I had a post all ready to go about “how to help your high school junior” — then COVID-19 hit. I almost chucked the whole post out.

It’s easy to see why — it was about tackling the ACT or SAT, making an appointment with your child’s school counselor and more. 

Guess what? Your high school junior can still do most of this get-ready-for college stuff. Your fears that your junior will be way behind is natural. But there’s good news: Colleges and universities are now faced with a whole cohort of students who will have to play catch-up.

Things have changed, yes, but in many ways, they really did stay the same. Here’s how to help your high school junior right now!

1. Have your high school junior talk to his or her school counselor.

One of my friends is a high school English teacher. She’s been watching the progression of her juniors and told me that her school’s college counselor is holding Zoom meetings with families so they’re on track with financial planning, scholarship pursuits and registering for senior year classes.

Talk with your child’s college and career counselor — it doesn’t have to be through Zoom, but it’s a good idea to have a conversation over the phone if it doesn’t happen online. Here are a few things you may want to talk about: 

  • High school schedule for senior year
  • AP or college credit classes
  • Colleges on your child’s radar and any others that the counselor would recommend
  • College admission questions
  • College application timeline questions
  • Scholarship and financial aid options — particularly local scholarships

Gather a list of questions ahead of time with your child and yes, join the call!

2. Start getting your high school junior ready for the ACT or SAT.

The April ACT has been rescheduled for June and the May SAT has been canceled. To put a positive spin on it, this means that your child has more time to study for the ACT or SAT. (Hurray, right?!) Here’s what he or she can start doing to get ready for either test. 

Whether your child is taking the ACT or SAT (please know that one isn’t better than the other and colleges are good with either one), the most important thing to do is get familiar with each section on each test by studying for it.

Here’s a quick comparison between the two tests. 

Type of testAchievement test that aims to pinpoint what you’ve learned in school.Aptitude test that analyzes your verbal and reasoning skills.
Sections of the testEnglish, mathematics, reading, science and optional essay testsReading, writing and language, math, optional essay tests
Test length2 hours, 55 minutes (3 hours, 55 minutes with essay)3 hours (3 hours, 50 minutes with essay)

First things first. Suggest that your son or daughter does a diagnostic test. Time pressure is a huge factor on the ACT and SAT, so finding out how well your son or daughter can handle that is a great place to start. For example, if your son has trouble finishing the math test but does well in all other tests, that’s a good place to focus.

Make sure your child takes an official ACT practice test or SAT practice test to pinpoint weaknesses. 

A few suggestions:

  1. Have your child time each test accurately — yes, to the second! You can be a big help here.
  2. Be sure your child takes the required break, just like the regular test. 
  3. Eliminate distractions. 
  4. Try to help your child simulate actual test conditions as much as possible. Have your kiddo go through all the tests in order to get a feel for what it’ll be like. 

Once you’ve identified which test or tests will be a challenge for your son or daughter, it’s time to practice! You can find all sorts of mock tests online that resemble the actual test and you can also buy study books, too.

3. Make a list of schools. 

In lockdown from COVID-19 right now? It’s a great time to bend your heads over a laptop and start doing some research. What are the characteristics your child wants in a school?

What’s on your own wish list? (You may have to be careful how you phrase this, depending on how open to your input your high school junior is.) Consider: 

  • Academic programs
  • Athletic programs
  • Extracurricular opportunities
  • Location
  • Scholarship opportunities
  • Parent/family connections
  • Word of mouth that a school is excellent
  • Other factors that make that particular school appealing

Next, take a look at your child’s credentials and learn the colleges’ admission rates, median GPAs and SAT and ACT scores to figure out whether there’s any chance of admission. 

  • Any school that admits only a small percentage of applicants is a reach school. A college should be considered a reach for your kiddo if her test scores and GPA are below (or at the lower end of) what a college typically accepts.
  • On the other hand, her GPA could align with that of accepted students. Bingo! You’ve identified a target school!
  • A safety school is one that accepts a high percentage of applicants. Your child’s GPA and test scores go above and beyond the qualifications.

You may want to start a handy spreadsheet to identify these schools and continue to add to the list.

