Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock

Writer & Blogger

My name is Melissa and I’m a longtime admission professional, personal finance writer, editor  and parent of two (very!) busy kiddos. I couldn’t make it all happen without my husband, Steve.

I hatched my site because I’ve heard so many head-scratching questions from parents. I’ve journeyed in the footsteps of hundreds of families, trekked to dozens of college fairs and even weighed the (billions?) of college savings options for my own two kiddos.

Handy Summer Checklist for Rising Juniors

by | Jul 12, 2020 | Ask the admission office | 0 comments

It’s July, and while it might seem like it’s a great time to catch up on Netflix, go to the pool and work at a summer job, why not get a jump start on college? 

(I knoooow, convincing your high schooler might be a different story.) It’s even more important to start thinking about college now because we don’t know what college visits will look like for next year. Lots of colleges have closed up shop but many are still open for visitors. Take a quick peek at the list of schools open and closed to visitors from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC)

I reached out to a mom friend of mine who has a rising junior and asked her what her concerns are right now. She said, “Coronavirus has changed things. What should we do right now to get ready for college? It’s a little frustrating.”

I hear ya.

Here’s a quick list of items your child can consider doing (after lounging by the pool and taking lots of sips of fizzy lemonade, of course):

  • Get ready for the PSAT test and ACT or SAT tests (if required)
  • Start doing college visits (either in-person or virtual visits)
  • Consider the activities on that resume — and whether there are gaps
  • Put together a robust schedule of classes
  • Start a college list
  • Develop relationships with admission counselors

Now, one of the most important things you can do during this time as a parent is to make the college search exciting. The last thing you want to do is scare your child off before this process even begins!

Here’s how to help your child launch the college search this summer, even though things might not be (totally) normal.

Ready to tackle your rising junior's to-do list? Here's what you can do!
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Get Ready for the PSAT, ACT or SAT Tests

You can find some great test prep resources for PSAT, SAT and ACT. Check out Amazon or your local bookstore. You can even check out the local library for these editions, though your child won’t be able to write in anything from the library, of course!

First, let’s define PSAT, ACT and SAT — it’s easy to confuse PSAT and SAT in particular. 

  • PSAT: The PSAT’s formal name is the Preliminary SAT, also known as the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test). It’s a great way to practice for the SAT exam. You can only take the PSAT once per year, and many students take the test in 10th and 11th grade.
  • ACT: The ACT is a standardized test used for college admission administered by the nonprofit organization, ACT. The ACT test covers four separate academic sections: English, mathematics, reading and science reasoning. Your child can also add an optional writing test. The 2020-2021 ACT costs $55 without writing and $70 with writing.
  • SAT: The SAT is a standardized test also used for college admission. It’s administered by the nonprofit organization The College Board. The SAT test covers 20 SAT Subject Tests in five general subject areas: English, history, languages, mathematics and science with an optional essay portion. The current SAT costs $52 without writing and $68 with the essay option.

Before your child cracks open some study books, check with the colleges your high schooler plans to apply to. Find out whether the college requires the ACT or SAT. Lots of colleges have waived the SAT and ACT for this year’s incoming class — and many are doing away with standardized testing altogether. 

That doesn’t mean throwing test prep out the window or sidestepping a school that still requires it. It might be important to take it, particularly if a school shows up on your child’s radar this year or next and that requires the ACT or SAT. 

Make a College Spreadsheet

I developed a very simple, easy-to-use College Money Tips College Visit spreadsheet. You can use this spreadsheet to keep track of the schools your child wants to visit on the left, and as you get knee-deep into visits later on this fall, use it to record things like application deadlines and more. 

I believe one of the most important parts of the spreadsheet is the Heart/Gut Test. The former college president at my alma mater coined the Heart/Gut Test to talk to families during visit days and scholarship weekends. Sometimes you just know whether a college is a good match — parents usually feel it, too. There’s a section in the spreadsheet that references how a college felt. You can use this spreadsheet yourself or share it with your student.

Get the spreadsheet below — you’ll also get my free college money tips guide!

