Another year has begun, and college requirements are becoming clearer for this year’s high school juniors. While their senior counterparts anxiously await decisions on admissions and financial aid, juniors are looking down the path of taking the steps necessary to get into college.
These juniors need to be aware that the time availability might not be as luxurious as they think. You need to be ready to apply to the colleges of your choice in September, and to complete the FAFSA in October. That leaves a lot of work to be completed between now and then. Here is a brief college admissions action plan juniors can start putting into effect to get on the path to college success:
• Get the college list together: If you don’t already have a list of potential college choices, now is definitely the time to get that step completed. Think seriously about whether you want to attend a large school or small, in-state or out, public or private, and where you might want to live. Get an idea of what kind of major you want to pursue, and start looking at your hopes for the college experience. Then sit down and have an in-depth talk with your parents about paying for college so you will have realistic expectations. Now you can take all of this information and start to pour through the potential college list. Talk to your guidance counselor, ask seniors about their college choices, and visit college websites.
• Learn more about your choices: Based on this research you might come up with a list of 15-20 colleges that sound appealing. Really dig into your research now to get to know more about your top choices. See if there are social media groups you can join, watch student videos, and talk to your parents about scheduling visits to campuses of schools that seem especially appealing. It may not be necessary to visit every school on the list, but research shows that a campus visit does increase the likelihood of acceptance for qualified students. Continue talking about money with your parents, and look at the net price calculators for each of the colleges on your list to determine if they are definitely in your price range. You want to come up with a short list of schools that include a reach option or two, safe options where you are likely to be accepted, and back-up plans you can attend if all else fails.
• Create a schedule now: Look at the requirements and deadlines for each college you are interested in attending. Find out whether they require the SAT, ACT or neither; determine whether they use the FAFSA, CSS Profile, or their own financial aid application; and look at whether they use the Common App or other application formats. If you don’t know what these terms mean, you need to do a little research to get yourself more acquainted with the college application process. Be very sure of what each college requires and what their deadlines are, and then start creating a schedule of how you can accomplish those activities on time. There might be steps you can take now such as gathering documentation for the FAFSA, thinking about letters of reference, searching for applicable scholarships, outlining possible essay topics, or applying for your FSA ID. Anything you can do now to get ahead will make life less stressful in the fall.
• Learn about handling money: One of the most needed and least understood skills for success in college and life is the ability to properly budget and handle money. Many students blithely apply to expensive colleges they really can’t afford, and then wonder why they get themselves into student loan debt. Learn about managing your money now, so you can limit money problems later.
You still need to keep on top of your grades and activities, as admissions officers will probably take a look at your junior year as an indicator of your college potential. It is a lot to consider, but you can do it all with a solid plan and the support of your family.