4. Do a virtual visit.

So many schools are hosting virtual visits right now — they’re making their own and hiring companies to complete virtual visits if they didn’t have comprehensive virtual visits before COVID-19. It’s virtual visit time! Check out my post on technology tips during COVID-19.

Depending on the school, you might experience simple click-through photos of different buildings. On the other hand, you might encounter really cool interactive options that offer photos and videos plus 360-degree photos. Some of these sites really do a great job of appealing to visual learners!

5. Reach out to colleges. 

Virtual visits can go beyond just a virtual tour of the campus. You can reach out to an admission counselor, financial aid officer, coach — anyone who normally would have been on your list for a regular visit. Call the admission office and ask whether you and your son or daughter will be able to visit with these people using tech options. Doing this gives you a more comprehensive look at what a college has to offer. Make a list of questions you and your high school junior would like to ask, including:

  • Campus life (including meal plans and housing)
  • Majors and minors the college offers
  • Admission requirements
  • The application process (including whether that will change due to COVID-19)
  • Cost of attendance and financial aid options

And yes, join your teen on this call! It’s just like a college visit.

6. Have your high school junior laser focus on grades and updating that resume.

My high school teacher friend says, “Our school has asked that we focus more on our students’ well-being than academics, but that doesn’t mean they don’t learn anything. My juniors will finish Macbeth tomorrow!” She says she usually teaches Shakespeare by reading aloud but now uses YouTube clips, questioning and EdPuzzle to pull it all together. “My school and many others were lucky enough to already implement tools like Canvas, Blackboard or GoogleClassroom prior to this, so the challenges have been slightly less stressful,” she says.

She also told me this. “I also teach three sections of seniors, and they have divulged that they are dealing with an all-new style of senioritis. Now they struggle to get online to attend Zoom meetings because their bed is calling out to them. When attending school traditionally, the greatest senioritis temptations were to skip this chapter, do that assignment in study hall, or show up five seconds (or minutes) late. Now, classes take place in their living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms next to televisions and gaming systems. The temptations to do something else other than school is greater than ever.”

Yikes. It’s easy to see how juniors can fall prey to this, too. But just because school is taking place in dining rooms and living rooms and feels totally not like school, it’s more important than ever to keep academics top of mind.

Some teachers have optional office hours, so students are encouraged to make contact when they are confused or frustrated. Your junior can take advantage of this to focus on that all-important GPA and even get help formatting her resume.

Your high school junior might stay camped out on a tablet, phone or laptop all day. Don’t forget to encourage regular breaks — kids need to get up, take a walk or run and get the blood going again.

7. Have the scholarship and money talk.

Have you and your child had the money talk yet? It may be time. (Check out 5 Top Tips for Easing Financial Fears About Paying for College.)

Have you had to shut off the app to your retirement account because you really aren’t interested in watching it drop anymore? Even if you aren’t paying close attention to your retirement accounts, maybe you are paying attention to your teen’s 529 plan, custodial account, savings account — or wherever you’re stashing your child’s college money.

First, the good news is that your child is a junior and many, many experts expect the stock market to recover in a jiffy once the worst of the coronavirus outbreak is over.

There’s also good news for student loan borrowers. Interest rates have dropped to record lows. Federal Direct student loans may dip to 1.5% to just above 3% for 2020 student borrowers — possibly even lower.

The Federal Parent PLUS loan could come down almost 2%. Private student loans may start as low as 3%.

Finally, don’t forget to come up with a plan to tackle scholarships! The College Board offers a scholarship search tool you can look at together and it’s a good idea to talk to your high school junior’s guidance counselor about community scholarships.

Come Up with a Plan for the Fall

Your junior will experience a time crunch in the fall. High school juniors are a hard-hit group (after this year’s seniors, of course.) Your junior will have to squish in:

  • Any of those college visits you and your junior didn’t experience this spring.
  • Any academics and extracurricular activities he or she missed this spring will be pushed into the next academic year.
  • ACT/SAT makeup dates will have to happen in the fall or winter.

What other stressors will show up later? Discuss these changes with your high school junior so you’ll both know how you’ll tackle them in a way that (maybe) isn’t so stressful.

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