07/01/2013 11:23 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2013

July-to-January To Do's for Rising High School Juniors

Last week, I covered what rising seniors need to be thinking about and doing for the next six months. Many readers then sent me emails asking for the same kind of advice for soon-to-be-juniors, sophomores, and freshmen. This week is the junior list; next week I will post sophomore and freshmen lists.

Of all the high school years in which college admissions people are interested, junior year is probably at the top. This is the year when you should take the most Honors, AP/IB classes and get the best grades you can. 11th grade is when you need to go the extra mile and astound your teachers with the quality of your academic work. Finally, junior year is the time to be looking for ways to make stand-out contributions to your extracurricular activities and sports.


College Visits
While on vacation this summer, swing by any colleges that are on your way or near your destination so that you can start getting a sense for what different college campuses are like. If you are interested and have the time, walk around the campus, stop by the Admissions Office and take a juice/snack break in the student center. Certainly it wouldn't hurt for you to check out the colleges in or near your hometown.

Extracurricular Activities
Make your summer special by doing what is fun, yet interesting and meaningful. Make sure that college admissions people will see at least one activity as being noteworthy. Whatever you do, don't be a couch potato! Colleges won't like that.

Financial Savvy
Most student and their families begin college planning with way too little information about financial considerations. Junior year is a great time to become educated, looking at the availability of need and merit-based scholarships and aid, ways FAFSA and PROFILE help you get financing, and how to use net-price calculators to understand what the real costs of college are. Keep in mind that the better the grades and test scores you have, the better the chances are for your receiving merit and other scholarships. Some of the best financial aid resources are Lynn O'Shaughnessy's The College Solution and her blog, and the very informative and websites.


Extracurricular Activities
By the time you hit junior year, you should be well settled in favorite activities. If you haven't, it's never too late to get involved. Look for ways to make a difference: become an officer, editor, captain, or leader. Try going beyond just being a member of an activity. Colleges look for students who are involved in their schools and communities.

Classes and Grades
Keep in mind having some balance in your life, but take as many Honors and AP/IB courses that you can handle. If any course starts to give you trouble, very quickly talk with your teacher and/or get some help.

College Visits
Junior year is when to get serious about college visits. Plan family vacations around visiting colleges in which you are interested.

Courses and Papers
Because a number of colleges ask for a writing sample as a part of their applications, save some of your best English, history, and other papers from this year.

Make sure that you are signed up for the October PSAT.


College List
October is a good time to fill out the College Selection Questionnaire to determine your wants, needs and desire for college. You can also go online to do a college search. After you have identified what you want in a college, begin researching colleges that match who you are as a student and person.

Remember to take the PSAT.


Begin thinking about when you will take the different admissions tests. Ideally, you should complete all of them (SAT I or ACT, Subject Tests) by June of your junior year. Completing your testing by June will dramatically reduce your stress levels during senior year.

If you haven't already, make arrangements to get admissions test tutoring. Students who do this often raise their scores by as much as 200-400 points. Be aware that the best tutors are booked months ahead. Know that in addition to paid one-on-one and group tutoring, there are any number of free online tutoring resources.


High School Counselor
Every once in awhile, stop by to say hello to your high school counselor. You want to make sure that this person knows who you are. He/she will be completing your application School Report forms, something to which admissions officers pay a lot of attention.

Take extra time with teachers who you might ask to write recommendations for you. Teachers need to know you well enough to sing your praises. That's more likely if you show that you appreciate them.

December is usually when high school counselors provide you with the results of your PSAT, which will give you an idea of how you will score on the SAT.
Take a free ACT practice test from the likes of Princeton Review or online to see if you score higher on it or on the SAT. From this experience, decide whether the SAT or ACT better suits you.

At the beginning of 2014, I will be posting a Junior To-Do list for January-June. Just in case you want to have this list early, you can see what I wrote for Huffington Post last January, 2013.