Action Plan Juniors

Narrowing Your Options — Junior Year

Junior year. By now you’ve got high school sussed out and it’s a breeze. Senior year’s going to be full, though. Before you know it you’ll be up to your elbow in SATs, application forms and lots and lots of decisions. Want to take the stress out of senior year? Do your decision-making now.

If college is in your plans:

  • start thinking about college and where you want to go.
  • start the SAT process
  • start building on your strengths

Thinking About College

First, think about the big picture:

What do you think will be your major? How definite are your plans? Do you need a school that targets in on that area, or would you prefer more flexibility in case you change your plans? 
How important are playing sports to you? Do you want to participate in varsity sports or are you more interested in just keeping fit and having a good time? What sports do you enjoy?
What about location — a big city or a small town?

Once you have these questions answered, you can begin to narrow your search, choosing those schools that fit your criteria and eliminating the rest.

Then go on-line or to a library or bookstore. There are a huge number of guides you can get listing the colleges and universities in the US and Canada. On-line try Scan through the guides and list the schools that look like possible choices. Write or e-mail those that look the best and ask for information. Most colleges have web sites where you can download information. Spend time actually looking at the information and start eliminating ones that you’re not interested in and making a list of your top choices.

In the spring, start visiting these schools. Most colleges make visiting students welcome and may even assign one of their students to take you around and answer your questions. A good place to start is your local community college. Take advantage of field trips offered by your high school to local colleges and universities, even if you’re not interested in going to that particular school. You’ll learn a lot about the admissions process and the kind of questions to ask. During the spring and summer break, visit schools further from home, if you can. Many students completely revise their priority list once they’ve actually seen the campus and talked to the people at the school. Don’t forget any friends you may have studying at one of the schools you’re interested in. They’re your best source for information. For an “insiders view”, try to make plans to spend a day or two with him or her on campus.

When you talk to the schools, ask questions. Lots of them. Also talk to friends who are in college now, or just graduated, and ask them how they chose their school and what they would do differently or wish they had known before they made their choice.

Start the SAT process

SATs are required for entrance to most colleges and universities in the US and Canada. If you haven’t already taken the PSAT/NMSQT, take it now. It is given at your school in October, but you’ll have to sign up in Sept. See your guidance counselor for the dates and application forms or register online at At the same time, pick up a copy of the PSAT/NMSQT Student Bulletin and take the practice test. You can get additional practice by accessing There you’ll find past questions and skill-building tutorials.

When you get your scores back, look carefully at them. Are you satisfied with them? If not, now is the time to sign up for SAT tutorials and do the extra work you need to get the scores you need to get into the college of your choice.

Mark your calendar for the SAT exams. If you’ve already taken the PSAT/NMSQT, start the SATs this fall. The first ones are in October, with registration about a month before. Your guidance counselor can give you the dates. The SATs are given in the fall and spring. If you take your first ones this fall, you’ll have three cracks at getting a high score before your college admission application are due in January of your senior year. Even if you don’t start the SATs until spring, you’ll still have two goes at upping your score.

Start building a list of your strengths.

That college application form is going to ask for a lot more than your name, address and GPA. They want to know something about you as a person. The better picture you can present of a well-rounded person who is likely to succeed, the better chance you have of getting into the school you want, even if your GPA or SAT scores are a little weak.

Start with a list of the activities you’ve participated in — both in school and out. Active involvement in the community counts for a lot. So don’t forget to add things like running odd jobs for an elderly neighbor, learning CPR, doing lifesaving at the local beach or pool, putting up posters and doing gofer work for a political campaign or cause, singing in the church choir, etc. What about sports? Think beyond school to things like karate, golf, fishing, running…

Also list the awards you’ve received — academic, athletic and others.

List teachers or employers who can give you a letter of recommendation next year.