Complete Virtual or In-Person Visits

Visiting. Hmmm… It’s a bit of a head-scratcher right now, isn’t it? I understand — virtual summer visits aren’t really ideal. But guess what? There were already several disadvantages about summer visits, anyway. Truth be told, nothing beats a college visit during the fall. Crunching through leaves, watching students hurry to classes — it’s simply the best atmosphere.

Here’s one example of why I believe summer visits aren’t the best: You typically only see staged residence hall rooms. In fact, I was the one in charge of that when I worked in admission! I’d send two or three summer student workers to three of our residence halls to stage rooms using donated items from Bed, Bath and Beyond! It was tons of fun to decorate the rooms but the staged room always seemed… fake and empty, not homey. Here are some other reasons summer visits are less than ideal:

  • Fewer students live on campus during the summer, so you don’t get the “real” feel of what a college is like. 
  • Tour guides are usually the only students you can really interact with.
  • Normally, fewer classes are in session anyway, so you’d have limited opportunities to sit in on classes. 
  • Many buildings remain closed to tours.
  • Professors and department chairs are not around to chat with during the summer.

So, my point is, if you have to do a virtual visit right now, sure, you’re at a disadvantage because you can’t see the campus in person — but summer visits were disadvantageous anyway.

Now, if you have the chance to set up a visit for your child, should you do it? Of course! And if you want to do a virtual visit, here are the perks of virtual visits right now:

  • You’ll get to see what every part of the campus looks like, even areas closed down during the summer, like the dining hall.
  • You don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot, fighting traffic and driving or flying to get there. You can watch from anywhere!
  • It’s less nerve-wracking. If I had a dime for every nervous parent and student that used to walk into the admission office…
  • You don’t have to worry about the weather. (There’s nothing worse than visiting a campus in the pouring rain or driving sleet or snow!)

Hear me say this: If you have the chance to do an in-person visit this summer, do it. We don’t know what the fall will look like, and being in person on a college visit is better than not doing a college visit at all. Sometimes you just have to take what you can get.

Call the admission office at schools your child is interested in. Ask about: 

  • Tours
  • Talking with an admission counselor
  • Scheduling a meeting with a coach
  • Communicating with a professor

Learn more about how to set up a college visit with my handy guide.

The nice thing about being a rising junior is that your student still has time. Do what you can now and know that there’s still another year ahead to go on visits.

Learn More About College Requirements and Scholarships

It’s never too early to start searching for scholarships and helping your child learn everything you possibly can about colleges. 

Now, this might seem like a bunch of boring research to your child. (Here’s how to handle it if your child wants you to do all the work.)

There’s no reason your child can’t start applying for scholarships. It’s a myth that seniors are the only ones who can submit scholarship applications. Research a scholarship that’s promising and have your child apply. Why not?

Summer is a great time to learn more about colleges! High school juniors have a busy upcoming year — lots of extracurricular activities, tough classes, standardized tests and more. Help your student learn as much as possible right now.

Talk About College Money

Talking about money might not be your favorite subject. Your kiddo may not be interested in talking about it at all.

The conversation doesn’t have to last for hours! Grab a quick snippet of time to chat about:

  • College costs in general
  • How much money you think you might be able to contribute toward college costs
  • How much your child must contribute to college costs
  • An explanation of loans and how they work
  • How scholarships and grants help offset the cost of college and why it’s important to make them a priority

Those are just a few topics that can jumpstart your conversation. Make sure to have the whole family involved — and leave plenty of time for more conversations later on. 

It’s okay to hit the pause button if your child doesn’t want to talk. You still have time to have lots of conversations!

Make it Fun, Make it Exciting

It might seem like there’s lots to do! Now’s the time to get started. Don’t forget to make it fun! Include rewards whenever possible. Go out to eat at a restaurant of your child’s choice after your child completes a really gnarly scholarship application or treat your daughter to Starbucks — and have the money talk there.

How will you get some heavy research out of the way together so the upcoming year is smooth sailing for you and your rising junior?

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