Jump-Start College Planning
Your junior year of high school is a key year in the college planning process. This is the year many of you will take standardized tests like the SAT and ACT for the first time, take upper-level honors, AP, or IB classes, strengthen your participation in extra-curricular activities, explore internship and volunteer opportunities, and begin researching colleges.
It’s important to use this year to continue building your stellar academic record—or repairing it if you had a shaky start to high school. College admissions counselors like seeing an upward trajectory in students’ records, so don’t worry if you didn’t have the best start your freshman year; there’s always an opportunity to do better right now and make it count. With the goal of maximizing your junior year, we’ve compiled this list of best practices to help you get a jump-start on college planning:
1. Stay on track with your classes and grades.
You’re in the final stretch of your high school career. Make these last two years count and do everything you can to build a solid academic record. By putting in the work now, you’re setting yourself up to be eligible for different kinds of scholarships that can help you pay for college. Did you hear that, parents? Money. For. College.
2. Think about whether you want to take the SAT, ACT, or both.
Start looking at the websites for these standardized tests and familiarize yourself with the testing schedule as well as the processes and fees for signing up. Explore whether your school or community offers free test preparation for either or both of these tests. Then, take a practice test and see how you do. This will give you a good baseline of your preparedness and help you determine your next steps (i.e. More test prep? Ready to schedule the real deal?). If you are ready to take the real test, kind in mind that some schools offer waivers that allow you to register for them without having to pay fees; ask your high school counselor or teacher to help you find out if you’re eligible for a fee waiver.
3. Take time to think about your educational goals.
What do you see yourself doing after high school and how do you want to get there? There are so many options for continuing your education so you can pursue your goals. For example, there are vocational schools, two-year colleges, and four-year colleges and universities. In addition to being a nationally recognized urban research I institution offering bachelor’s and graduate degrees, Georgia State also offers a two-year associate’s degree at its Perimeter College campuses throughout metro Atlanta for students who’d prefer to ease their way into the rigors of college coursework. At Georgia State, our students can choose the path that’s right for them!
4. Begin gathering information about different colleges and universities and narrow down your top choices, if possible.
It’s helpful to think about which classes or subjects you excel at in high school and then ask yourself, “Is there a subject I truly enjoy and want to learn about more deeply?” This is a good way to identity which major or program you might like to pursue in college. Now that you’ve done that, you can begin to look for colleges or universities that offer those majors or programs, including how they rank and what kind of support they provide their students. If you love everything you’ve studied and find it difficult to narrow down your interests, you can approach your college search by looking at liberal arts colleges that offer quality education in several areas and encourage you to take a variety of classes to figure out your best fit. Alternately, looking at larger universities can also help you find your best fit because these kinds of institutions typically offer a wider range of majors and programs than smaller colleges, thereby leaving open the availability of alternate choices should you decide to change your area of focus as an undergraduate. It’s also helpful to be mindful of what kind of environment you think you might thrive in: a smaller, close-knit campus that caters to their students’ needs or a larger, sprawling campus that offers more independence.
5. Are you involved in your school or community?
Admissions counselors like seeing applicants who have demonstrated their involvement in and contribution to their schools and communities. It suggests the maturity of the student and his or her ability to manage time and fulfill commitments. If you’ve already gotten involved in activities that contribute to your community and/or help you develop your passions or talents, then keep up the good work and continue to make your mark. If you haven’t, don’t worry—there’s still time to get started!
Join a club at school or look for opportunities to volunteer within your town. Choose something that’s genuinely interesting or fulfilling to you and then stick with it; trust us, you’ll gain so much more if you are working within an area or as part of a group that you enjoy. In addition, keep in mind that colleges like to see consistency and depth of participation (i.e. such as taking on leadership roles) within applicants’ extra-circular activities.
6. Talk with your family and wider support network about your college plans.
It’s important to have support from your family and wider social network throughout the college search and application process. Talk with your parents, guardians, and trusted friends or mentors about what you’d like to do after high school. Get their perspective and advice, while keeping in mind that you must stay true to yourself and your own goals. Ask them how they can help you make a plan and stay on track to meeting those goals. Having the support of others will also be important when it’s time to start visiting college campuses, which you could begin doing during your junior year.
These represent a few tips we hope you find helpful as you navigate your junior year of high school. For additional resources, check out our First-Generation website, where we’re compiled lots of useful information for students and their families. While the site specifically addresses students who will be the first in their families to attend college, it’s also a terrific resource for any and all students thinking about attending college. Visit firstgen.gsu.edu today!