College Action Plan for High School Juniors
By Joe Messinger, CFP®
January 10, 2019
Junior year…students can start to see the finish line of high school. They are actively thinking about their next steps–college, career, or maybe military? Things have become REAL! It is the last full year that colleges will have complete grades to evaluate in the student’s application. Parents can start to envision a time when their junior is not around the house all the time. What do junior students and parents need to be thinking about? Planning for? It’s time for a college action plan.
In high school, juniors should be taking advantage of courses and electives that lead to future college and career goals. They should be making sure they are meeting their graduation requirements. Take advantage of your guidance counselor as a valuable resource, and don’t be afraid to seek out help in a challenging class. As we said earlier, junior year coursework is the last full year of grades to show off to colleges. Students need to stay organized.
In January/February of junior year, students will select courses for their senior year. Carefully weigh the selections in view of the students abilities and goals. AP, IB, dual enrollment (College Credit Plus here in Ohio) are all options that might earn college credit and save families money. In addition to saving money, colleges like to see rigor appropriate to that student’s ability in the courses chosen. Is the student challenging themselves?
In all the talk about finding a college and taking the right courses, thinking about a potential career can get lost in the shuffle. Students often kick that down the road. However, students with specific career goals in mind will find the college search so much easier and will avoid extra semesters of college costs which can really add up. Students find success in identifying a college major when they know things about themselves–their interests, skills, challenges, values, etc. Students may need help with this thinking. Sometimes interest surveys can help but don’t be discouraged if they don’t. (At The Core is a valuable resource to help with this thinking.)
Did you know that nearly 80 percent of the jobs in the military are non-combat occupations.
Preparing for College
Students have many decisions available to them for life after high school–career, trade school, community college, 2-year or 4-year degree. All are excellent choices depending on the student and their future goals. If college is the choice, keep track (or work on assembling) all the details about honors/awards, activities, community service, extracurricular activities, and leadership positions in the student’s past high school years. Artists may need a portfolio of their work. Families will need all these details when they fill out the applications in fall of the senior year.
Take advantage of college representative visits at your high school. Athletes will need to register with the NCAA. Make “official” college visits. When the student is younger, families can wander a campus to get a feel for it, but now that application time is nearing, having those “official” visits where you register with the college for a tour and information session is a good idea. Your demonstrated interest is something colleges pay attention to among many other factors. Our blog about college visits has a helpful College Visit Scorecard that might help families stay organized during their visits. Students can work on narrowing down the list of colleges they are interested in based on their preferred criteria–big vs small; urban vs rural vs suburban; etc.
The Common App used by more than 800 colleges goes live on August 1st of senior year. Many early application deadlines are in November or December, but some are as early as October. These dates are sometimes startling for students. They come so fast. A little prep work and thinking can help minimize the stress later. Start brainstorming for essay topics. (Click here for the current essay prompts. They haven’t changed much from year to year.) Think about which teachers you will ask for letters of recommendation from. Identify if the college uses a separate application or supplemental questionnaire. You can find the Common App schools here.
(FYI, if your student could use support starting the application and getting organized, At The Core offers a summer workshop for students.)
Paying for College
If you haven’t already done so, make it a priority to have the college money conversation with the student as soon as possible. Our blog is a great tool for this discussion. It is so important (and will avoid much heartache) if parents and students are on the same page about how much college they can afford! We have seen too many parents who struggle with telling their children “no” when a college is too expensive.
Get the facts about what colleges cost and gain the knowledge you need about financial aid, scholarships, loans, work-study, etc. Parents need to understand how all the puzzle pieces fit together. What aid is available and how do you qualify for it?
Sharing this information is part of our mission every day. If you haven’t already done so, register for one of our Smart Money Moves for the College-Bound™ webinars. We have dates throughout the year. This detailed free webinar will give families a great foundation of knowledge to build on. Other good free resources include our blog page (take advantage of the search bar) and our social media feeds (Twitter and Facebook).
While most merit aid or scholarships are awarded by the colleges themselves, searching for private scholarships can be something ongoing the family and the student works on. Remember to use your guidance counselor as a resource. More tips on the search can be found here. Be sure to pay attention to important deadlines.
Testing – PSAT, ACT, & SAT
Testing, testing, testing. Sometimes it seems like a never ending testing cycle for students. All juniors will take the PSAT/NMSQT in October. The primary purpose of this test is to identify candidates for the National Merit Scholarship awards. The PSAT also can be practice for the SAT. (However in our opinion, a better way to “practice” for the SAT is to take the actual SAT exam itself.)
Ideally, students should have already taken an ACT or SAT test (or both) prior to junior year. Taking them early is great practice to understand the topics covered and the timing involved. If taking the exams for the first time in junior year, don’t panic. Try to take each one at least once. Identify the preferred test for that student, and then take it again 2 or 3 more times prior to senior year. In Ohio, school districts will administer one of these standardized exams in February or March of the junior year.
Summer Before Senior Year
Continue to prepare for the tasks ahead. Visit more colleges together. Make more definite plans. Encourage students to be active over the summer–working a job, volunteering in the community, participating in a camp (maybe a pre-college, on-campus camp in a program of interest for their future).
Most importantly, enjoy this time. Senior year is whirlwind of tasks, events, and activities. Enjoy your summer together before the last year of high school gets underway.