Prepare for College 3:
What to do during your Junior and Senior Years
WHAT? YOU HAVEN’T STARTED TO PREPARE FOR COLLEGE? AND YOU’RE A JUNIOR? You certainly have a lot to do. Begin with sections 1 and 2.
The picture at the right is of Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. As one of the Ivy League Universities it is very hard to get accepted here.
The PSAT is the Preliminary SAT. The PLAN is the Preliminary ACT. Every student thinking about college should take the PSAT in the Fall – usually in October of your Junior Year.
It’s the only way to get a National Merit Scholarship. Students who do well on the test, about one-third of those taking the test, may be Semifinalists or Commended Scholars because they did well. Many colleges will award you more financial aid because of these honors. TAKE THE TEST.
A LITTLE HISTORY: Until recently, most students on the East Coast and West Coast of the United States took the SAT and those in the middle part of the country were more likely to take the ACT. In the past several years, for the first time, there were more students taking the ACT.
Check out the page: SAT and ACT: How are they different? Which should you take?
Most colleges will accept either test but some students do better on one or the other. By taking both the PSAT and the PLAN, you will know which one you like better, and if your scores are higher on one or the other.
When you get your test scores you’ll know where you need to work before taking the SAT or ACT. I don’t recommend paying high prices to take SAT Prep classes…. unless that’s the only way to force you to prepare. You should be able to prepare on your own. If you are just starting now you need to work very hard. Get some SAT or ACT Practice Books and use them. Take the tests and then take time to understand why you made mistakes so you won’t make the same mistake again. For the SAT, they aren’t testing your knowledge as much as your ability to think logically. Many math problems don’t need to be solved by long calculations, but by thinking clearly about the questions.
The more practice tests you do, the higher your scores on these tests.
3. Register soon for the SAT or ACT or both depending on what’s required by colleges on your list and what you prefer. Take the test or tests in the Spring of your Junior Year. You’ll need your scores submitted to college in the Fall. If you really do poorly in the Spring, you can study all summer and could repeat the test early in the Fall.
4. Make decisions about what kind of college you’d like to go to. You should soon have a list of 5-20 colleges you are considering.
5. Go to the college websites to find and print their application forms. Reading these forms will help you understand what they consider important. Use their essay topics and begin to practice writing essays.
6. It is time to start applying for scholarships. Talk to your school counselor again about college and scholarships.
7. It is time to get serious with College Visits. If colleges on your list are very far away, try Virtual Tours on their websites.
Otherwise, it is best to visit your top choices for several days, doing the tour, maybe having an interview, and having time to talk to students. When possible, spend the night in a dorm, eat in the cafeteria, and attend a few classes. If you are interested in science, check out the labs and the equipment that’s available. Talk to a few professors about the research being done there and the professors’ areas of specialization. Ask students (not just the tour guide) what they like best about the school and what they think are the worst things about the school.
8. During the summer before your senior year, narrow down your list of colleges, get the application forms for all of them and begin filling them out.
This is also a good time to start filling out scholarship applications that must be sent early in the Fall.
It’s also a good time to look on the Internet for FAFSA, the form you need to fill out in January about your family financial situation. Show it to your parents now. You might know some of the information now. This will make it easier to know what to expect in January. You need to submit this every year you are in college and want financial aid.
Senior Year in the Fall
The first half of your senior year will be an extremely busy time.
1. At the beginning of your senior year, ask four or five people to write recommendations: one or two teachers, a school counselor, and the advisor for an organization in or out of school who can describe your efforts and leadership. If you have a job, your employer might write about your efforts and willingness to do whatever is needed.
You should allow them about three weeks to write these letters. After two weeks, ask if they need any further information and tell them when the letters really need to be sent. If you think they might need another reminder, Thank them warmly for writing and mailing the letters on time. They might not admit they haven’t done it but they are likely to start very soon.
If you have asked for more recommendations than you really need, you will be a little less frantic. Keep in mind that these teachers are writing letters for many other students too. It’s a hard job.
