Junior Year – 11th Grade College Planning Checklist
It’s your child’s junior year in high school and there’s still a global pandemic raging. What’s the impact on their college application process?
More schools are becoming test-optional, and admissions officers are aware of a shift to pass/fail grading systems and the cancellation of many high school clubs and sports.
Contrary to what you might think, it all adds up to an opportunity to create a college application packet that showcases your student’s unique skills, personality, and potential for success on campus.
Here’s a checklist of what you r high school junior needs to know and do.
Junior Checklist During COVID-19
College admissions officers will look at 9th and 10th grade transcripts and Grade Point Averages, especially for applicants whose high schools switched to pass/fail during the pandemic.
It’s not a bad idea to look into online community college courses that offer credit for both high school and college, which will give your child a leg up on college credit and stand out to admissions officers.
Admissions officers look for a long-term commitment to a few activities so help your child get creative about continuing their pursuits virtually.
Can they join an online language exchange in lieu of Spanish club, or participate in virtual races if the track season is canceled?
Online courses, outdoor concerts in your neighborhood, and creative pursuits should all be documented and included in their college application.
This includes telling colleges about activities that were canceled due to COVID-19.
If the ACT or SAT is being offered in your area, you may want to consider having your student take the test to have it as a baseline and/or as an option to submit to schools that are not test-optional.
But don’t fret if your child is not able to take a test during the pandemic. With the transition to a holistic review, many colleges have become test-optional in the short term and may permanently waive testing requirements.
Virtual Admissions Events
Some schools have already opened their campuses up for in-person visits, however, the majority have not. Until they do, virtual visits are the way to go.
Once your child has their list of 10 to 15 schools they are thinking of applying to, it’s a good idea to attend virtual campus tours (self-guided or student ambassador led), online recruiter presentations, or one-on-one video conferencing sessions with admissions officers.
Check each school’s website for the virtual offerings, in addition to other valuable information, of each admissions office.
Talk to Your College Counselor
Most high schools have at least one college counselor or guidance counselor whose primary role is to assist juniors and seniors with college applications and to ensure students meet the requirements to enter college upon high school graduation.
They might have their own high school checklist for you to follow. Scheduling a meeting or phone call early with your child’s counselor will ensure everyone is on the same page about your child’s academic goals, class schedule, and application deadlines.
Have a Real Discussion About Paying for College
This is the year to have a real discussion about college costs, what your family can afford, how much debt you and your child are willing to take on, and what your student can do to improve their academics and extracurricular involvement.
Research each school online, checking if the potential major is available and course requirements. It’s also worthwhile to look at a school’s student newspaper and career center for insight into college life.
Request information from the colleges your student wants to learn more about.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form completed by current and prospective college students to determine eligibility for financial aid. Filling out this form ( it opens on October 1) during senior year provides the federal government with the information it needs to calculate your expected family contribution (EFC).
It’s important for families to understand how FAFSA calculates their EFC. Colleges use your EFC to calculate financial need, need-based aid, and how much aid your child will be offered.
It’s never too early to get a peek at what your EFC might be. There are several tools to estimate your EFC. The two we recommend are the College Board EFC Calculator and a home-grown EFC spreadsheet created by a member of our Paying For College 101 group.
Note that as of July, 2023, there will be many changes on the FAFSA form. It’s good to plan ahead and familiarize yourself with those changes now.
Many students take the SAT or ACT two or three times before they are happy with their result, so review scheduled dates and give your child enough time to retake the test if they want.
Make sure your student takes the most rigorous classes possible. Grades and level of course difficulty are important to admissions officers. It’s equally important to select rigorous courses for senior year as colleges do look at first-semester senior transcripts.
Your child should continue to pursue their extracurricular interests and take on leadership roles as club officer, sports captain, organization founder, or shift leader at work. Whether at school or in the community, the in-depth pursuit of an interest reflects a student’s passions. According to independent college counselor Lisa Bleich, colleges are looking for students who are unique, focused, and angular in their interests rather than “well-rounded” students.
Review the 9th and 10th grade checklist. Make note of net prices for each school on your child’s list. A parent’s tax year, starting January of a student’s sophomore year and ending December of junior year, will be used to make financial aid decisions during the college admissions process. Continue your scholarship search, but don’t ever pay a fee to apply for a scholarship. The chances of winning a scholarship are highest when applying to those that are locally sponsored.
Essay Prep and Recommendations
Create a physical and online folder of information and brochures on various schools. Keep track of the Common App essay dates; they are usually released late spring or early summer. Brainstorm as many essay ideas as you can with your child so they can start working on their application over the summer. There is too much pressure once senior year begins and good essays need time to cultivate and be revised.
Which teachers would your child like to reach out to for recommendations? Since they get swamped with requests, students should ask them before the end of junior year.
It’s good to have a full picture of what some of the recommendation and evaluation forms are that teachers are asked to fill out before asking for recommendations. Understanding the forms and questions may influence which teachers your student decides to ask.
When asking for recommendations, it’s helpful if your student provides a summary (also known as a brag sheet) of their personal and academic interests, clubs, and extracurricular activities they are involved in, along with highlights of their involvement in the teacher’s class. This should make it easier for the teacher to write a recommendation and hopefully a stronger one as well.
By following this junior year checklist, especially during the pandemic, your child will not only be better equipped to handle anything that comes their way, but feel more confident about the application process.
CONNECT WITH OTHER PARENTS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT
HOW TO PAY FOR COLLEGE
JOIN ONE OF OUR FACEBOOK GROUPS: