Panel of Experts

Karl Schellscheidt

SAT Prep Expert

  • BSE, Princeton University '90
  • M.A., Secondary Education Seton Hall University '93
  • J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School '00

Fred Hargadon

Dean of Admission

  • Swarthmore College
    (1964-1969)
  • Stanford University
    (1969-1984)
  • Princeton University
    (1988-2003)

Don Betterton

Financial Aid Expert

  • Director of Financial Aid, Princeton University (1973-2006)
  • Certified College Planner
  • Principal, Betterton College Planning

Seamus Malin

Admission Expert

  • Harvard University
    Dir. of Financial Aid
    (1966-1977)
    Asst. Dean of Admission
    (1977-1987)
    International Office Director
    (1987-2002)

College Admission Topics: The 18 Things You Should Know Junior Year in High School

Seamus Malin

college admissions expert advice from eprep.comThe 18 Things You Should Know
Junior Year in High School
(11th Grade)

Introduction

There’s a lot to do junior year . . . so get ready. If you plan to take an Early Admission option and apply to college in the fall of your senior year, you should know that the decision made on each of your applications will be based almost entirely on your record of achievement, both academic and non-academic, through junior year. If you decide to wait and apply in the winter or spring of your senior year, the first half of senior year will also be considered.

Academics

1. Meet with your advisor or guidance counselor to ensure that your course selection continues to be consistent with your college objectives.

By the start of junior year you should have a college list that is beyond the preliminary stage. This means, in part, that you should know the academic requirements and/or preferences of the schools on your list.

Check that you are meeting each college’s academic requirements. For example, many selective colleges require four (4) years of English, three (3) or four (4) years of math and foreign language, at least two (2) years of history, and a lab science. In addition, some may recommend that you take a creative art class of some sort.
You may discover that you need to take a summer class in order to fulfill those requirements. If you do, plan well in advance and, remember, you have only one summer left before applications are due.

2. Check again to see what the colleges on your list say about the level of courses they expect you to take.

Find out if the colleges on your list are looking for students who have taken many honors and/or advanced placement classes. The admissions literature of most colleges will describe such expectations. Highly selective colleges will typically include a statement like, “We encourage students to take the most rigorous courses possible in their secondary schools.” Other colleges may give students more leeway.

3. Work hard at getting good grades.

You should strive to earn high grades, not only for college-going reasons, but also to better prepare yourself for whatever you do after high school. While some colleges will consider your first-semester senior year grades, most base their decision on your performance during 9th, 10th, and 11th grade.

Keep in mind that your grades are important in every class, not just the ones you like and not just the ones in traditionally “important” subject areas like math, English and science. In fact, earning good grades across the board proves that you are not only a capable learner but also one who is willing to work through the challenges of school . . . challenges such as an extended absence or a “bad” teacher.

4. Select senior year classes that continue to meet the expectations and requirements of the colleges on your list.

Even though a particular admissions decision may be based upon your freshman, sophomore and junior year grades, you still need to schedule senior year classes that are consistent with college requirements and/or guidelines. Senior year is no time to ease up and choose a less rigorous program; you should continue required or recommended courses of study at the appropriate difficulty levels. Colleges will consider your first term grades when reviewing your application, unless of course you apply under an early decision program.

5. Identify at least two teachers who are willing to write a solid letter of recommendation on your behalf.

Consider your favorite teacher or teachers. They are probably the ones who will have the most positive and worthwhile things to say about you.

Do not limit yourself. The teacher of a class in which you tried hard but did not get the a high grade may prove to be the one who has the most positive things to say about your character and resolve in the face of academic adversity.

If you approach teachers during your junior year, they will likely have more time to think about what they want to say on your behalf, as well as how to say it. In addition, they will appreciate the fact that you did not wait until senior year when most of your classmates are burdening them with requests. (For practical reasons, teachers overwhelmed with requests from seniors may resort to using boilerplate letters of recommendation. Admissions personnel can readily identify such letters.)

