I’m a high school junior.  What should I be thinking about in terms of college planning?

It’s your junior year and time to dive into your college planning. Starting the process now is a gift you will be glad you gave yourself, come this September. The more you get done now in terms of researching colleges and working on your application essays and activities list, the less stressed you will be in the fall when it comes time to submitting your applications.

Keep a record of all your high school activities. This will be a huge help when it comes to completing your Common Application. 


Standardized tests. Register for the ACT and SAT. Free test prep may be available at your school and there many free resources online, such as Khan Academy. When you receive your scores, review them to learn about your strengths and where you can improve your results. While many colleges are test-optional and some are even test-blind, if you do test well, your scores will strengthen your application.

Extracurricular activities

  • Choices. Get involved in activities which hold a deep interest for you. Search for opportunities to expand and deepen your involvement. Don’t choose activities because you think they will help you get into college. Choose them because they fit you, will help you find what you love to do, and will promote your personal development as you move through high school. Students who are involved in extracurricular activities are more likely to contribute outside the classroom once they are in college and colleges take note of this in admissions deliberations.
  • Record. Make notes about your activities from freshman year, on, and then add to them regularly. These notes will help a great deal when it is time for you to draft your Common Application activities list this summer and this way, you won’t have to try to remember what happened in the past. If you are not sure whether to put an activity on the log, put it on, as you can always decide not to include it. Several students have told me when they were working on their college applications that they wish they had kept a record, because it would have been much easier to review their notes, rather than have to think back to what they did a year or two years before.



  • The grades you receive this year will directly affect your college options. Grades are the most important factor in colleges’ admissions decisions and admissions officers expect students to maintain or surpass their performance in their earlier years.
  • Course selection. When it is time to choose your senior year courses, enroll in the most challenging courses for which you are qualified and most importantly, which interest you. Senior year is not a time to let up on the rigor of your courses, since continuing to take challenging courses will prepare you well for the academic demands of college.


  • Meet with your guidance counselor periodically and keep him or her updated on your activities and grades. Your guidance counselor will be writing a college recommendation for you, so the better they know you, the better the recommendation they can write.
  • Since your junior year teachers will most likely write your college recommendations, make sure they get to know you and your strengths. Teachers tell me that students in effect “write” their college recommendations every day they are in class.

College search

  • Get exposure to different types of colleges—large, small, public, and private. Keep an open mind and include a variety of colleges on your trips. Get a feel for the type of educational environment that appeals to you, not to choose specific colleges for your application list. Keep notes on your visits or email a friend or yourself (impressions, not statistics) about each college you visit. You will refer back to these notes many times over the next year and your notes will be invaluable when it comes time to choosing a college.
  • Revisit your college list periodically to see if your thoughts about size, geographic location, and/or major(s) have changed and adjust your list accordingly.

Standardized tests. Register for a spring SAT and/or ACT. I recommend taking both tests to see which score is higher and then decide whether or not to do test prep.

Who writes your teacher letters of recommendation?
You do! Teachers say that students in effect “write” their college recommendations every day they are in class.

It’s important to get to know your guidance counselor. It’s even more important that your guidance counselor gets to know you.

Now is the time to organize your activity notes and get them formatted for the Common Application.

May through the Summer

Common Application. Create a Common Application account at commonapp.org

College list. Refine your college list through research online and visiting if that is possible.

College interviews. Interview at colleges which offer this opportunity. Do a mock/practice interview with a trusted advisor before your first college interview.

Common Application essay. Work on your Common App essay with the goal to have a final draft by the end of the summer.

Common Application activities list. Draft the list with activity descriptions on a Word or Google doc, making sure to describe each activity and your accomplishments thoroughly with the 150 characters and spaces available. Make sure the names of activities are understandable and that your contributions and achievements are well-documented and show the impact you made on each activity.

Colleges’ supplemental essays. Complete as many of your supplemental essays as possible.