Junior year: A countdown to college

Student,s from left, Carlos Larin, Joceyln Rodriguez, Bryce Student,s from left, Carlos Larin, Joceyln Rodriguez, Bryce Coleman and Juan-Carlos Quijada listen during a College Prep Math and Science program at Hempstead High School. (Sept. 16, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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You’ve just started your junior year, and you’re feeling pretty good, right? You’re an upperclassman; you’re playing on the varsity team; you’re this close to getting your driver’s license. Life is awesome.

We don’t want to burst your bubble, but while you’re enjoying high school, you also need to prepare -- seriously -- for college. By this time next year, you’ll be putting the finishing touches on your applications, suffering from incurable senioritis and admiring yourself in your newest university t-shirts.

College is closer than you think, and to help you prepare, we’ve created this step-by-step guide. You can thank us later.

Right now: You’ve probably already taken the PSAT. It’s a good indicator of how you’ll perform on the SAT (coming soon to a Saturday morning near you), and it also qualifies you for the Merit Scholarship competition if you score high enough. If you missed the PSAT, ask your guidance counselor for some SAT prep materials.

If you plan to play college sports, you can begin contacting college coaches. Ask your coaches for help determining schools that will suit your skill sets. Remember: If you play a spring sport, this year is probably the only time for college coaches to watch you in action. Start preparing a video of yourself in action.

All year. Take your grades seriously. For college admissions reps, your junior year is the last full academic year that they will see on your transcripts when deciding whether to admit you.

As if that’s not enough, you also need to show involvement in your school or community. Take a leadership position if you can, or devote yourself to volunteer work with a group you believe in. Beef up that resume a bit.

November

Get resourceful. Does your school offer financial-aid nights or college fairs? Grab a parent and go. Ask a lot of questions and listen to the answers.

December

Start planning visits to local colleges, even if you don’t want to go to school close to home. The visits will help you get a feel for what you like and don’t like—large, small, public, private, social life driven by Greek organizations, campus run by artsy bohemians. You get the picture.

January

Start a list of possible schools. How? Your guidance counselor probably has books, college brochures and DVDs. You can also visit sites such as the College Board’s College Matchmaker (at collegesearch.collegeboard.com/search/index.jsp) or the Princeton Review’s Counselor-o-Matic (at princetonreview.com/com.aspx), to get a list of schools that fit your academic profile, interests and preferences. Then request info on the schools’ websites.

Talk to your parents. They will probably play a very big role in your college search, particularly when it comes to determining what your family can afford. Talk to them about your expectations and theirs.

Take a look at ACT and SAT test dates. You’ll want to take at least one standardized test this spring or early summer, and you must register five or six weeks in advance (or risk paying a late fee). Get the dates at actstudent.org and sat.collegeboard.com.

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February

Prepare for SATs and ACTs. Your guidance counselor probably has some sample tests, and you might want to sign up for a prep course through a local testing center.

March

Meet with your guidance counselor about your schedule for next year. Opt for a couple of classes that will challenge you: Most colleges would rather see you get a “B” in a tough course than an “A” in an easy one.

April

Keep prepping for those standardized tests. If you’ve already taken one, give yourself a little break.

May

Narrow down your list and plan campus visits in the summer, when it’s easier to travel. Line up a summer job so you can have some serious cash for your freshman year. (You’ll need it.)

Summer

Visit, work and try your best to keep senioritis at bay – at least until the fall.

Want to know more? Pick up a copy of our new College Planning and Resource Guide from your high school guidance counselor or call 631-843-2630. It’s FREE, has 2D barcodes and a planning timeline!

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Tips for Parents

Schedule college chats. You don’t want to talk about college every time you chat with your student, so agree on one night a week when you’ll touch base. That way, the pressure’s off the rest of the week.

Visit campuses with your child. One of the best ways you can help your student find the right school is to join him on this journey—and college visits are the best way to learn about what makes one school different from another.

Be honest about your finances. Take a serious look at what your family can afford—and tell your student the truth. She deserves to have this information up front.

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