In the first post of the College Countdown series, we discussed the steps you need to take to stay on the path to success during your freshman and sophomore years of high school. In this post, we’ll continue from where we left off with a discussion of key events that should happen during your junior and senior years.
Hopefully, by the time junior year begins, you will have spent your freshman and sophomore years forming good habits, building up your resume, and opening up opportunities, because this is when the going gets tough. Academically, junior year is considered by many students to be the most demanding year of high school. Because it’s the last year that counts toward the class rank that you will use when applying to colleges in the Fall of senior year, many students suddenly wake up and realize that they need to get their acts together and bring up their GPAs (if you were good during freshman and sophomore years, you should be able to avoid such shocking revelations). Additionally, junior year is when many students begin taking multiple AP or IB courses, which can often require more work than non-AP/IB freshman and sophomore courses. If that weren’t enough, junior year is also the year when you take the PSAT for real and when many students take the SAT for the first time.
The PSAT is important in college admissions because it determines which students become national merit finalists and semifinalists. If you score very well on this test, it can be very good for your college applications. How well you do on the PSAT is also a good indicator of how prepared you are for the SAT, since the tests cover many of the same subjects. For a more detailed explanation of how the PSAT works, follow this link.
With regard to the SAT, it’s often a good idea to take it sometime during the spring of your junior year. That way, if you don’t get the scores you want the first time, you will have another chance to take it during the fall of your senior year. The summer between your junior and senior years is a great time to study and prepare for the SAT to make sure that you get the scores you want. If you want to apply to a school that requires SAT II Subject Tests, then you will probably take them at the end of your junior year as well.
When it comes to extracurriculars, your junior year is when you are going to have to decide what to stick with and what to either quit or be less involved in. Remember, you only need to do two or three extracurriculars all four years of high school – the others are just window dressing. With regard to those extracurriculars you want to stick with, hopefully you will start attaining leadership positions in them by the end of the year.
During the summer between your junior and senior years, you should begin the college application process. This includes visiting colleges and deciding which colleges you want to apply to, writing drafts of your college essays, and filling out as much of the application as you can. You and your parents should also begin filling out the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid), since virtually all colleges require that you fill it out and submit it in order to be considered as a potential financial aid recipient. Getting ahead on your college applications during the summer is going to make your life much easier when school starts up again, so don’t procrastinate!
When the fall semester of your senior year starts, you may need to start thinking about what teachers you want to ask for letters of recommendation. Many colleges want two letters of recommendation, preferably from teachers who taught you during junior or senior year. You need to decide whom you are going to ask and ask them by the end of September at the latest in order to make sure they will have time to write you a good recommendation before your application deadlines. Make sure you pick a teacher whose class you have done well in, and it’s always a good idea to give them a copy of your resume and even a sample recommendation letter that includes all of the accomplishments that you want them to mention. It’s also a good idea to have a teacher or another highly qualified person review your essays before you submit them.
If you’ve been following my advice, then you won’t be panicking the day your applications are due, trying to finish them by the stroke of midnight. Once you’ve finished applying, all you have to do is wait…and keep up your grades. If your grades fall precipitously during second semester of senior year, then colleges can and will rescind offers of admission. So, even after you get your acceptance letters, remember, you’re not out of the woods yet! Once you take your last final and graduate from high school, you have one more important thing to do during the summer before college starts: have the best summer vacation ever! It will probably be the last time you have nothing else you should be doing until you retire…so make it count! Until then, keep up the good work, and good luck!