1. Visit colleges.
Most of my students say they "just knew" a school was their top choice after a campus tour or weekend visit with a friend. Virtual tours are great, and you can read about a school until you can recite the mission statement by memory, but there's no substitute for a campus visit. You're super busy--overwhelmed actually--your senior year, so get those visits in before next fall.
2. Get to know your school counselor.
If you attend a large public high school, you may know your counselor only well enough to pick him out of a lineup, but it's a good idea to forge a slightly stronger connection. Your school counselor will write one of your college recommendations, so the better your counselor knows you, the more authentic and enthusiastic his or her endorsement of you can be. Schedule a couple of brief meetings with her this spring to discuss your college dreams and plans, and brag about some of your recent accomplishments.
3. Max out your ACT/SAT score.
Your test scores and GPA are the two most important factors in determining your access to moderately or highly selective colleges. Don't underestimate the power of test prep, and commit to studying a few hours each week. You CAN increase your score significantly with practice. Yes, it's a PIA, yes it's boring, and yes, it should be a HUGE priority this spring. You'll want to be finished testing by June so you can ease your load in the fall of senior year.
4. Estimate financial need and college costs.
It's the part of college we DON'T want to think about, much less plan for. But, it's time to "adult" a little bit and start looking at what your dream schools cost, and whether you can afford them. Parents of juniors can use each college's online Expected Family Contribution calculator to find out what they will have to pay, at a minimum, for one year of school. Your EFC often doesn't represent what you believe you can afford to pay for college, but colleges use these figures to help determine financial aid packages. You can also start surfing for potential scholarships through popular search engines like FastWeb, and Peterson's. Your school counselor will also have access to a good list of scholarships and financial aid options.
5. Stick with your extracurriculars.
Junior year is not a good time to decide to quit band, lacrosse, dance team, robotics or any other activity that you have been heavily involved in during high school. Colleges like to see students who are passionate and engaged in at least one important extracurricular activity. And it's even better if you can plan a summer job or volunteer experience that aligns with that passion. You should also work toward a leadership opportunity within your activity of choice so that admissions personnel can see you are taking on more responsibility and are an influential member of the group.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...”