. Get Your Testing Done by the End of Junior Year. Leave the fall for any additional testing you want to do. Plan to take each test twice.
8. Arrange for Recommendations. Decide which teachers you want to ask for recommendations and ask if they’d be willing. Your recommendations should come from teachers in your sophomore or junior year academic classes—these will be the teachers who know you.
Ask your teachers now, in the spring. Set up an appointment to talk to each teacher; it’s not only polite, but it will also give you the chance to tell the teacher what you’re like outside of class.
Do you need your recommendations early? If that’s the case, ask your teachers about their time frame and if they would be willing to write a recommendation over the summer. You’ll need them early if colleges have rolling admissions or if you’re applying certain places early decision. For instance, Wake Forest is rolling ED, so if you send in an application July 1 you’ll learn by August if you’re admitted.
9. Know if You Have Extra Application Requirements. If you’re an athlete or an artist, be aware that there are additional levels of preparation necessary to apply to college. Actors and musicians may need to schedule auditions, athletes may need to meet with coaches, and artists may need to submit portfolios. Know how that will affect your time frame for preparation. Also make sure to know exactly what’s required—for instance, if you need to submit a portfolio, ask what that portfolio should contain.
10. Finish Junior Year Strong. Colleges will be looking at your success (or lack of success) junior year. Don’t give them anything to dock you for, especially a poor marking period. Finish strong.
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Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. First Impressions College Consulting teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. We work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit our website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.