Junior year is arguably the most important year in the college admissions process. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can put everything off until senior year. If you’re applying to college in the spring of senior year, colleges won’t be able to see your second semester grades. Nor will they be able to see your scores for any AP/IB classes.
Your grades and activities from junior year give colleges a better picture of where you are as a student. This is also your last chance to fill in any holes in your application, like a low test score or a lack of extracurriculars.
Start your college search. If you haven’t done so already, start thinking seriously about where you want to attend college. Attend college fairs and try to go on a few in-person tours if possible. Even if you can only visit local schools, you’ll get a sense of what you like and dislike. You don’t have to have your final decision, but you should try to have a solid wishlist by the end of the summer.
Pick the right classes. This isn’t the time to coast. Choose challenging classes when possible, though don’t feel like you have to take every honors class available. And of course, make sure you’re fulfilling all of your school’s graduation requirements. You don’t want to be surprised halfway through senior year.
Keep yourself busy. Summer is a great time to explore different opportunities. Find a summer job or internship, take classes in a subject you find interesting, volunteer in something you’re passionate about, or master a new skill. Whatever you do, don’t spend the summer in a Netflix-Tumblr-Snapchat-Instagram-YouTube loop.
Take the PLAN/PSAT. The official SAT practice test is the PSAT, while the equivalent for the ACT is the PLAN. If you haven’t already, we would recommend you take both the PSAT and the PLAN test, since you might score significantly higher on one test.
Start studying for the SAT or ACT. Once you decide whether you’re taking the ACT, SAT, or both, it’s time to knuckle down. Of course, we recommend starting with the free Prep4ACT and Prep4SAT apps, but we’re a little biased.
Continue exploring colleges. Attend any college fairs in your area, and continue adding to your college list. Ideally, you’ll already have a few schools to which you’re definitely planning to apply, and a few more than are on your radar.
Build relationships with your teachers. Since you’re asking for recommendations fairly early in senior year, it’s often easier to ask teachers that know you from junior year. A junior year teacher can often write a stronger recommendation letter, because your performance will be fresher in his or her mind.
Concentrate on your extracurriculars. Stay involved in your existing extracurriculars and look for opportunities for leadership when possible. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to do everything, focus your energy on a handful of extracurriculars about which you’re passionate.
Take the SAT or ACT. It’s often easier to get the test out of the way in junior year. Neither the SAT nor the ACT is available over the summer, so if you don’t take it before the end of your junior year. You can always retake it in the fall of your senior year if needed.
Choose your senior year classes. Though colleges won’t have a chance to see your grades spring semester grades, you should still make sure your classes are challenging.
Learn more about financial aid. Start looking into aid options at your chosen schools, and talk to your family about your financial options for college. This is also a great time to start looking into possible scholarships. There are thousands of scholarships available online, and your guidance counselor might have a few suggestions as well.
Continue adding (and eliminating) schools from your list. Make sure you consult multiple sources. As you visit schools, pay attention to what you liked and disliked. With each school you visit, you’ll get a better understanding of the best fit for you.