It’s a busy time in the world of college admissions. It is DECISION TIME for seniors. The acceptance letters are in, financial aid offers on the table, and families are considering all their options. It’s exciting and stressful but ultimately it’s the first step towards a child’s independence.
What makes it even more exciting for us as college counselors is just as we are saying good-bye to our seniors, the cycle begins anew as our juniors become “rising seniors.” This was an interesting year in college admissions as students saw a staggering number of deferrals and waitlists. Each year, more students enter the college application process and vie for the same number of slots. The result? A highly competitive environment. But juniors take heart! We have some advice on how to take the reins and map out a plan for the next six months. And when I say SIX MONTHS I often see students gloss over; six months seems shockingly soon. However, if a senior applies under the Early Action plan (which we advise in many – but not all – cases), then we’re actually just six months from hitting the submit button.
At The College Advisor of New York, we are thrilled when we are able to begin working with a student at the beginning of their junior year in high school. Junior year is extremely stressful for many students, so we aim to alleviate much of that stress by setting milestones that are easily manageable. Junior year is also the most academically challenging and there are many extras that need to occur alongside students’ busy schedules. Here is some important information that Rising Seniors should pay particular attention to:
- Focus on SATs and ACTs.
Standardized testing is the name of the game for juniors – there is no way around it, even if some schools offer test optional policies, every student must still score well on the SAT and/or ACT. But now students have choices and it is always our goal to find the test that each student feels most comfortable with and (hopefully) excels at taking. We offer test prep options and various diagnostics to decode where that comfort zone is. If you are a junior and haven’t mapped out a standardized testing schedule, now is the time to do so! There are June tests dates and early fall as well, but now is the time to know where you stand. Most juniors should have taken at least one round of SATs and ACTs by June.
- Teacher Recommendations
Your teachers play a crucial role in your application process (beyond the obvious grading) because every student will need two or three letters of recommendation. We advise our rising seniors not to pack up for summer break until you’ve reached out to the teachers you hope will work with you. I often hear “isn’t it too early?” and the resounding answer is NO! It is a courtesy to teachers who are inundated with requests in the fall. The most popular teachers are often asked to write 50-100 letters and it isn’t fair to spring this on them last minute. You also risk that they cannot accommodate you. So stop by their classrooms before leaving for summer break and let them now you hope to be first on their list. And do remember to write them a note of thanks!
- Stay focused
Spring fever is a problem for all of us but especially for high school students ready to leave the stress of junior year behind. We can’t stress this enough: STAY IN THE GAME UNTIL THE END OF THE YEAR! Your junior grades will be closely scrutinized so don’t let up now. As college admissions becomes more and more selective, it is key to present your very best self. If you’ve worked hard junior year, let that be reflected in great grades and final exam scores. You can play when school gets out!
- Plan for next year
At this time, most juniors have met with their guidance counselor to plan courses for next year. At The College Advisor of New York, we enjoy helping our students plan their course schedule. Students often ask if it is okay to take (for instance) a business (or other less stressful elective) instead of a core class, like Chemistry or English. Our answer with some exceptions is “NO.” Now, more than ever, schools are looking for students who excel in a rigorous high school college prep curriculum. They are comparing you to thousands of other students nationwide and abroad and now is not the time to take something from the a la carte high school menu. Stick with the core classes and do your very best. If your schedule permits an elective, then by all means add it. College will give you ample time to explore different areas of study and take those classes you’ve always dreamed about, but for now, stay focused on the core.
Junior year is preparation for the rigors of life in college. You’ve been tested academically and outside the classroom as well. The students who balance their studies and extracurriculars successfully, usually adapt well to college. Heed this advice and the transition to rising senior status (and soon enough, high school graduate) will be smooth sailing!