The following is a guest post on junior year college planning by Jessica Socheski, a higher education writer.
Your junior year of high school is one of the most exciting seasons because this is when college preparation really kicks into high gear. Eleventh grade is the perfect time to explore career paths, visit colleges and complete your standardized tests (i.e. SAT and/or ACT). There are many opportunities and a lot of information that will be thrown at you in this year. But with a clear guide of what to do and what not to worry about, you’ll be able to successfully navigate your junior year.
1. Decide What Tests and When
One of the biggest things you will accomplish during your junior year is taking the SAT and/or the ACT. Colleges will accept either, so you can decide which will work best for your test taking abilities. The ACT tends to be better if you are “more academic than ‘test savvy,’” reports NPR.org.
While the SAT was traditionally considered the superior test, the ACT has recently pulled ahead with a higher number of test takers for the first time ever. The New York Times attributes the growth of the ACT to the fact that many high schoolers are taking and retaking more college entrance exams than ever before. Janet Rapelye, the dean of admissions at Princeton, believes that “more students are trying to make sure they’ve done everything they can” to achieve a higher test score and merit an acceptance letter.
Prior to taking your SAT, subject tests or ACT, you will probably consider signing up for the PSAT or the Plan (the ACT’s version of the practice test) as well as entire classes on test preparation. However, spending copious hours in practice for all these exams might be unnecessary. In the frenzy to score higher, continues the New York Times, “Admissions officers worry that test prep has become the main junior-year extracurricular activity. Preparing for both tests, they say, may be overkill.”
It is important to pick the test or few tests that will prove the best for you as an individual and map out when to take these. Many students opt to take their exams in May of their junior year and then again, if they’re hoping for an improved score, in the fall at the start of their senior year.
2. Pick Schools to Visit
Perhaps the most fun junior year experiences are college campus tours and visit days. You might have had your top schools picked out since 7th grade. Your mom could be requiring you to check out her Alma Mater. Or you may have just met a friendly admissions councilor at a local college fair and decided to give their University a shot. In any scenario, take advantage of all you can learn and experience just by touring a campus, crashing a class and talking to professors, staff and current students.
3. Don’t Forget about Your Grades
In the craziness of registering for college tours and studying for your standardized tests, it is sometimes difficult to just keep up with your high school courses. But your high school grades are still an important priority. Make sure that your college preparation isn’t completely hijacking your time away from normal classes.
Colleges will be looking at your GPA from your high school years up through junior year and the first semester as a senior. If you feel like you are beginning to struggle with understanding concepts or producing quality papers, talk to your parents about finding a good tutor to help. Sites like TakeLessons tutors can guide you to quality educators in your local area or online who can meet with you to guide you through high school courses as well as the process of applying to schools next year.
4. Consider Careers
In the midst of classes and prospective colleges, it is also helpful to begin forming an idea of where you want to head in life. Exploring career paths will inspire you to continue working hard towards your college goals so that eventually, you can enter a field you will love. Taking time to consider job options and learn about different careers will also help you select the right major and look for universities that have the best programs for your area of interest.
5. Start Your College Courses Already
Many ambitious students choose to take AP courses throughout their high school careers. These advanced placement classes reflect well on your transcript while earning some college credit. But if your school does not offer an AP course you want to take or if you would just prefer to skip the rigorous AP testing, there is another alternative that will also look impressive while earning you actual college credit before you even apply to schools.
College programs like South University online or even your community college offer a wide listing of undergraduate courses. High school students can enroll in one or a few of these courses to gain exposure to the college environment while earning credits to put towards their degree.
You can essentially kill two birds with one stone because most high schools will accept one semester of college work as an entire year of high school coursework. Two semesters of French at a college level might account for your entire language requirement at high school while providing a few credits to transfer to college.
All of these ideas can help contribute to a fulfilling junior year that will point you towards a successful college career.