Preparing for College as a High School Junior

by John Montesi

Many high school students wonder when they should start preparing for college. Between the workload of high school, demanding extracurricular activities, and plans with family and friends, preparing for college can feel like a distant need reserved exclusively for seniors. However, that’s not the case!

By starting to prepare during your junior year, you can stay ahead of the major deadlines and start hearing back from colleges sooner. Here are a few ways you can get ahead during your junior year.

Prepare to Take the SAT and ACT

The SAT and ACT are often dreaded subjects within high school halls, but they’re an important part of the college preparation process. Since achieving a strong score is a common admissions requirement, taking these exams can give you valuable insight into where you stand. Starting early also gives you more time to recognize where you could improve, so you can retake the tests and achieve your best possible score.

Kayla Montgomery, an assistant director in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at Azusa Pacific University, noted that the earlier students take these exams, the more time they have to get their applications in order. “I would highly recommend taking an SAT and an ACT during your junior year,” she said. “The sooner you can get the first one of these under your belt, the better. Students who take the test again almost always do better the second time.”

Not only does more time allow you more opportunities to study, improve, and take the standardized tests without stress, many schools could start contacting you based on your scores. This can create a helpful dialog as you inch closer toward your senior year and continue moving through the admissions process.

Start Exploring Financial Aid

Financial aid is another subject that can sound intimidating and often gets put off until later in the admissions process. But, as Montgomery noted, it’s never too early to apply for scholarships. “The sooner you get started, the more likely you are to have an arsenal of scholarship resources with you when it comes time to making your college decision,” she said.

Scholarship search engines like Fastweb.com and Raise.me can help you find available scholarships. Many scholarships have their own admissions processes, which is another reason why it’s helpful to get a head start on figuring out the ones you’re eligible for and would like to apply for.

Montgomery recommended taking the time to write a short essay about yourself that you can then tailor to each scholarship application. “This will really help with the volume of scholarships out there,” she noted. “We have seen students who have treated applying to scholarships like a part-time job, and paid for their whole first year with their winnings! If you stay dedicated and focused, you can do it too.”

Make a List of Prospective Colleges

Everyone has different criteria for selecting a college to attend. During your junior year, it’s important to start making a list of schools you’re interested in so you can begin understanding their admissions requirements and on-campus experiences.

Montgomery advised students to diversify their application submissions. “The most important advice I could give a high school junior is to find at least one ‘safety’ school, one ‘target’ school, and a ‘reach’ school to add to your college list,” she said.

A safety school is considered one that you know you will definitely get into, based on its entrance requirements, your GPA, and your test scores. A target school is one that you will most likely get into and are excited about attending. And, finally, a reach school is one that may be more competitive—so you may have a harder time securing that acceptance letter—but you think it would be a great opportunity to attend.

Plan Campus Visits

Narrowing down your list of colleges can be a bit challenging. Exploring different schools will help you decide which one might be the best fit for you.

Montgomery strongly encouraged students to schedule campus tours. “I am a huge advocate of visiting colleges that you are interested in and participating in an overnight event,” Montgomery stressed. “This is the best way to really visualize if you can call that campus home in the near future.”

Interested in learning more about how to prepare for the college admissions process? Check out Azusa Pacific University’s admissions webpage for more information.