More students than ever before are applying to college. Your child needs to make her application stand out, and junior year is the time to get started! To help you and your family stay organized, we’ve compiled a timeline of the most important steps on a successful path to college.
Fall of Junior Year
Rise to the Challenge
A rigorous class schedule shows that your child is intellectually curious and not afraid to work hard. Extracurricular activities, community service, and leadership positions (in or out of school) demonstrate depth, initiative, and well-roundedness.
Meet with Your Guidance Counselor
The guidance or college counselor is an invaluable resource in the application process. Now is the time for your child to ask her counselor about course selection, class rank, GPA, test dates, extracurriculars, and initial college prospects. She should schedule multiple conferences with her counselor throughout her junior year and in the fall of her senior year.
Register for the PSAT
PSAT scores don’t “count” in college admissions, but this test is a great way to practice for the SAT or ACT. Better yet, if he does well on the PSAT, your child qualifies for a prestigious National Merit Scholarship. The PSAT is administered in October. Unlike the SAT and ACT, registration must be done through a student’s high school. To register, contact your child’s school guidance office no later than September.
Determine SAT/ACT Test Dates
Decide when your child will take the ACT, SAT, and SAT Subject Tests (if necessary), and mark the test registration deadlines on your college admissions calendar. Most students take the ACT/SAT in the spring of their junior year, but some college counselors recommend taking it as early as the fall or winter of junior year. Consult your child’s guidance counselor about the best testing schedule. Visit our ACT Info Center and SAT Info Center for upcoming test dates and registration information.
Make a Wish List
Encourage your child to identify what he needs to have and what he thinks would be nice to have in a college. This is the time to be honest and specific about what he’s looking for in a college experience.
Start Thinking about Financial Aid and Scholarships
Before your child falls in love with an institution whose price tag is higher than your budget can handle, talk to her about what your family can (and can’t) afford. If her school offers it, attend a “financial-aid night” together.
If your child has excelled academically, athletically, or artistically, she may also qualify for a merit-based scholarship. Ask your school counselor for ideas, and do your own research online. (A good place to start is Merit Aid.) The sooner you identify appropriate scholarships, the better prepared you will be when it’s time to submit your application materials.
Strategies for Maximizing Financial Aid
Save in investment accounts listed under a parent’s name, such as a 529 college-savings plan.
Save in your child’s name, since student assets can be assessed up to 20% in federal aid formulas.
Minimize capital gains.
Inflate your income with bonuses and retirement distributions.
Notify financial-aid officers about changes in your financial situation, such as a recent job loss.
Go into the aid office without the proper documentation to back up your claims.
Reduce available cash in your bank account to pay down credit-card balances, since such debts aren’t included in aid formulas.
Pay for college with unsecured debt, such as personal loans, because such loans are not subtracted from your assets under aid formulas.
Contribute to retirement accounts as much as possible before your child’s college years, as this money is not included in aid formulas.
Withdraw money from your retirement fund to pay for college, since distributions will raise your income, potentially reducing aid eligibility.
Winter of Junior Year
Work with a Test-Prep Tutor
Your child’s PSAT scores indicate how he might perform on the SAT. If his scores are lower than you’d hoped for—or if they’re good, but could be great—consider a test-prep tutor. While standardized tests are only one measure used in college admissions, they are an undeniably important one. Working with a tutor is an efficient and proven way to raise your child’s scores. For more information on SAT tutoring, click here.
Register for Spring Tests
Although the SAT is offered seven times a year (October, November, December, January, March, May, and June), most students take it in the spring of junior year and fall of senior year. For a list of 2011-2012 test dates, click here. Regular registration occurs at least five weeks in advance of the test date; late registration, which carries an additional charge, must be done no later than three weeks in advance.
The ACT is offered six times a year: September, October, December, February (except in New York), April, and June. Students usually take it in the spring of junior year and fall of senior year. For a list of 2011-2012 test dates, click here. Regular registration occurs at least five weeks in advance of the test date; late registration, which carries an additional charge, must be done no later than three weeks in advance.
We recommend that your child takes the March or May SAT, and/or the April or June ACT. Visit our ACT Info Center and SAT Info Center for more information.
Create a First-Draft College List
Using your child’s “need to have” and “nice to have” lists, identify at least eight schools that fit the bill. Visit college fairs and start to plan spring and summer college visits.
Spring of Junior Year
Reconnect with the Guidance Counselor
By now your child should have a comfortable relationship with her guidance counselor, who can offer crucial support as she moves into the next stage of the admissions process. She should meet with her counselor to discuss honors and AP classes, as colleges pay close attention to senior-year course selection and grades. The counselor may also advise your child about extracurricular activities for senior year, preferably targeting one or two key interests. (There’s little point in joining every club and team simply to “pad” an application.)
Take the SAT or ACT
It’s time to use all those newly acquired test-prep skills and excel on the SAT or ACT test.
Reach Out to Recommendation Writers
Get a jumpstart on asking for letters of recommendation. Since the back-to-school season can be hectic for both students and faculty, contact recommenders in the spring. They will appreciate the advance notice! Choose teachers, coaches, and advisors who know your child well enough to describe her “wow factor.” Provide each recommender with a reminder checklist of her strengths and accomplishments.
Begin College Visits
We suggest that students bring a camera and journal with them so that they can capture their impressions as they experience them. After visiting several campuses, it may be difficult to remember which school had a new science center and whose cafeteria had the best food.
Plan for the Summer
Start thinking about how your child’s summer activities will look on college applications. He should seek out jobs, volunteer positions, or summer-school classes that reflect his interests and display a willingness to push himself. For internship ideas, ask the high school guidance office and do online research. Helpful resources include Internship Finder and College Board.
Summer before Senior Year
Finalize the College List
Most students apply to five to ten colleges. Your child’s list should include a few “reach” schools, a few “match” schools, and a few “safety” schools. A note of caution: apply to a manageable number of places. It’s better to submit five superior applications than fifteen so-so applications. Keep visiting campuses as a way to narrow down the list.
Request applications and brochures, and organize them into separate folders by school. Determine application requirements and deadlines, listing them on the cover of each folder and on your college admissions calendar. Pay special attention to Early Decision and Early Action deadlines, since those applications will be due first (generally in October or November).
Gear Up for Fall Tests
Gear Up for Fall Tests
If your child will take the September or October ACT, or the October or November SAT, continue to prepare for these test dates—and don’t forget to register!
No matter how daunting the college application process might seem, rest assured that a little organization goes a long way. Armed with good information and a solid plan of action, you can improve your child’s chances of getting admitted to the right school. For more information about test-prep and academic tutoring, visit our Tutoring Resources page or contact any of our experienced testing consultants at 1-87STUDYPOINT (1-877-883-9764).
StudyPoint is a national leader in one-to-one, in-home test prep and academic tutoring. The test-taking techniques and strategies taught in our SAT tutoring and ACT tutoring programs enable students to earn higher test scores and gain admissions to competitive colleges and universities. Our expert subject tutors and personalized lesson plans help students earn better grades and become happier, more confident students. Whether you’re looking for a math tutor or any other type of academic tutoring, StudyPoint can help. To learn about tutoring programs in your area, feel free to contact us for more information.