Junior year is here! Yiiiiiiiikes! Whether you want to bury your head like an ostrich or tackle it like a linebacker, the reality is here: Two years till college starts.
As a parent, the crazy busy-ness of high school may have gotten even busier because now the time crunch descends. Between AP classes, extracurricular activities and homework every night, junior year is one of the busiest years leading up to college because your student is trying to do all the things!
You may wonder exactly what junior year should look like in terms of prepping for college. It takes planning and prep work to make
- Beginning of the Year: Speak with Your Child’s School Counselor
- All Year: Grades, Grades, Graaaades
- All Year: Get Going on Extracurricular Activities
- All Year: Talk About a College Savings Plan
- All Year: Talk About Colleges
- Job Shadow
- All Year: Collect Information
- Fall: Help Your Child with that Resume!
- Fall: Get Ready for the ACT or SAT — or Not
- Fall: Take AP Classes
- Fall: Take the PSAT
- Spring: Take the AP Exams
- Spring: Take the ACT or SAT — or Not
- Spring: Plan the Senior Year Schedule
- Spring: Plan Campus Visits
- All Year: Apply for Scholarships
- All Year: Work on Building Those Relationships
- Be the Cheerleader
Beginning of the Year: Speak with Your Child’s School Counselor
You don’t need to call up the school counselor or college and career counselor every other week. However, it’s a great idea to speak with or meet the school counselor in person at the beginning of the year. He or she will allow you to ask questions about core subjects, already-scheduled courses and more. Make sure you talk about a healthy college prep standard for core subjects:
- Four years of English
- Three years of math (though four is better!)
- Three years of science
- Two or three years of social studies or history
Make sure your child’s college and career counselor knows what schools your child put on his list up until now (it’s okay if it changes later) so he takes courses that align well with that college’s requirements.
Don’t leave it up to the school counselor, however. It requires sleuthing on your part, too. Get on the website of the colleges your child is interested in and find out the requirements for each. Then communicate that with the school counselor so you’re all on the same page.
All Year: Grades, Grades, Graaaades
Beef up those grades. Colleges and universities want to see them whether you agree they represent your child well or not. Has COVID-19 caused your child to fall behind just a little bit? (Is it possible to learn Shakespeare over Zoom without the opportunity to talk to a teacher face-to-face? Hm….)
Keep on top of the college preparation process both during high school junior year and if your child needs help, make sure that occurs.
All Year: Get Going on Extracurricular Activities
What does your child love to do? Or maybe even more importantly, what does he really not like doing? Sometimes knowing what we don’t like to do is more important than knowing what we enjoy. It can help later on when your child makes major life decisions.
If your child hasn’t gotten super involved in extracurricular activities in high school, it’s not too late to get involved. Also, don’t forget to encourage your child to look for leadership positions within those extracurricular activities.
All Year: Talk About a College Savings Plan
Don’t have a college savings plan set up yet? No worries. You can always start one now! It’s not too late to put a plan in place even though your child’s a junior.
If you’ve already been contributing to a college savings account, discuss with your student and other family members how you’ll continue to contribute to that account. Evaluate how far the money in the account will go to pay for college. How far will your child get on the amount of money you’ve saved? Do you need more or can you pay for some of it out of pocket? How creative can you get with paying for it out-of-pocket, through side hustles and more?
Finally, have the conversation about how much it’ll cost your child out of pocket.
All Year: Talk About Colleges
What kind of school is your child thinking about? A vocational-technical school? Community college?
Talk about careers but don’t focus too much on those or majors — your child will likely change her major!
Let’s say your child really doesn’t know what kind of school to look into because he or she has no idea what he or she wants to do for a living. I normally don’t advocate for picking a school based on major, but let’s say your child is really interested in a trade, like welding. In this case, I advise job shadowing because it’s one of the best ways for your child to determine what type of school to choose.
On the other hand, if your child knows she’s destined for a university — she’s had her mind made up that she’s going to a four-year school — don’t worry so much about the major. Pick the school based on its own merits and opportunities and the major will follow.
All Year: Collect Information
Gather college information through college fairs, college nights and any special alumni. (Did your next-door neighbor’s child go to the No. 1 school on your child’s list? Set up some time to chat!)
Make a list of schools your child would like to visit and keep that updated. Check out my free spreadsheet for the college search!
