It’s April of your junior year. The sun has come out. Your classmates are planning the next all-school walkout, and you are probably using all of your strength to focus in history class for just a few more weeks so you don’t totally bomb the question about the Teapot Dome Scandal on your final exam. April also means that if you haven’t started thinking about the college process, you’re late to the game.
We have found that at this point in the year, there are two types of juniors: Those who have been prepping for the college application process and those who are just waking up from a very deep, two-and-a-half year slumber.
The Juniors Who Have Been Prepping
So, you’re in the first category. Good for you. By now, you should have a semi-finalized list of colleges. What’s next? We recommend registering for the June SAT IIs. Like, now. You might have heard that some liberal arts schools are doing away with standardized test requirements altogether. Perhaps your parents are encouraging you to just skip the test because they know that you are more than a test score. Our advice is a little different. Your parents might have a point in thinking that they don’t want you to shatter your confidence on a difficult test unnecessarily. But then again, your parents also bragged about your potty-training abilities to all of their friends. College admissions teams, on the other hand, do not care how you did in potty-training and neither do we. So register now, please. These spots fill up, and you don't want to be a kid in New York who has to drive in New Jersey.
Take the SAT IIs in June
In fact, we have our kids take two to three SAT IIs in June of their junior year. Why June, you might ask? Well, the subject matter is still fresh in your head from finals and AP tests, so we definitely don’t want you to wait until August. We also don’t want you to take it in May when you’re dealing with studying for those other tests. The content is generally the same as the AP, so instead, kill two birds with one stone and just consider the SAT II a review of what you did in May.
As we mentioned above, we are aware of the fact that some schools don’t require SAT IIs. We don’t care. It’s always better to take a test and not use it than the realize later that you like another school but didn’t have the right materials for the application.
Take a minute and register for two to three SAT IIs right now.
Get Your Teacher Recs in Order
Now that that’s done, we also recommend you ask for your teacher recommendations at this time. If you go to a big school, we also recommend offering your teacher an email or a packet on all of your accomplishments in his/her particular class. A lot of teachers won’t take you up on it, but the fact that you’re offering to go the extra mile won’t go unnoticed.
One of our kids, Joe, went to a really big public school. He did great in Math class and wanted to study engineering in college. He really wanted to ask his Pre-Calc teacher for a recommendation, but he was one of the most popular teachers in school who taught several classes besides Joe’s, so Joe (who was a quiet kid to begin with) was worried that the teacher wouldn’t have much to say about him. Joe offered to write some bullet-points of his accomplishments for the teacher. To Joe’s surprise, the teacher responded saying that he appreciated the extra effort, just like how he appreciated the fact that Joe took the time to visit the teacher during his office hours to ask about Pre-Calc when Joe was still a sophomore. Go the extra mile and don’t forget to write your teacher a thank you note when they’re done.
Other Items to Handle Right Now
- Firm up your summer activity plan
- Brainstorm essays for the Common App and write them before July
- Tour additional schools that aren’t on your list
If You’re a Junior Who Has Been Hibernating
Well, we’re not really sure where you’ve been, but now is the time to really get going. We’re not going to sugarcoat this—there’s a lot to get done. While taking tests might seem like the most daunting part of your uphill climb ahead, the most important part of the process for you to focus on right now is actually building your college list.
Build Your College List
We find that, by this point in the year, kids who haven’t done anything to kick-start the college process yet are overwhelmed. They should be. Most of the other stuff you have on your list is straightforward. You just have to get it done. School lists, on the other hand, require some reflection. Every other piece of the puzzle depends on the list.
Know Your Limits and What You Like
We are assuming that, by this point, you have taken your tests so you know where you fall. If you haven’t done anything, you need to get a score right away and figure out your preferences in universities based on where you fall. Only choose schools that are realistic and start touring.
If you got a 29 on the ACT, we recommend against touring schools like Princeton. It’s a waste of time. There are no mistakes in college admissions, and there's no point in getting your hopes up. If you have a 29, Princeton (and the Ivy League in general) isn't a reach, it's an impossibility. It’s best to tour schools you have a real shot at getting into. That looks like schools for whom you are in the 50th percentile of test scores.
While touring, you should think about what characteristics you want in a school. Big or small? A train ride from home or a plane flight? Go macro first to refine your list.
Other Items to Handle Right Now
- Register for the June SAT IIs and take them when the material from finals/APs is still fresh in your mind
- Plan your summer (do not go on a community service trip!)
- Ask for your teacher recommendations
Need some help getting started on your college essays? Reach out to us here. We are experts in helping kids ace the Common App.