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Thinking About College

By John Raftrey And Lori McCormick

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About this blog: We are writing this blog to give practical advice to students and parents, to reflect on issues affecting college admissions, and to provide a platform for a robust community discussion on post-secondary choices. We occasionally f...  (More)

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When to start thinking about college - Rising Juniors

Uploaded: Jul 12, 2014
(Written by Lori McCormick)


In my previous post, I focused on the point at which rising seniors should start thinking about college. If you did not get a chance to read that post, it is in our archives. For this week's post, I am focusing on rising juniors.

For the juniors…

Brace yourselves! This is going to be a challenging but beneficial year. Many juniors will challenge themselves by taking multiple Advanced Placement courses, which will only add an extra layer of stress and adjustment. Managing the new class schedule and workload will take time and determination, but it is certainly attainable and admirable. Concurrently, juniors will also begin to prepare for the PSAT, SAT or ACT standardized exams. As you can tell, discussions about higher education and college preparation will become more "real." This is essentially your year to kick it up a notch and get your profile in good order. You should also start to take on more leadership roles in extracurricular activities, or at the very least, get more involved. Since, however, we are talking about college, let me offer this college preparation advice to juniors:

1. Plan your summer wisely. Sure, summer is a time to unwind and re-charge your battery. But (and more importantly), it is also a time to get ahead. Enroll in summer school or an academic enrichment program, volunteer at an organization you find interesting, find a summer job or internship, or spend the summer visiting colleges, to name a few possibilities. Whatever you decide to do, do it with intention. If you are already involved in year-round extra curricular activities, determine how you can take your existing activities and build more responsibility and leadership into your role. Instead of only asking yourself if X activity looks "good" on a college application, ask yourself if X activity is going to challenge you, help you grow, teach you something, help support your family, or spark an interest.

2. Keep academics a priority. Finding academic support is a key tool in managing your academic work load. It not only helps you gain full understanding of the material, but it teaches you study skills you will use your entire high school and college career – and beyond! Most high schools provide some type of tutoring services. If there are not tutoring services offered at your school, or if the tutoring schedule conflicts with yours, find a tutoring service in your community to work with you. What you want to avoid is falling behind and compromising your grades.

3. During your junior year, plan on studying, registering, and taking the PSAT, SAT or ACT. The more preparation you can do in your junior year on your college applications, the more manageable your senior year will be. There are a slew of test prep centers in the area. The three main options to prepare for your standardized tests are to: self study using online tools available at the testing websites (www.collegeboard.com or www.actstudent.org ); use a test prep center that mirrors a classroom; or hire a private test prep tutor who will work with you one-on-one or in very small groups. The great thing here is that there are options for all types of test takers to fit their learning styles. Don't forget to check with your high school, as many schools offer test prep on campus as well.

4. Attend college fairs in your community or on your high school campus. Learning about various colleges, will help you develop a list of colleges. They can also be good fun. Can't get yourself to a college fair? Rest assured, websites like College Week Live http://www.collegeweeklive.com/ are available for you to attend virtual fairs. I also like to advise students that social media isn't just about posting "selfies." Most colleges have a Facebook page. It would be advantageous to "like" their page to learn more about the campus and upcoming recruiting events.

5. Your school counselors are an integral part of your high school career. Discuss with them your college plans, share your college list, and ask them questions about options they might have to help guide you. They are on your team and will support you in your process!

By focusing on these five items, your junior year will be especially productive, setting you up with a tolerable academic and extracurricular journey that will ease your way and make your preparation for college all that more exciting.

Comments

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Jul 12, 2014 at 9:35 am

As I have a rising junior and have gone through this before, there are a couple of things I would add.

First remember to have fun this summer, spend time with friends but also with family and in particular extended family. For many teens once they leave high school, the amount of time they are able to see grandparents, cousins, etc. diminishes when college life takes over so prioritize these opportunities and take lots of photos.

Another biggie is to decide on how much priority to put on getting a drivers' license. Some families look on this as a rite of passage, others look on it as a low priority or something to wait. But, the summer is a great time to do an online drivers' ed class and the evenings and weekends may be easier to find time for practice with mom or dad.

My last suggestion is to start acting more independently if you haven't done so already. Take Caltrain with friends to a Giants game, or someother activity. Learn how to use public transit, look up schedules and get around even close to home. This is a skill that you will most likely need at college and being able to do this will make it a lot less daunting when you have to do it for the first time in a strange area. I should add that doing laundry, changing the bedsheets, cooking a simple family meal and other household chores might be started at this time too.


Posted by Gunn student, a resident of Gunn High School,
on Jul 13, 2014 at 9:14 pm

What is this gossip?


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 14, 2014 at 10:54 am

Forget the school counselor. Hire an outside college counselor if you want worthwhile advice.


Posted by John Raftrey and Lori McCormick, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jul 15, 2014 at 9:28 pm

John Raftrey and Lori McCormick is a registered user.

In response to some of your replies:

Dear Parent - wonderful, sound advice, thank you! My post was specifically related to preparing juniors for college but I agree that spending time in the summer with friends/family, prioritizing non-college related activities, such as drivers license training, and gaining independence are hugely important additions. I appreciate your input!

Dear Anonymous - being an outside college counselor, naturally, I am partial to your advice and I thank you for your comment! The school counselor is the primary point person between the college and the applicant. They are the ones who will write letters of recommendation and verify grades, so it is important that students build a relationship with their counselor. I personally admire the school counselor, as I know how demanding their roles are, and am happy to be an outside counselor who has more time to work individually with students and their families as an added support system in their college application process.

Thank you very much for reading my posts. John's too. We are having a great time providing information and useful resources to the community!


Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jul 16, 2014 at 5:05 pm

John and Lori - I enjoy your blog! I just want to correct one bit of info in your previous comment. At Paly, the Counselors are not the point person between the college and student and they don't write recommendation letters, the Teacher Advisor does the letters. I think the Registrar verifies grades. The College Counselors go out and meet with various schools and counsel students on their option for colleges.

That said, I agree with the above comment, hire a private college counselor!


Posted by Joe Antebi, a resident of Midtown,
on Jul 18, 2014 at 9:56 am

One thing usually not mentioned in discussions of preparation for college is "What is the goal?" It seems for many students (and their parental units)the goal of life up until high school graduation is to get into a great 4-year college. But shouldn't the goal be to come out of college with a clearly defined and accessable pathway to a profession, business etc that you are well-prepared to be successful at (yes, becoming a well-rounded social being is part of the college experience too - but not a replacement for focus.) A significant number of kids are ill-prepared to truly succeed in college (and beyond) because their goal ended upon being accepted into the school. That's why you'll see a number of kids who have bascially checked out of college by Thanksgiving of their freshman year, having "celebrated" their substantial feat (and it is a substantial feat) of getting into school in the first place, whether it be by excessive drinking, sex, drug use, or all three. "I've earned it" they are thinking. I reached my parents' and my goal of getting here. It's party time. Having a goal set beyond getting into and then graduating from college will help your child maintain the focus needed to be successful in college and avoid much of the avoidant behaviour that they are now free to indulge in, being 500 or 3000 miles away from mommy and daddy. Helping your child discover their unique potential and interest during their high school years will help immensely in college selection and success in college and beyond. Look more towards the European model of selecting a college based on career choice already made. Those kids grow up extremely well-rounded, focused and directed. Plus, European kids can tell you what the capital of Canada is, unlike vast majority of American high schoolers.


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