Note a number of things on the spreadsheet, including cost, merit scholarship requirements, size, location, distance from home
Fall: Help Your Child with that Resume!
Do you know a thing or two about putting together a resume? Stick to what you know, then get a professional to look at it if you’re not confident. One of the best things you can do is proofread the resume for silly mistakes like spelling errors.
Case in point: When I was an admission counselor, I’ll never forget how one kid wrote “Delivered toilet trees to the community center” on his resume instead of “toiletries.”
Don’t let your kid be the “toilet tree” kid.
Don’t forget to remind your child to add the following:
- Any awards
- Community service achievements
- Academic accomplishments
- Work details
- Anything else your child participates in
Fall: Get Ready for the ACT or SAT — or Not
Does your child need to take the ACT or SAT? You and your child need to decide together whether it’s worth it to take it.
In any normal year, your high school junior would study for the ACT or SAT with gusto. You’d encourage him to start studying for the SAT/ACT and SAT subject tests as soon as the calendar turned to September.
Your best bet is to get on an email chain or get on the phone with admission counselors to help you decide whether your child needs to take one of these tests. If you decide it’s important, start studying using practice exams.
Fall: Take AP Classes
AP classes are standardized exams designed to measure how well your child mastered the content and skills of a specific AP course. Your child takes an end-of-year paper-and-pencil exam to evaluate how well he did on the test.
The benefit? Most U.S. colleges grant credit, advanced placement or both for qualifying AP scores.
Ask about International Baccalaureate, CLEP or dual enrollment courses as well.
Fall: Take the PSAT
The PSAT/NMSQT is offered in the fall. How to get ready for test day: Ask your child’s school counselor when her class will take the PSAT/NMSQT and check out a free practice test. Make sure she eats a healthy breakfast the day of the exam!
Spring: Take the AP Exams
Your child can take the AP Exams every year in May at many high schools and exam centers. Check with your school counselor to learn more.
Spring: Take the ACT or SAT — or Not
If your child elects to take the ACT or SAT or the college your child is looking into requests it, sign up for the ACT or SAT and have your child take one of those tests — not both. Shoot for
Spring: Plan the Senior Year Schedule
Talk with the school counselor about putting together a class schedule for senior year. Encourage your child not to take the easy way out — take classes that aren’t a cake walk during senior year, however tempting it is.
Spring: Plan Campus Visits
Here’s how I advise planning campus visits:
- Use the website only to look up the phone number for the admission office at that school.
- Call the admission office and talk to the campus visit coordinator or someone in a similar role. The campus visit coordinator schedules your visits, particularly if they’re personal campus visits, which are one-on-one visits.
- Talk in detail about your options. Does your child prefer a group campus visit or a personal campus visit?
- Ask about specific requests, like meeting with a specific individual on campus.
- Schedule the visit and go!
All Year: Apply for Scholarships
There’s no law that says your child must wait until he’s a senior to apply for scholarships. Now’s the time to hop online or have your child ask the school counselor if he can apply for community-based scholarships.
I recommend using the Scholarship System to help your child get scholarships — it’s a comprehensive system to get judges to notice your child’s application.
The Scholarship System will give your family all the tools you need to find the perfect scholarships, create competitive applications, save tons of time on the process
All Year: Work on Building Those Relationships
Everyone needs to work on all relationships — with school counselors, admission counselors at colleges, teachers at school (they’ll write your child’s letters of recommendation!) and everyone else you can think of. It’s good in general to build positive relationships, so do your best to make connections with those around you and encourage your child to do the same.
Build these relationships without ulterior motives, too — “If I make friends with this scholarship official, maybe he’ll give me the scholarship…”
No, none of that!
Make genuine connections and friendships without thinking about how you and your child will benefit from the relationship with employers, coaches, activity leaders
Be the Cheerleader
It doesn’t end after the last day of junior year — in some ways, you’re just getting started! Continue to learn more about financial aid, work on visiting more colleges over the summer and write down all deadlines for college applications, college scholarships and more. Encourage your child to apply to colleges the minute applications open — some open over the summer!
Give your child so much encouragement because your high schooler works so hard during this process (hopefully this junior year of high school checklist helps). It’s not easy, especially with so many deadlines, things to remember