Give each person a list of your interests, activities, grades, and anything else about you that will help them write a letter. You might ask an English teacher to describe your efforts to improve your writing skills or about your short stories and poetry. You might ask a Science teacher to describe your science project or original research. It helps to have to different letters focus on different aspects of your accomplishments.
Ask each of them to write the letter so it can be used for college applications and for scholarships. Ask them to save the letters on their computer so they can send further letters more easily. If they are willing to give you a copy, you can make multiple copies to use with various applications.
For letters that must be mailed directly, provide addressed and stamped envelopes for them to use. Let them know how much you appreciate their help.
2. You’ll need to contact the SAT or ACT offices with the list of college you want scores sent to.
3. You’ll need to ask your high school to make copies of your official transcript for each college on your list.
4. Soon after the beginning of your senior year, college applications will need to be mailed. Be sure all these dates are on your calendar. Get everything in the mail at least a week or two early, the earlier the better.
5. Once college applications are in the mail, continue filling out scholarship applications and sending these in. Make a note on your calendar which scholarship applications to mail each week.
6. It is also important, of course, to keep your grades high. If your grades drop now, you might miss the opportunity to win recognition and some of the best local scholarships. In many schools, the Valedictorian wins the largest scholarship at graduation. Keep working.
Senior Year – January
7. Soon after January first, you need to file the FAFSA. This is your family’s financial information. Get the form early. As soon as possible your parent need to calculate their income tax. You need this information for the FAFSA. It is best to submit this information by computer. If you are concerned about having problems, find a library with someone who has experience in the area. They can help you fill out the forms.
NOTE: You will not receive any financial aid or scholarships without this information.
8. With all college applications sent, and all possible scholarships applied for, you might be able to enjoy the next few weeks. If you still haven’t decided which college is your first choice, continue to do research and even make a few more visits. This time you’ll have a better idea what questions to ask.
Senior Year: February – April
In the Spring, you’ll begin receiving responses from the colleges.
Some will be rejections. Don’t let them bother you. Some will be acceptance letters. Now things get interesting. What if the college you’d most like to go to is only offering half as much financial aid as some of the other schools?
Do not give up. You can visit or call your first choice college and explain the situation. You might be able to share extra information about your family situation that is relevant. Perhaps you are helping support your grandparents. Perhaps someone in your family is sick or handicapped, leaving less money for you. Perhaps one of your parents has recently lost or job or had their hours reduced. Tell them about it
Explain that you’d really like to attend their school but won’t be able to unless they can increase your financial aid. Many times you will get a better offer.
If you still aren’t sure, write dates on your calendar for each schools last day for accepting their offer… also dates for sending tuition, down payment on dorms or whatever fees need to be paid early. These dates may be in late April or very early in May. Don’t be late. Make a decision and stop worrying. You will probably be happy attending any of the schools on your list.
Get your letters in the mail early and cross it off on your calendar.
You should soon be hearing if you won any scholarships. Good luck.
Enjoy your prom. Enjoy your Graduation. Enjoy your Summer.
If you can afford it, you might want to travel. If you need money get a job as soon as possible. If you don’t need the money, you might try for an internship or volunteer position in a field you are interested in.
For my last summer before college, I joined two friends, driving to a Junior College 40 miles away, three nights a week to take a college algebra class. There was no nearby community college so this was our first college class and it gave us a little extra confidence before heading off to the university.
Be sure to attend orientation before school starts in the fall. You will make many good friends and learn a lot about the campus, the library, student activities, and much more.
Use your summer to prepare for college
You were well-organized and worked hard to get there. Now you need to be even better organized and work even harder. At the same time, make friends, enjoy college activities, and dream of your future.
Read books about college. You might want to read Straight A’s Are Not Enough: Breakthroughs in learning for College Students. .
You might want to check out the Breakthrough Learning Website for College Students:
You might want to take one or two classes at a nearby community college.
For the next page on this website: College Goals & Calendar