Junior Year in High School: College Planning Guide

Junior Year in High School: College Planning Guide


Academic and Extra Curricular:

  • Talk about college with your student. This is the year to have a real discussion about college costs, what your family can afford, how much debt you and your student are willing to take on, and what your student can do to improve his/her academics and extra curriculum involvement.
  • Make sure your student takes the most rigorous classes possible. Grades and course rigor are important to admissions officers. 
  • Continue pursuing extra curriculum interests. Whether at school or in the community, the in-depth pursuit of an interest reflects something that you are passionate about. According to independent college counselor Lisa Bleich, colleges no longer want “well-rounded” students, but rather are looking for students who are unique, focused, and angular in their interests.
  • Create a test prep plan for taking your first SAT and/or ACT.  Take the PSAT and PLAN. Review the year’s scheduled dates for SATs, ACTs, and SAT subject tests. Depending on your student’s results, plan test dates so they can take the test twice before the start of senior year. Senior year is very stressful and students should consider taking the SAT/ACT in the fall of senior year only if they feel they can do better than previous tests. The summer before 11th grade, make a plan for test prep and a schedule for which SAT/ACT tests you plan on taking.
  • Get serious discussing majors and careers your student may be interested in.
  • Start creating a draft list of colleges with your student that he/she may be interested in. Include schools that are reach, most likely, safety, as well as schools that will be financial safety schools that your family can afford. 
  • Research each school online – check out if the potential major is available and course requirements. It’s also worthwhile to look at a school’s student newspaper and career center. 
  • Request information from the colleges your student is interested in.
  • Start visiting schools, if possible, at times when students are still on campus. Prepare questions to ask campus tour guides. Write down your impressions as soon as the tour has finished.
  • Attend college fairs in your area and sign in at schools your student is interested in.
  • Think about teacher recommendations, and consider which teachers you would like to ask for recommendations.
  • Organize all your information. Create a physical and online folder to keep your information and brochures.
  • Keep track of Common App essay dates. They are usually released late spring or early summer.
  • Start brainstorming essay ideas, as many as you can.
  • Start working on applications and essays over the summer. There is too much pressure once senior year begins and good essays need time for cultivation and revisions.
  • Make the most of this summer. Use your summers to continue pursuing your out of school interests or fine-tune any academics you’d like to strengthen. 
  • Don’t create accounts on college search websites. Just use the sites to search and compare. Many of these sites track online actions that you may not be aware of and sell this information, along with your data as leads to colleges.

College Financial:

  • Review all suggestions from the 9th -10th grade list. They still apply.
  • Consider schools that are “financial safety” schools. Include schools that are “financial safety” schools on the list.
  • Make a list of net prices at each school on the list. Start looking into net price calculators for the schools on your student’s list. The College Board has a link to every school’s net price calculator. 
  • Know which financial aid forms and calculations each school that is on your student’s college list uses.  Pay attention to the FAFSA and CSS Profile. Some schools use one or both of these forms. Know that ahead of time before applying. A parent’s tax year, starting January of a student’s sophomore year and ending December of junior year, is the tax year that will be used to make financial aid decisions during the college admissions process. Start understanding what options you may have to maximize your financial aid eligibility. 
  • Continue your scholarship search. Be wary of “no essay” scholarships or ones that don’t ask for much information – they are just like sweepstakes, with companies looking to gather your information. Don’t ever pay a fee to apply for a scholarship. Chances of winning a scholarship are highest when applying to locally sponsored scholarships, so start researching a creating a list. Review Confessions of a Scholarship Winner.











Debbie Schwartz is former financial services executive and founder of Road2College and the Paying For College 101 Facebook group. She's dedicated to providing families with trustworthy information about college admissions and paying for college. With data, tools and access to experts she's helping families become educated consumers of higher ed.