College Time: Essential Steps for High School Juniors

It is time for all high school juniors to get into college application mode!


By Dr. Belinda Leon, Senior Advisor with USP – University Scholar Program

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Using the last months of junior year to prepare for college will make Senior year EASIER and more memorable with all its graduation related activities. The secret is to get organized and work on specific steps with plenty of time. Here are my top suggestions on how to pull it off!

Students in Florida will most likely need to take a national standardized test for college admissions or scholarship qualification. The two most widely accepted exams are the SAT and ACT. In Florida, public college and universities also accept the CLT exam as does the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship.

 The SAT or ACT should be attempted at least three times. If you complete testing before Senior year, then you can focus on college applications and the joys of graduation. Take a look at the test dates (SAT example included here) and determine when you can test. Take into consideration study time needed as well as your other exams (AP, IB, finals, etc.,) plus any sports commitments and family vacations.

Juniors should continue doing research to add or delete schools from their college list. Attend college fairs; ask professionals in your intended career about where they attended college; talk to friends with similar interests about their school list; and most importantly, talk to your guidance counselor. When you have about a dozen schools on the list, research deadlines.

The Common Application opens August 1st, but some schools open earlier (or later!). Florida International University opens its application as early as July. Florida State University has an early deadline for Florida resident students (see below). With these key deadlines dates, create a calendar to track everything. Plan out how you will meet each deadline.

Now let’s review the admissions requirements with your list of colleges. What SAT/ACT/CLST score do they want; what is the minimum GPA to get in; do they require supplemental essays; is there an audition or portfolio requirement? With this information, ask yourself if you can meet the requirements or do you need to set some goals? Perhaps you need to lower your expectations. It is better to have 8 schools you to really focus on than applying to 20 schools “just because.”

While you are research admissions requirements, find out how many essays you need to write. The Common Application will ask for one main essay with a maximum 650-word count and you can pick from among seven different topics. You can start thinking about what you want to write about and outline what you want to say and how you want to say it. There are colleges that do not require an essay whereas others require several called supplementals. If you work on your essay during the summer with your English teacher, you can have your essays for the Common Application that opens on August 1st.

Finally, start lining up your recommendation letters. Recommendations may be needed for your college application, scholarships, as well as flipping a deferral/waitlisted application status. Teachers will gladly write a recommendation letter, but they are typically inundated with requests. Before Junior year is over, request your letters of recommendation. Prepare your student resume with your GPA, test scores (if good scores), academic recognitions, and extra-curricular activities (sports, clubs, jobs, hobbies, etc.,).  Nicely ask if the letter could be ready by August 1st when the Common Application opens.

The last months of 11th grade in high school are about getting ready for college applications by testing, researching, and organizing. You also have the summer to prep- but remember there’s no testing during the summer and teachers will be hard to reach. Put together a to do list and start checking off items so that you will be ready to apply to college and still enjoy Senior year!


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