Chasing Merit Scholarships? Here’s a High School Junior Year Checklist to Start Following

Chasing Merit Scholarships? Here’s a High School Junior Year Checklist to Start Following

If you have a high school junior and you’re wondering what they should be doing regarding college admissions, this post is for you.

I have two-college freshmen, one college sophomore and a college senior – all four of them in four different colleges right now. They all have at least full-tuition scholarships.

We chased merit because we had to. We knew we wouldn’t get need-based aid and we darned sure didn’t have enough money to pay full freight! ????


Start Focusing With a High School Junior Year Checklist

This is what I did with my own kids and this is the approximate timeline we followed:

Fall Junior Year of High School

SAT/ACT prep.

Your student needs to start studying for the ACT/SAT like it’s their part-time job. (I’m serious.) And they need to register for the upcoming exams.

Be sure they take the test at least by June, 2020. Consider allowing College Board to share their information with prospective colleges. Many will send you fee waivers to apply!

Though a lot of colleges have gone test-optional, if your student can take a test, the score may help them win merit scholarships.

Early in your student’s junior year, it’s also a good idea to start researching scores and GPAs at colleges that your student may be interested in. Check out College Insights to easily gather this information.

Try College Insights!

Spring Junior Year of High School

Make sure you get an unofficial copy of your student’s transcript.

Guidance should be able to simply email it to you. Or it may be on Naviance if your school uses that.

Check it for errors and pay attention to your student’s approximate class rank, GPA, and which courses he/she might actually NEED to complete in their Senior year to meet possible requirements for specific colleges for a particular major.

Also in spring – students should be asking a few teachers and/or a school administrator if they would mind eventually recommending them for college admissions or even scholarship applications that might require it. This will lay the groundwork for good recommendations. Also, keep in mind that these people will need some lead time–at least a month before the earliest deadline–in which to write those letters.

Summer Before Senior Year of High School

By all means, please run the net price calculator for a handful of colleges you’re considering. Google “{college name} + “Net Price Calculator“ to find the NPC.

Look these things:

  • how much it will actually cost you, as parents, out-of-pocket;
  • how much it will cost the student in loans for each potential college and
  • whether a few colleges on your student’s college list have average accepted student stats a lot lower than your student’s GPA and SAT/ACT scores – especially if you’re going to need academic merit scholarships. (This is also described as finding colleges where your student is above the 75th percentile.)

In July, have your student start the Common App, start their essays, and enter the colleges they’re going to consider applying to in the Common App.

In August your student should consider start taking standardized tests again. Take them over and over. Pretty much every month throughout the fall.

Try switching from one (ACT) versus the other (SAT) or vice versa to see which scores come out better. Higher scores and super scoring can mean higher college scholarships and lower costs to you.

Also this summer, tour a few schools that seem closer-to-realistic in terms of affordability and getting accepted. Especially if they say that “demonstrated interest” is considered in their admissions criteria.

Fall Senior Year of High School

Apply Early Action to colleges whenever available, (usually deadlines are between October 15 – December 1 for EA or “priority applications”)

Here’s why: Being early often makes students eligible for higher scholarships than applying in the regular decision pool of applicants.

If binding Early Decision (ED) makes sense, consider applying ED for your top choice if it’s going to be affordable and almost impossible to get in otherwise. But still have all other applications completely ready-to-submit just in case you don’t get in your ED choice.

Complete the FAFSA if you’re applying for any financial aid. Enter the colleges you want to receive your FAFSA information.

Don’t panic about your EFC, (whether it’s high or low) because it’s VERY unlikely you’ll be paying that amount! If needed, complete CSS profile information. (Usually only required by colleges that meet full need, and tend to be very selective.)

Winter Senior Year of High School

Start celebrating acceptances.

Create a spreadsheet breaking down each financial aid offer in terms of: total cost, less the amount of scholarships & grants. Then break out the amount the colleges expect you as parents to pay each year, as well as the amount they expect the student to pay (usually the $5500 in Federal Student Loans.)

This is how you can tell what kind of deal you’re REALLY getting.

Spring Senior Year of High School

Have your accepted student contact top choice colleges asking for additional merit scholarships. Just ask. Because if the college needs more enrollment, often the answer is yes.

Make your decision by May and pay your enrollment deposit.


Paying it Forward

I hope this helps and pays it forward.

I know we could’ve really benefited from at least a general timeline of when to do what when we were floundering around with our firstborn!






Sabrina Malone

Sabrina Malone, best-selling author of the book “Moms on the Job" is the founder and President of – an online powerhouse helping over a half a million families per year save time, energy, and money. Frequently featured on National television and radio, this entrepreneur, homeschooling mom of six and former Mrs. America Pageant Contestant (but that’s a different story) is an engaging, motivational speaker now offering one-on-one college admissions counseling for high school juniors and seniors. Sabrina can be reached at Working Mom