What is the proper college timeline for juniors? How should 11th graders prepare for college? When should they begin choosing the colleges that best fit them? What is the right college application timeline for juniors? These are all important questions in the college preparation, selection, and application process. This is our Great College Advice for juniors to help them stay on track throughout the most important year in the college admissions timeline.
The timeline is presented by season. One of the misconceptions of the college planning process is that everything happens according to a pre-0rdained, consistent timeline. While there are aspects to the process that are tied to specific dates, the fact is that no two students undertake and complete the process in exactly the same way.
Thus the Great College Advice timeline is organized in a way to help you stay on track without creating a feeling that you are somehow always late with every aspect of the process. Our role in this process is to empower you to manage the process in the way that is best for you. Everything you’ll find on this list is something you should consider to be part of the process. But frankly, with very few exceptions, you’ll also find that the items can be done in an order that suits you best.
So have confidence! Take control of the process! Use this document as a way to ensure that you get it all done–with time to spare. But don’t be a slave to this timeline. Adapt it to suit the individual that you are.
College Timeline for Juniors in the Fall and Winter
Make sure you’re in the right classes
This year is your last real chance to impress with the classes you’re taking, so make it count! Work with your counselor to make sure you’re not taking on too much, but that you’re also challenging yourself. If you’re unsure whether to take a tough course because you’re worried about your GPA, have a look at our post here. Keep studying to make sure your grades stay up!
Continue your extracurricular interests
Colleges want students who are engaged and active. They want students who will animate their campuses and make them interesting places to work and play. Consider stepping into a leadership role. Find ways to expand and deepen your commitments to the areas in which you already excel. The more achievements you can rack up in the next year, the better. And remember, the quality of your commitments is much more important than the quantity. Colleges will be looking for your achievements first. Being a participant is great, but learning to lead and excel is better.
College Admission is NOT a Timeline
As you review this college admissions timeline, remember that college planning rarely evolves according to a strict timeline. Keeping up your grades is not exactly something you can schedule: it’s something you have to work on every day. Similarly, your record of extracurricular achievement depends on a lot of factors that are hard to slot into particular days of the week or months of the year. Even developing a test prep calendar can be difficult, and plans can change depending on how hard you prepare and the score you get on your first attempt.
So it can be misleading to think of the process of getting into college as a simple timeline that you follow from month to month. To learn how to take a wider view of the college preparation process, check out Mark’s free webinar on the secrets of college admission.
Make a testing plan
If you haven’t already, fall is the time to map our your testing plan. Take full-scale diagnostics on both the SAT and the ACT to understand which test suits you best. Many test prep companies, such as ArborBridge, will offer a free diagnostic and recommendation as to which test would be better for you. Armed with this evidence, you can plan how to prepare and choose dates that work best for you. We strongly recommend that you schedule at least one “real” test in your junior year, and have another date as a “back up plan.” We generally recommend that you try to take your first test in the fall or winter of junior year, with spring as a fall back option if you need to retake. Senior year is going to be super busy, so don’t leave the testing until the last minute. Plan!
Take the PSAT in October
Even if you took it last year, this is the one that counts! The PSAT is used to qualify people for the National Merit Scholarship Competition. Even if you don’t think you’ll score high enough to qualify for the scholarship, the PSAT is a great way to acclimate yourself to the fun of taking standardized college entrance exams (just kidding!). You will sign up for the PSAT at your school, so look for announcements from your guidance office.
Prepare for the ACT and/or SAT
We generally recommend one-on-one tutoring for our students. While the per-hour cost is more, a really good tutor can help you raise your score, which not only increases your chances for admission but can really boost your chances of a merit scholarship. If private tutoring is impossible, try to attend an ACT/SAT class or workshop. Some high schools will even offer these workshops for free, so look for announcements from your guidance office. If you can’t, there are books and websites you can use. Strongly consider signing up for the ACT/SAT during the spring semester at the very latest. Follow these links to sign up for the SAT and the ACT.
Research possible college majors
Now is the time to really focus in on what you want your major to be. Identify your interests and look up online what careers and majors are associated with them. Some websites offer free tests that assess things you like and dislike and offer possible major choices, which could help you if you’re not sure where to start. Check out MyMajors.com as an example. You can also talk to your counselor about choices and to see if they offer a career test as well.
Make a college list
It’s time to start making a list of schools you want to apply to. Keep in mind that you should have safety, target, and reach schools on your list—don’t just apply to one Ivy League! Gather information on admission criteria and deadlines. Make sure the schools you’re interested in have the major you want to study. Consider things like size and location as well as academics. Will you be happy at a rural school, or do you want to be in the city? Do large lectures seem like the way to go, or would you rather have a school with small classes?
