Advice for Juniors

Juniors: Questions to Ask on a College Visit

When visiting a college, admission officers are the best resources for answers to specific questions about the application process, a college’s mission and future plans, and most aspects of daily life on campus— academics, housing, special programs such as study- abroad opportunities, and athletics. But sometimes you get the most information with broader questions about the who, what, and why of the campus. Here are some questions that you may want to ask during an information session or group interview:

• What impresses you the most in a student’s application?

• What are you looking for when you read students’ essays?

• What are some of the things you hate to see in an application?

• Is demonstrated interest a factor in your admission decision?

• What kind of student does well here? What kind of student doesn’t do well here?

• Did you attend this college? What has changed since you’ve been here?

• What are recent alumni doing?

• What do you think your school is best known for?

• How would you describe the typical student here?


Run away! Run away! Michael Thompson on Monty Python and Motivating 11th Graders to Focus on College

Everywhere we speak across the country, we hear from families concerned about or in distress over 11th graders who are in avoidance/denial mode about the college application process. We asked psychologist Michael Thompson, author of The Pressured Child and Homesick and Happy, for his insight into the teenage psyche and his advice about putting those insights into action. Thompson has a talent for translating the science of psychology and anecdotal experience into vivid action items for parents. One of our favorites? Thompson's recounting of advice from a principal that illustrates the danger of becoming an expert on the process before your teenager does. ""If you get too far out in front of your troops," he said, "they may mistake you for the enemy." Join him here today, in part one of his two-part guest post, as he addresses how to have a meeting of the minds with your 11th grader and where Monty Python figures into the process.

Juniors: Know what test-optional means

Students need to check the testing policy of each school to which they're applying and that includes "test-optional" schools.  While "test-optional" means a college is flexible about the submission of standardized test scores, that term may mean something different at each school. At some schools, students are no longer required to submit SAT or ACT scores at all. At others, it means students must submit the results of AP, IB, or SAT Subject Tests in lieu of SAT or ACT results. Eligibility to not submit test scores may be contingent on other factors -- for example, you might need to rank in the top 10 percent of your class or have a GPA of 3.5 or above. Sometimes, there are alternative admission requirements such as the submission of graded papers, additional recommendations or in-person interviews. Pay close attention to the policies and practices of each school in order to determine what your testing plan -- and ultimate college list -- should look like. BTW, a full list of schools with test-optional policies can be found here at FairTest.

Juniors: It's time to think about teacher recommendations

Many colleges require letters of recommendation from the people who know students best in an academic setting -- your high school counselor and teachers.  Letters of recommendation from teachers tell admission officers how students contribute to the academic and intellectual life of their high school. Now is the time to ask those teachers whom you would like to write for you, especially if you are enjoying a class and connecting with the teacher or planning to apply under an early program. You want to ask teachers who know you well and have taught you recently in a challenging class. Many high schools have specific procedures for making requests -- including the earliest and latest dates you may make those requests. Find out your high school's policies and follow them.

For more information about letters of recommendation, including how to ask, what to provide teachers, counselor recommendations and more, see Chapter 12, “Recommendations” in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.

Juniors: Schedule At Least One Interview This Spring

Juniors, we recommend you do at least one interview, if possible, in the spring of junior year in high school. As you visit colleges over spring break, go through the process of interviewing or if there is a college near where you live, schedule an interview there if offered.

You should not interview at your first- choice college at this time. Save the most important interviews— those at schools high on your list— for over the summer or early in senior year. But you can get a sense of what an interview is like only by doing one and it’s better to feel more comfortable with the process before senior year. Check the website of every school on your list to see when the admission office begins interviewing prospective students. Each college has its own policy. Some colleges do not interview students before the senior year while others will interview juniors beginning in spring of junior year.

For more information about interviews, including admission office etiquette and questions to ask, see Chapter 11, “College Interviews” in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.

Juniors: Start your Planning for College Visits

Juniors, now is the time when you and your family should sit down and plan when and where college trips are going to occur. This is another element of approaching the application process wisely by being organized enough so that you and your parents are not constantly nagged by doubts and concerns.

With some dates in mind for visits, then check the website of each of the colleges you plan to visit to obtain dates and times for tours, information sessions, interview availability, and other opportunities. Make a reservation if required. Do this as far in advance as possible so you can get a spot on a date that works for your family. Some schools may not require you to reserve a space for info sessions or tours but ask you to let them know in advance that you’re attending. Do this.

If the college requires or strongly suggests an applicant interview, arrange an appointment for when you are on campus. There are usually a limited number of time slots for interviews, available on a first- come, first- served basis. We’ll have more advice about interviewing next week.


Juniors: Taking the ACT or SAT? Practice, practice, practice...

The winter testing dates for the ACT and SAT are coming up soon:  the SAT will be administered on January 26th and the ACT on February 9th. For many students, practice can improve scores. But if you're listening to your iPod or not taking a timed practice test, you probably won't experience that improvement. Here's how to practice so it means something:

                Practice under actual test conditions. Both tests require students to perform in a fixed amount of time. Sit down in your kitchen with a test book and your No. 2 pencils and have a family member time you.

                Make sure you practice with real tests. The test services call these materials "disclosed" tests -- actual ACT and SAT tests from prior dates. Such tests are available free from the College Board and ACT, Inc. online and in the registration books. If you use a guide from the bookstore or local library, make sure it contains "disclosed" tests.

                Timing matters. Preparation is more effective closer to the test date so right now is perfect timing. Don't wait for the days right before you walk into the test center.

Juniors: Save your Best Classroom Work

Juniors, as you continue to give your best effort in the classroom, create a file for saving examples of your finest work in the classroom, such as graded papers, lab work or tests with teacher comments.  Some colleges may require submission of examples of your classroom work. Or if you apply to a test-optional school, you may be required to submit a graded writing sample or other additional work. Lastly, when you are requesting letters of recommendation at the end of this year, it can be helpful to provide your teachers -- and they may request it -- a graded paper as part of the information they will use to do their job well.

Juniors, Rest, Relax, and Research

Juniors, as you head into winter break, our advice is to relax, rest, and enjoy family and friends. Continue researching schools during your downtime. And as friends return home from their first year at college, have some conversations with them about their experiences -- both about college and the application process. Happy holidays!

Juniors, Finish the Semester Strong

Juniors, as the semester winds down and thoughts of college dance in your head, remember to continue to give your best effort in all your classes and finish strong.  The just-released 10th annual State of College Admission 2012 report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that "academic performance in college prep courses" has been consistently rated as the top factor by colleges in admission decisions for the past decade. In 2011, 84 percent of colleges reported grades in college prep courses as decisive. One more time for emphasis: the grades you earn and the classes you take are important -- and grades in your junior year can be critical. For now, focus your efforts in the classroom… It's almost time for winter break.