High School 2 College

January 29, 2012

What Juniors Should Be Doing This Winter

You know that this year really counts, so you’re working hard at keeping your grades up.  You’ve taken your PSATs.  You’ve met with your guidance counselor to discuss your plans for after high school.  You’ve even started to plan next year’s classes.

Is there anything else you ought to be doing right now to help get you into college?  Absolutely!


You know that test scores really count, so you took your PSATs .  Now what should you do with the information you got back?

Go to your guidance department and ask for your PSAT test booklet if it wasn’t mailed home to you.  Yes, you can see the questions online with the code number on the bottom of your score report, but you should get your actual booklet.  It’s interesting to know that on the second math question, you put B but the answer was A.  If you look online, you can get the actual question.  But if you look in your own test booklet, you can see how you set up the problem.  Was your multiplication at fault?  Did you use the wrong figures?  Was your equation faulty?  Take a look at the critical reading section.  Did you seem to get the answers down to two and you always seemed to pick the wrong one?  Were you clueless and shouldn’t have answered it?  Or did you mean B but blackened bubble C?

Sign up for spring tests right now.  Go to the College Board website to sign up for the SATs.  Most kids take two SATs their Junior year, so I suggest you sign up for March (which is often a bit harder but is great practice) and May.

You should also go to the ACT website to sign up for the spring ACTs.  They’re given in April and June.  I recommend the April test.  If you do well and want to try again, you can take the June test.  If  you do great, you might be able to skip SAT Subject tests (SATIIs).  Most schools accept ACTs instead of SAT Subject tests, so if you take the ACTs in April, you’ll know whether or not to prep for those Subject Tests in June.  And you must sign up for the ACT with writing.  If you want to use your ACTs instead of SATs to get into college (all colleges accept either SATs or ACTs – which ever you think shows you in a better light is fine), colleges want the ACTs with writing so you have an equivalent test to the SATs, which also have a writing section.

If you haven’t started preparing to take these tests, get going!   Sign up for word of the day email alerts.  Sign up for SAT Question of the Day email alerts.  Start taking practice tests.  Scrutinize the wrong answers to see if you can improve.  Time yourself when you take the practice tests.  Better yet, find a tutor to help you find your weaknesses and capitalize on your strengths.


Let’s back it up.  You want to be going to visit colleges once the weather turns nice.  You don’t want to wait until the fall.  You hope to apply “early action” to as many schools as possible, so you want to begin your applications over this summer.  Smart move.  So in order to apply to colleges over the summer, you have to have visited some this spring.  And in order to have visited some this spring, you have to tell your parents where you want to visit.  They’re much more likely to cooperate if you have a plan.  For example, you might say, “Mom, I want to take three trips.  I want to see the Pennsylvania/Delaware/Maryland schools in one trip, the Boston area schools in another trip, and the New York State schools to the west in a third trip.”  Mom’s bound to be impressed!

You probably want to take your first college trip mid-March when the threat of snow is passed.  No school looks great in the muck.  Wait until the weather clears.  You can visit schools until the first week in May, when most schools stop tours so the kids who actually attend college can concentrate on their finals before college lets out for the summer in mid-May.  That gives you about 10 weeks to visit schools.  That’s it.

How do you know which schools to visit?  Spend the winter on the computer.  Check out the schools your guidance counselor recommends.  (Don’t put too much stock in Naviance – the sample of kids is too small.  Did that student get into that great school because of his grades or because his parents went there or because he was on the lacrosse team?  No way to know from Naviance.)

The best free site to find and compare colleges is the Princeton Review website.  They keep changing it, but as of today, you get to the school finder by clicking on “Find Your College” under “Know It All School Search.”  Then, under each category in black on the left, you can refine your search until you get a good list of schools that might fit.

The best website that requires a fee is the U.S. News compass.  U.S. News is the group that puts out the college rankings, and for under $20 for a year’s subscription, you can find information that’s hard to find anywhere else.  Most websites can tell you if a school has a study abroad program, but U.S. News can tell you how many students at that school actually take advantage of that program.  Most websites can tell you about the sports program, but U.S. News can tell you how many students actually participate in, for example, club level sports.

You need to build a list of 20 – 30 schools so you have plenty to reject.  For each of those 20 – 30 schools, visit the school’s website.  See if you can find a video on the website.  Click on “send me more information” and enter your name and address.  Go to the website of the major you’re interested in at that school.  Go to the website of any clubs or sports you might be interested in.  Poke around.

Once you’re down to a list of 10 or more schools, group them geographically so you can visit them effectively.  You don’t have to go to every school on your list.  But you should see one large school and one small school, one urban school and one suburban school, and so on.  You’ll soon get a better feel for what type of college feels like home to you.

By the time you’re done with all of that, it will be spring — time to take your tests and visit schools.

Let the fun begin!

Wendy Segal


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