It’s January – Juniors, Start Your College Search

High school juniors who have just watched older classmates go through the stress of applying to college might want to avoid the topic of college, but that will only make things more difficult later. Some of my seniors finished their college applications by Thanksgiving and were able to enjoy their recent winter vacation, while others waited until the last minute and had a miserable winter break rushing to get their applications done by January 1. 
If you will be applying to college next year, getting started now can make the process less stressful and more rewarding. Knowing what you need to do is the first step in taking control. Then you can make a plan, which further reduces anxiety.
You’ve probably heard it a hundred times, but it is true that junior year grades are crucial. Since colleges look at the trend as well as the cumulative GPA, ending junior year with your best grades can give your application a boost, which is especially important if your  freshman year grades were not so strong.
Most students take the SAT and/or ACT this semester. If you haven’t made a testing schedule, this is the time to choose test dates and register. If you plan to take a March or April exam, you’ll want to give yourself two months to prepare, which means you should be starting soon.
Talk to older friends or relatives who are currently in college. They can give you great information about their school. But they also have wisdom to share about the college admission process. Ask them how they approached the college search and what they wish they had done differently when they were applying to college.
Start putting together a list of colleges that appeal to you. Read guidebooks and research colleges online. Go to each school’s website, where you can learn about academic programs and student life. You can also access most college newspapers online. This is a great way to learn about activities on campus, as well as what issues students are discussing. Here’s where you can read about concerts or lectures on campus this weekend, budget cuts that will impact course offerings next year, or a recent crime wave in the surrounding neighborhood.
If there is a college fair in your area, be sure to attend. This is a good opportunity to talk to admissions officers, and sometimes alumni, who can answer questions about colleges you’re considering.
You get better at visiting colleges once you’ve done it a few times. So start with local colleges, even if you’re sure you want to go farther away. By visiting a small liberal arts college and a big university, you’ll get a sense of which environment feels right for you. And you might find you really do like a school that’s nearby.
If you can travel during spring break, that’s the perfect time to visit colleges that are farther away. Once you have decided which colleges you most want to see, check the tour and information session schedules, which should be available on each school’s website, and make reservations. Some admissions offices will arrange for prospective students to attend a class and have lunch with a student, or even stay overnight, and this can help you get a better sense of what it would be like to be a student at the college.
Check the admissions requirements for each college you like. If you find that you need SAT Subject Tests, better to know now so you can take those exams in May or June, rather than finding out in September that you should have taken the Chemistry Subject Test when you were finishing the course in June. Researching admissions requirements in the spring also gives you the summer to find a summer college course or enrichment program and choose senior year courses that will enhance your application.
While these suggestions are aimed at juniors, ambitious sophomores can also start researching prospective colleges and learning about admission requirements, which can help them make good choices about courses, extracurricular activities and summer plans.

Success Stories

  • Megan S., West Hills
    "Audrey has been there to answer any questions, as well as guide me through the larger decisions. She never hesitated to research things on her own, and provided me with new outlooks on many questions I had. Her research helped me form a list of potential colleges, and eventually find the right fit. I felt confident throughout high school knowing that I had Audrey by my side."
Independent Educational Consultants Association