Happy almost Thanksgiving! Now that your Junior year is well underway, we wanted to lay out some big picture items for you and your parents to think about as you plan out the rest of your school year.
Here are the things you should plan on having accomplished by the end of June so that you're in fighting shape when you turn to your college applications next fall.
1. Have a set of standardized tests completed. Map out a testing schedule for yourself between now and the end of the school year, including your test prep schedule. The big news here is that there are fewer and fewer schools that require SAT Subject Tests, but... you should still reserve that May or June slot for SAT Subject Tests even if you might never need them. Block those dates out on your family calendar in case you do want to take them, and plan ahead for which subjects you think you might want to take.
2. Do both ACT and SAT diagnostic tests. The ACT vs. SAT decision has gotten more complicated. It's a good idea to do practice tests for each so that you can decide which one you want to commit to. Start with free diagnostic tests, for example from Arbor Bridge. Then decide which one you perform better on. Look at the testing schedule for that test, and if family or travel events are coming up that time of year, make sure to get dates on the calendar now so there's no conflict. Dates are different for international students, so you might need to pay special attention to those. Also, the ACT February test is not offered in New York state.
3. Figure out a spring break agenda for college visits, and start thinking about logistics. How will you get form Point A to Point B to Point C? Ideally you, the student, will take some ownership over this and it's not just mom who does it all. Don't try to squeeze more than 7 schools into 5 days. It's better to have a full day at 1 college than to do the hit and run approach. Sometimes doing a half day is inevitable, but it wouldn't be our first choice. Don't assume flying is always preferable - especially in the Northeast, the train is often more efficient. Spring is a better time to visit than summer because school is often still in session in the spring (college breaks often don't overlap with high school breaks).
4. Do a self-assessment of credentials so you know where you need to focus your time next term. What grades do you need to pay special attention to? Where do you need to double down to keep a grade trend going up? Where are you on the edge of an A and can bump up to an A? These are strategic decisions about where to focus your efforts. "Get the best grades I can get" isn't specific enough, and that would mean you're just doing more of what you were already doing, which might not be the best plan of attack.
5. Sign up for a Common App account. Poke around so you start to familiar yourself with it. Your account will roll over from Junior year through your Senior year, so you don't have to worry about losing any data you enter before Senior year. At the end of Junior year, pick two or three graded assignments and get them scanned and archived somewhere so that you can access them later if you need to (you can park those somewhere in the cloud, like Dropbox, Evernote, or Google Docs). Those assignments are easy to lose track of otherwise, and you'll want to have them in one place when application time comes around. Storing them doesn't mean you have to end up using them.
Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.