By Jacqueline Palochko
Comments in this story were first published in our Paying for College 101 (PFC 101) Facebook community. They’ve been edited for clarity and flow.
It’s no secret that junior year of high school is an important one academically for students who are hoping to get into college.
It’s also the year before most families and students are overwhelmed with applications and figuring out financial aid. To help plan ahead, PFC 101 member Shannon G. reached out to parents of high school seniors for advice. She asked what other families accomplished during junior year that made the senior application process easier. Here are some of their answers:
Ask for Recommendations
Colleges typically put a lot of stock into the teacher recommendation letter. But teachers can get swamped with so many requests. A few parents noted they told their children to ask for teacher recommendations before senior year.
One parent shared that her daughter waited until senior year to ask for letters, and despite being a top student, some teachers were already too booked to write another letter.
“As an 11th grade AP English teacher, I can’t love this enough! I try to write most of my college recommendations for seniors over the summer – when I have time and energy. By the time fall rolls around, I am exhausted and extremely busy. I tell my juniors to ask in May or June!”– Miranda D.
Start Writing Essays During Junior Year
Several parents said they used school breaks during junior year to encourage their students to write their college essays. “I had my junior start writing essays before senior year. One over winter break, one over spring break, and one during the summer going into senior year. There’s much less stress to have them done, and it’s easy to modify if needed.” – Dianna H.
Maryann D. wished she had her child write more essays during the summer before senior year because many colleges’ honors programs or scholarships require them. It can be very time consuming and challenging.
Think About Future Careers
Choosing a college major can be a daunting task. An estimated 20 to 50% of college students start undecided.
“Job shadowing at careers they are interested in can help them to get experience before deciding on what college has their major.” – Kimberly E.
Christina B. said she brought her son to city council meetings his junior year because he expressed an interest in politics.
Tracey L. called local business owners, explained her son didn’t know what he wanted to do and asked if he could shadow for a couple of days. The places were all for the trades, and the experience made her son realize he wanted a business degree.
Give Your Students a Sense of Independence
Several parents said junior year was when they started to give their children more independence to get them ready for being on their own at college.
“I stopped micromanaging things and took a step back, and let them succeed and fail to prepare for college…” – Jennifer N.
Robin A. said she asked her daughter to make her own doctor’s appointments, manage and budget her finances, and help with meal planning.
Visit College Campuses
“We started touring universities in-person. No matter how good things look on paper or in a virtual tour, there is NOTHING like being there. My daughter ruled out what she thought would be her top choices after touring the university and surrounding area.” – Maya E.
Senior year can be an extremely busy year to schedule college tours. That’s why Jennifer G. said her family visited schools junior year “so we could focus on applications, FAFSA, and scholarships” senior year.
“We visited like 15 schools from February to April and two in August. There’s no way that would’ve been possible this fall.” –Amanda W.
Make the Most of Your Time Together
For a lot of parents, junior year is when they start to realize their child is leaving home soon. So in between the hustle of applying to schools and figuring out the future, it’s important to slow down and savor the experiences.
Carolyn A. scheduled a coffee date every two weeks with her daughter to discuss the college to-do-list. It not only gave them more time together, but provided some unexpected benefits: “It made for a much more pleasant interaction between us, and allowed her to really lead the way and be responsible.”
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