What are the top college planning concerns for a high school junior?

Juniors in high school need to focus on three tasks to keep on track with college planning. In other words, things get busy!

The main focus of a high school junior is building a solid school list. This work builds on the personality and major exploration exercises completed in the sophomore year. Students can begin their school exploration by finding schools that offer their major(s) of choice and solidifying their preferences across a number of criteria including selectivity, type (public/private, 2-year, 4-year, religious, etc.), campus environment, size, location, sports, and academic offerings (to name a few).

The final schools selected by the student (typically, around 8-10) should fall into three major buckets: backfall, best-fit, and aspirational. Backfall schools offer best-in-class affordability, best-fit schools closely fit the criteria defined above, and aspirational schools offer additional opportunities for admission to top-tier institutions. Across all these options, schools should be selected with an eye towards the institution’s generosity of financial aid, peer match (for financial aid appeals), and the student’s fit within the incoming class profile. An additional major consideration for building a school list is affordability. This means, among many factors, there should be a mix of public and private schools (given tuition discounting).

If this process sounds complex, it is. Building a school list can be challenging without a deep knowledge of the higher education landscape. Because of the complexity of this exercise, many families reach out to a college consultant at this point.

Once the school list is set, juniors create a deadlines calendar across all institutions. A deadlines calendar should include three date types: testing, admissions, and financial aid. Missing any of these three in the final list can have disastrous consequences in the senior year. In fact, this is part of my story; I lost a full-ride scholarship due to missing an important deadline. Don’t let that be your experience!

Note: the deadlines calendar will need to be updated going into senior year as some schools do not post their final deadlines until a later date.

Finally, juniors should focus on test preparation for the SAT and ACT. This is true even though some schools are dropping standardized tests as an admissions requirement. Preparing does not necessarily mean a family will need to pay for a test prep solution. Many free and low-cost options are available through the local library, bookstore, and many high schools (if the student is self-motivated). However, paid options can be advantageous in certain circumstances.

A general testing timeline for the SAT and ACT is outlined below:

What college planning topics should parents focus on during the junior year of high school?

As you might imagine, selecting a school list requires experiential research, i.e., visiting campus. This is one of the most important actions to gauge campus “fit” with your student. I typically see parents help their students with travel planning and and logistics for campus visits (see my post and resources on campus visits). Most parents greatly enjoy this bonding experience with their children and it gives them a sense of involvement (and perhaps, nostalgia).

Parents can also share with students to what extent they are willing to invest in test preparation. I encourage families to start with free resources for test preparation and then move to paid options as the return on investment becomes clear.

Looking for more guidance? Download our high school college planning checklist for free.