Attend more college fairs
Now that you have a list of schools you’re interested in, visit their booths at a college fair near you. Introduce yourself, talk to the admissions representative, and ask questions. Sign up for their email list. Your high school guidance office will likely be sending out information about these fairs. You might also consider a smaller, more targeted fair, such as the College That Change Lives fairs. Or check out the more specialized fairs for things like performing arts, studio art, or STEM.
Talk to your family
Let your family know which colleges interest you. Listen to their questions and concerns; they might be things that didn’t occur to you, or they might ask you questions things you can already answer. Now that will impress them that you’ve got this process under control! If, however, you’re feeling hounded by your parents about the college process, suggest to them that you make a set time every week to discuss college stuff. This way you keep the family discussion going, but you can avoid the constant nagging: “Hey, Mom, thanks for reminding me about this college stuff; let’s talk on Wednesday after dinner at our appointed time.” Sometimes creating boundaries are as important as creating a college admissions timeline.
College Timeline for Juniors in the Spring
Help out senior friends
If you have friends who have started getting college acceptances, offer to help them with locating scholarship information. Not only is this a nice thing to do, it’s information that you’ll be able to use yourself next year—without having to look it up again.
Schedule college visits
Try to do as many visits as you can while the campus is holding classes. Spring break could be an ideal time for these visits. You’ll get a much better idea of what it’s really like there during classes than you will while the school is on break. Take a campus tour, go to an information session, and see if you can meet with an admissions officer or a faculty member in your intended major. Make sure you go prepared with questions to ask! Keep in mind that some schools offer admissions fee waivers when you visit, so it doesn’t hurt to ask. Download this comprehensive e-book to learn how to get the most from your campus visits.
Demonstrate your interest
Colleges want to know that you are interested in them. College visits are one sure-fire way to demonstrate that interest. However, if you’re unable to visit for any reason, you should still let the admissions office know that you are seriously considering their college. Fill out the form on their admissions website to request more information. Write a short note to an admissions officer asking for specific information about a program or major that interests you. Follow the school’s account on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media (believe me…this sounds crazy, but it helps). Think of each of these contacts as a “brownie point” in the admissions process. And who doesn’t need more brownie points?
The the ACT and/or the SAT
Even if you plan to take these tests during your senior year, it can be helpful to take them now, too. Make sure you sign up by the deadline and arrive with all required materials and nothing else.
Ask for letters of recommendation
Many schools will require you to have letters of recommendation from teachers or guidance counselors. Ask those individuals towards the end of your junior year, when they’ve just had you in class or in the office. This way, they’ll remember you better, and will be able to write a compelling letter telling everyone how wonderful you are. If you wait, you might get a more generic letter, which won’t help as much in the admissions process. To learn how you can get great letters of recommendation, check out this article. Recommendations are an important aspect of your college admissions timeline.
College Timeline For Juniors in the Summer
Decide who you will apply to each school on your list
Early action? Early decision? Regular decision? Figure out which admission programs you’re going to apply under for each school. We generally recommend that you apply early for as many schools as possible. Make sure to check and see if there are any special early deadlines for scholarships or for certain programs. Mark the dates on your calendar, and make sure to give yourself enough time to complete all of your applications.
Work on application essays
Most applications release their essay prompts well in advance of when the application actually opens. The Common Application usually releases topics in March. Starting your essays well before they’re due gives you the chance to put a lot of thought into them, which will help your essay stand out more. The hardest part of the entire essay process is landing on a topic that will make you shine. It also gives you plenty of time to edit so your essay is perfect. Also note that many colleges require additional, or supplemental, essays as part of their applications. You will need to look these up and create a document that contains all the prompts you will have to address on your various applications.
College Admissions Timeline for Junior Parents
Visit nearby schools
Arrange a day trip to a few nearby colleges. They don’t have to be ones that your student is interested in; check out a big school vs. a small school or a public university vs. a liberal arts college. Visit places with differences so you can start a conversation about what your student is really looking for in a school.
Help your student narrow down the college list
Ask your student to explain why each school is on their list. Help them think of pros and cons for each school so they can really narrow it down. (This will help later, too, when they have to write a supplemental essay on the topic, “why do you want to go to this school?”). Attend college fairs with your student, if possible, and help arrange college visits for you and your student.
Ask about scholarships
Make sure your student is looking into potential scholarship opportunities. Ask at work if they have a scholarship program for employees’ children. Find out about local scholarships for which your student can apply.
The college planning timeline summary
So there you have it–a college planning timeline for juniors. This to-do list contains the things you need to stay on track and take control of the college planning process.
However, if you feel as though you need some personal guidance in through this process so that you can blaze your trail toward college success, give us a call (after all, it’s much more than a college admissions timeline). Send us an email. Or sign up for a free 20-minute consultation to find out whether personally tailored college admissions advice can help you make the process of preparing, selecting, and applying to college more successful, less stressful, and more fun.