Standardized Testing

6. Sign up for the PSAT in September; take it in October.

While your PSAT score will not be considered by colleges in the admissions process, taking the PSAT (Preliminary SAT) junior year does serves multiple purposes: (1) it acts as your application for a National Merit Scholarship (visit www.nationalmerit.org for more information); (2) it is practice for the SAT, which you will take for the first time in the spring; and (3) your score will help you identify the colleges on your list that appear to be good academic matches.

7. Mark “yes” in the PSAT box that asks whether or not you want to be part of the Student Search Service.

Based on criteria set by particular colleges and your performance on the PSAT, you may begin to hear from colleges and scholarship providers.

8. In the spring, depending on (a) the requirements of the colleges on your list and (b) your particular strengths and weaknesses, take the SAT, the ACT (American College Test), or both.

Most colleges now accept both the SAT and the ACT. (For more information on the SAT, visit www.collegeboard.com. For more information on the ACT, visit www.act.org.) After reading up on the tests, take a practice test or two. Use the experience and the results to decide which one to ultimately prepare for and take. Again, as an alternative, you can always take both — once or multiple times.

It cannot be said that one of the testing programs is easier than the other, only that they are somewhat different in their structure. The SAT has 3 parts — Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. Total testing time is 3 hours and 45 minutes. Scores on each part range from 200 to 800.

The ACT has 4 sections — English, Math, Reading, and Science. The ACT also has an optional Writing section. Total testing time is 3 hours and 25 minutes with Writing added. Scores on each section range from 1 to 36.

A nice feature of the ACT is that, even if you take it multiple times, the ACT will send to colleges only those scores from the dates that you select. The College Board, on the other hand, does not permit you to pick and choose; it sends all of your SAT results to the colleges of your choice. Do not worry, however; most colleges will consider only your top scores in each SAT subject area (Math, Critical Reading and Writing), regardless of the date you earned such scores.

In the event you are satisfied with your junior year SAT/ACT standardized test results, you do not have to take either test again. In the event you feel you can improve, however, you can retake either test during senior year.

9. Take SAT subject tests.

The ACT does not have the equivalent of the SAT subject tests. Therefore, if the colleges on your list require subject tests, you will have to register for them with the College Board. Visit the College Board’s website (www.collegeboard.com) to map out and schedule the appropriate subject tests. If the colleges on your list require three (3) subject tests, it is useful to have taken at least two of them by the end of your junior year.

10. Some kind of SAT/ACT test preparation is recommended.

While there are many test preparation options, the most popular method of preparing includes: (a) taking a practice test (or practice test section) under simulated conditions; (b) grading the practice test (or practice test section) upon completion; (c) reviewing problem areas with expert help and guidance; and (d) repeating steps (a)-(c) as many times as possible prior to the real test date.

Visit ePrep’s video prepcast entitled “How to prepare for the SAT on a $25 Budget” for a low cost solution. Other options include test preparation classes, online courses and private tutoring.

Outside the Classroom

11. Junior year involvement in extra-curricular activities is critical.

Although most colleges place a premium on academic performance, involvement in extra-curricular activities is nevertheless important. Junior year is the perfect time to get fully engaged in an activity that lies outside the high school curriculum. Such engagement is sometimes referred to as “following your passion.” Admissions personnel typically prefer applicants who commit fully to, and excel at, 2 or 3 activities to those applicants who submit a long “laundry list” of activities, none of which stands out as being very important to you or involving a major commitment.

Not only can excelling in an extra-curricular activity enhance your chances of admission (all else being equal), it may even open up scholarship opportunities. For example, many college coaches have scholarship money available for exceptional student-athletes. Similarly, colleges often offer scholarships to students who excel in areas that include music, theater, and dance.

