I’m not sure it’s possible to take all of the stress and anxiety out of the college admissions process, but I do know the secret for minimizing it: planning ahead. You might be sending out your applications senior year, but the preparation should begin long before that. Make the process as low-stress as possible by mapping out a plan, making a checklist, and staying on top of what exactly you need to be doing now. These are the top 10 things juniors should be doing to prepare for the college admissions process.
Challenge yourself by taking a rigorous course load.
When you apply to college, admissions counselors will be trying to determine if you’ve proven that you’re college ready. Show them that you are – and strengthen your work ethic too! – by challenging yourself now. That said, you still want to have time for extracurriculars, a social life, and rest. The key is finding a healthy balance!
Keep up your grades.
Now is not the time to let things slip, no matter how badly you want to wing that exam or skip your reading. Sometimes it can be hard to see the big picture, but colleges will be looking closely at your junior year grades. Prioritize them.
Take the PSAT in October.
You’ll use your scores from this to determine your test prep needs. Where did you excel? What area needs a little work? This is a great way to hone in on what needs attention, and how much. Our coaches can help you make a plan.
Register and take the official SAT or ACT exam.
Start crafting a tentative college list.
To do this, think about the type of academic environment you thrive in. Also start thinking about what you prioritize in terms of size, geographic location, cost, social opportunities, and so on. Spend time on college websites – you can learn a wealth of information there. Start talking to your school counselor about your academic record and how it aligns with your potential college list.
Schedule official college visits/tours through the admission office.
A school might have everything on paper, but it’s so important to visit the school in-person to get a better idea of how you feel in that community. College visits can also give you a better idea of what the surrounding town or city is like, how the facilities are, what current students are like, and more. Plus, it’s a great way to show demonstrated interest.
Request letters of recommendation from 1 or 2 teachers by the end of your junior year.
Who do you decide to ask? How do you ask? Do you need to provide anything? We answer all those questions here.
Research your intended major at the colleges you are considering.
Programs and majors can differ greatly from school to school. Once you have a few serious contenders on your college list, take a closer look at your major. What are the various requirements for that major at that school? What sorts of classes are offered? Are there any potential internship or research opportunities connected with the school? Are there any specific professors that you would be excited to learn from?
Start researching scholarship opportunities.
This one can cause a whoooole lot of stress if you’re scrambling at the last minute. Start looking into scholarships offered both through the institution and through outside companies, nonprofits, religious groups, and so on. Keep track of the deadlines for different scholarships, because some are a lot earlier than you might expect! The Federal Student Aid website has a lot of information about how to find different scholarships.
Research essay prompts and start brainstorming.
You don’t need to outline your future essay, but get the wheels turning. What are the colleges asking? How are they trying to get to know you? Think about how you will respond to the different questions. Remember one of the most important aspects of essay writing, which we’ve written about here.
Preparing for the college admissions process can feel overwhelming, but don’t let it fully overwhelm you. Take it step by step, piece by piece. As a junior, college can somehow feel a week away and a decade away all at once. Set yourself up for success – your future self will thank you big time.