Happy New Year, juniors! The mantle has been passed from the seniors to you. Now it's your turn to go through the college admissions process.
Here are some things you should be thinking about over the next few months:
Academics: Focus on doing well in your classes. You will be applying next fall, so the grades from junior year are the last grades most colleges will see unless they request a first semester senior year transcript. Make an effort to participate in class and get to know your teachers better. Colleges prefer letters of recommendation from a student's junior year because those teachers are most familiar with the depth and breadth of a student's work.
Extracurricular activities: Participate, lead, follow through. By junior year you should have determined the clubs and activities that are most meaningful to you. Be engaged in your activities and don't create a long list of "do nothing" clubs. You are better off getting involved in one or two activities that require a bigger time commitment but offer you activities you enjoy.
College search: Continue researching colleges using guidebooks, college websites, virtual college tour websites (youniversitytv.com) and college review websites (collegeprowler.com, unigo.com). Pick a few academic majors of interest and compare the course offerings at the colleges you're considering. Prioritize your social interests: Greek life, clubs/organizations, school spirit, access to urban/cultural life. Identify the "deal-breakers": "If a college doesn't offer me this, I won't apply."
Courses for next year: Give careful consideration to your course selection. Senior year is not a time to chill. Although colleges may not see your performance in those classes, the rigor of your coursework is important in their decision.
Campus visits: Try to take advantage of every teacher workday and visit as many colleges on your list as possible. Spring break is the best time to visit, as long as the college is in session. Match your schedule with the colleges you intend to visit. January is not too early to book campus visits; because it is the best time, some colleges fill up. Make sure to research before you visit. You should only be spending time and money visiting colleges you feel certain will make it to your final list.
Testing: You should have received your scores from the PSAT you took in October. Now you can determine if you want to try the ACT and if you need to prep for either test. Be sure to check each college's testing requirements to find out whether you'll need to take SAT subject tests as well.
Organization: Set up a place and files for college materials. Recycle or throw away mailings from colleges where you won't be applying. Buy or borrow guide books. Get to know your guidance/college counselor and the College/Career Center resources at school. Make sure you are on an email list that informs you of workshops and college visits.
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.