College-Ready Timeline: Your Junior Year

Many students make the mistake of waiting until their senior year to prepare and plan for college. However, college-planning activities should move into full gear in your junior year. The work you do now will prepare you to make the best decision in selecting a college, and give you ample time to research and apply for scholarships and visit campuses. Continue to work toward your goal and you will greatly reduce the anxiety and stress many students feel when senior year comes around.

Take the PSAT or ACT

Why: The Preliminary SAT is a program cosponsored by the College Board. It’s a standardized test that provides firsthand practice for the SAT®. It also gives you a chance to enter NMSC scholarship programs and gain access to college and career planning tools. The PSAT measures critical reading skills, math problem-solving skills, and writing skills. The ACT test assesses high school students’ general educational development and their ability to complete college-level work. The multiple-choice tests cover four skill areas: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. The Writing Test, which is optional, measures skill in planning and writing a short essay.

How: You apply to the PSAT test through your school. Fees, when required, are collected by your school. Fee waivers are available for students whose families cannot afford the test fee; if this applies to you, talk to your counselor. The PSAT test is given in October. In December the results are sent to your school and to the scholarship program that you indicated on your answer sheet in the examination room. Signing up online for the ACT is faster and costs the same as registering by mail with the paper folder. With online registration, you will know immediately if your preferred test center has space for you to test and print your admission ticket.

Tip: If your goal is to win a National Merit Scholarship, then you should invest some serious study time; you must score in the upper 95th–99th percentile to even be considered. If your goal is simply SAT prep, then relax a little bit and use the PSAT as a preview for the real test. Let your final score determine which sections to focus on for the SAT.

Get Involved

Why: Many colleges look to see that students are involved outside the classroom, which shows they are well-rounded.

How: Join a club, or participate in community service, that you truly feel passionate about. If your school does not offer anything you are interested in, consider starting your own! All you need is a group of students who will support your idea and the persistence to make your goal successful. Your school will support your efforts if you can show that you are serious.

Tip: Don’t think joining a ton of clubs will make your application look better. Colleges look at the quality of your participation (what did you accomplish) when accessing your extra-curriculum activities.

Help: Find community service opportunities in your area. (

Get Organized

Why: There’s going to be lots of new information, deadlines and decisions coming your way and the only way to make sense of it all is to stay organized.

How: Invest in a binder with multiple pocket dividers to keep track of information sent to you by colleges. Keep a record of all application and scholarship deadlines and place paperwork and other information in your binder where you can find information easily when you need it.

Tip: Download a free college admission calendar ( into Google, Outlook or iCal and keep track of admissions tasks, and due dates online. Share your schedule with your family, get event reminders via e-email or have text messages sent to your mobile phone.

Research Scholarships

Why: Unless your last name is Rockefeller, you will most likely need help paying for college. Scholarship programs require students to complete and submit an application. The process can be as simple as sending in an application form, or as complicated as writing a number of essays and providing detailed transcripts.

How: Searching online is a good way to get started. There are many scholarship search sites to choose from. Also consider other sources such as:

Tips: Personal stories provide unique ideas and a backdrop for scholarship committees to really get to know the applicants. Focus on your school, work and volunteer experiences. Remember to track application deadlines and submit all applications on time so you don’t miss out on any scholarship opportunities.

More: Below is a list of scholarship resources available online.

Explore Career Paths

Why: Understanding what’s required for a successful career path can help you during the college selection process. Which college has the best program for my career field? Will an internship or a study abroad program enhance my educational experience and contribute to my career success?

How: Conduct information interviews with successful people in your intended career path. They can help you understand what programs and educational experiences were beneficial for them. Your school may also provide other career discovery resources. Check with your guidance counselor for more information.

Tip: Many colleges offer summer programs where students can “explore” career options in their intended major. Check the college Web site or contact the admissions office to ask if the college offers such a program.

Visit Colleges

Why: One of the best ways to help you determine if a college is the “right fit” is to visit campus. Seeing first hand your potential home will help you determine if it is the place for you academically, socially and financially.

How: Most schools run tours and open houses though out the year. Many schools offer immersion visits where you can “shadow” a student in class for a day or stay on campus for a weekend. These longer programs can be great for getting personalized one on one time with faculty, coaches, students and financial planners.

Tips: Don’t forget to bring along your “college wish list.” Take photos when you’re out on tour so you can remember what you liked (and didn’t like) about each college visit. Spend some time with current students and professors. They can give you an insider’s view on what the college is really like.

Apply for Early Enrollment Program (if available)

Why: Some colleges offer early entrance programs that allow high school seniors to start their college education while still in high school. These students typically are able to graduate earlier and start their careers ahead of their peers. Not all colleges offer early entrance programs however and eligibility may vary by college. Check with the admissions office or college website to see if they offer the program.

Tips: Discuss the possibility with your academic advisor about entering into an early entrance program. They can assist you in understanding if you qualify for the program.

Junior Year Assessment

As you enter your senior year it’s critical that you don’t slack off now. Take an assessment of your accomplishments and plan ahead for your senior year.

  • Review your senior year class schedule with your counselor. Continue to challenge yourself and keep your grades up.
  • Plan your extra-curriculum activities. Do you need to take a more active role to allow you to build upon your skills? Admissions offices look at the level of involvement and your accomplishments when reviewing your application.
  • Consider volunteering, getting a job or finding an internship for the summer. It’s a great way to network and obtain recommendation letters, make money and build upon your student résumé.
  • Schedule campus visits and create a campus checklist to take with you. (
  • Learn about money management ( to prepare for college life before you arrive on campus.
  • Continue to research scholarship opportunities and submit your applications. Be sure to track your submissions and meet all deadline dates.
Categories: College, College & Career Advice