Junior year is a lot. There’s no way to sugar-coat it. However, there are myriad ways to make all of the ancillary college process items more manageable. So, before you dive-in head first, it’s really important to get organized, create a strategy, and stay on track. That way, when things feel chaotic, you have a plan to refer back to. In this post, we talk about ways in which you can forge a clear path for junior year.
Before you start cooking, you need a recipe, a checklist of all the ingredients and steps you will need in your culinary process. So too with college applications do you need a checklist. We recommend beginning with a calendar. Mark off all the important pre-determined dates including test dates and application deadlines (yes, we understand that means you’ll be looking ahead to senior year). Then, work the other steps you need into a timeline and give them a finite end date on your calendar.
First of all, DO NOT wait until the last minute to get a teacher recommendation. For one, your teachers are busy, and approaching someone in the 11th hour could look bad on you, leaving room for the teacher to write something other than a stellar rec. letter. Secondly, this is a really easy, finite thing to check off your list. The college application process is long and drawn out. In earnest, it’s about 3.5 years long. Crossing open-and-close items off your list is an important way to give yourself a sense of progress amidst the slog.
Identify a teacher with whom you have an excellent rapport. Do this well in advance, before they are inundated with other requests, and then, ask them very nicely to please help you. Don’t forget to make a note in your calendar to follow up and, most importantly, write the teacher a thank you note (and maybe include a small gift, like a batch of cookies) when they’re done.
If you haven’t started touring yet, you are behind the eight ball and need to get going. The goal in touring schools is to get a sense for what you like: big schools, small schools, northeast schools, southern schools, football schools, liberal arts college, etc. While you are visiting, you should ask current students (NOT TOUR GUIDES—REAL STUDENTS) the questions you really want answers for. What’s the work/life balance? On what nights of the week do they go out? What do they do for fun? What’s their favorite class? Etc. Don’t be shy. You’re going to spend four years at your university. You want to know if it’s really a good fit.
By this point, you should already have leadership positions in various organizations. To set yourself apart, you should go farther. Anyone can become the secretary of the booster club, but the kids who stand out are those who implement something while they’re in office that will outlast them, a legacy about which they can tell colleges. That’s the objective. Also, packing your resume with as many random, unconnected activities as possible is ill-advised. In order to get into a great school, you need to market yourself as a specialist in a particular niche. Your classes, summer activities, and extra-curriculars should follow suit. Get hyper-specialized and go above-and-beyond. Also, don’t be afraid to start your own business or operation. Take risks and explore your passions. This part can be fun. In fact, the more fun you have, the more you’ll invest in it. It just has to be strategic at the same time.
Ah, yes, the dreaded essay portion. Our favorite! Your essays should not be about something that’s present elsewhere in your application. A lot of people think they need to use the essay to talk about their time as secretary of the booster club. That’s not the point of the essay. Colleges will already see what you’re up to on your resume. The essay is an opportunity to tell them something new about who you are. So, pick three adjectives your friends would use to describe you and identify a story that demonstrates those traits. Pro tip: the setting should be something really basic and run-of-the mill. It should not be a tragic, life-altering, or existential story. Your morning routine, when recounted right, can be as good a story as any. Also, don’t be afraid to get creative and break form!
The test portion will be over one day, we promise. So, go ahead and just rip the band aid. If you’re not studying yet, you’re behind and need to light a fire under your, well, behind. Start off by looking up the upcoming test dates and registering right now for the soonest one you feel comfortable--but not too comfortable-- taking. You’re probably going to take it again, so don’t wait too long. You want to leave plenty of time so you’re not scrambling with another round of testing your senior year when you should be focusing on SAT IIs. Also, choose between the ACT and SAT. No need to take both.
Need help devising a junior year strategy? Reach out to us here. We are great at helping students get organized around an effective plan.