Please note that while extra curricular activities exist outside the high school course curriculum, they can, unquestionably, still be academic in nature. For example, if your passion is chemistry, join your school’s Chemistry Club. If your school doesn’t have such a club, work to organize one. Colleges are often attracted to students who are willing to create positive changes within an institution.

Career Interests

12. Consider taking a personality profile.

As you begin to really focus on the colleges you would like to attend, an important step is to know what kind of a person you are and where your interests lie. Such knowledge will allow you to more accurately choose a college, a college major, and perhaps even a long-term career path. The College Board has a free program called MyRoadTM that may be useful in acquiring such knowledge. MyRoadTM offers a validated personality assessment and the opportunity to explore careers and majors that fit your assessed strengths and personality traits.

College Information

13. Create a list of colleges, any one of which you would be happy to attend.

Feel free to add and subtract colleges from your list as you learn more about them through activities like internet searches, campus visits and conversations with admission staff, faculty, graduates and current students.

Consider the following as you refine your list of colleges: First, think about yourself. What kind of person are you and what kind of person would you like to become? How would you like to use college to prepare for a career, in particular, and how would you like to use college to become a more interesting person, in general? Writing a brief profile is a good way to begin organizing your thoughts.

Second, think about colleges. What kind of college would you like to attend? . . . big or small? . . . private or public? . . . in a city or in a rural area? . . . near a ski slope or near a beach? Talk to friends and relatives, perform an internet search, request and gather written material, browse college websites, attend college fairs, and visit college campuses.

Remember that your list should include schools that you would be happy to attend even if they are not at the top of your wish list. Also, prepare yourself for at least a couple of disappointments. If you don’t, you are being unrealistic.

14. Arrange to visit as many of the colleges on your list as possible.

Secondary sources of information about colleges are useful in narrowing your list to somewhere between six (6) and twelve (12) in number. Once it is down to such a manageable number, however, campus visits are important.

Visit college campuses during the spring of junior year and the summer before senior year. While visits to nearby schools can be done on weekends and short holidays, visits to schools far from home will require more time and planning.

Whenever possible, try to visit your top-choice schools while classes are in session. This way you’ll get a more accurate feel for campus life and have the opportunity to sit in on a class or two.

15. Before you visit, check the college’s policy on interviews.

Is an interview required? Is it recommended? How far in advance does an interview need to be arranged? Will it be one-on-one or part of a general information session? How heavily is the interview weighed, if at all, in the admission process? Is the interview conducted by an admissions officer or a trained undergraduate? Are interviews by alumni/ae available?

In short, know what to expect and what is expected. In addition, you may want to prepare for all interviews that factor into the admission decision. Show the college that you have taken the time to learn about it and, remember, while you want to be yourself in an interview, you want to be yourself at your best.

16. Get organized now, before all the college information, test dates, and deadlines become overwhelming.

Don’t procrastinate. If you organize yourself well, you can get through the application process without being overwhelmed. If you lack strong organizational skills, search the internet for free sites that will help you keep track of the things that are most important during the college search and application process.

17. Request or download college applications, as appropriate.

Take an early look at what the different applications require. In particular, note the essay topics or essay prompts. The essay portion of most applications will allow you to express what is most important to you or about you. In other words, the essay portion of the application typically provides you with the opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Thus, the essay is important and worth some serious thought and preparation during junior year and/or over the summer.

Summer Vacation

18. Use the summer before senior year to enhance your status as an applicant and further prepare yourself for college. (Note: This doesn’t mean you can’t take the time to relax and enjoy yourself as well.)

This is the last summer you will have to prepare yourself for college and to add substance to your applications. By now, you should have a good college list and a sense of your chances of being admitted to the different schools. If there are any areas in which you might fall a little short, either in academics or extra-curricular activities, now is the time to seek improvement. For example, if your SAT Critical Reading score was low on the spring test, spend your summer reading voraciously and studying vocabulary. Doing so will help raise your score and prepare you for the rigors of college courses.

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