This is a public service announcement for juniors and their parents, or perhaps, more accurately, parents and their juniors. Seniors are currently in the thick of the college application process and, with November 1 in the rearview, many of them have already submitted some of their apps. But juniors, it’s neither too late nor too early to start thinking about college admissions. As my friend, a prodigious marathon runner told me, while it might be too late to start training for this year, it’s not too early to start training for next year. While my sneakers remain in the closet, I like to apply her wisdom to less breathless pursuits.
I’m guessing that you’re in one of two mindsets: you’re either wondering why you have to start thinking about colleges now, or you’re starting to panic that you didn’t start early enough. I’m here to reassure you that neither is accurate.
If you’re in the anxious group, you’re probably a parent. You might have heard your neighbors yelling at their grade twelve progeny; you’ve heard them across your lawns and in the carpool pick up line. They tried to be discrete in September when the pressure was lightly in the air. Then the leaves started to fall and you complimented your neighbor on her zombie Halloween costume on October 15th, only to realize, as the words were coming out of your mouth, that it wasn’t a costume. You say to everyone who will listen, “When I applied to college, the deadline was January 1. When did the deadlines get to be in November, or even October?”
This is my message to you (parents of) juniors: Don’t panic but start now with the goal of having everything done by the time your student begins their senior year. In a quest to prevent yourself from being mistaken for a zombie next fall, here’s what you can do now and over the next several months: broad research, family conversations, visits to colleges.
Research. Broad, general research. Buy yourself an old-fashioned book like Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges or the Fiske Guide, and leave it on the kitchen table. And speak to your student; get their input and their opinions but also set parameters. The question is, not where exactly does Maya want to go to college but where in the country (or in the world) does she want to be? How far away from home will you and she want to travel? Does she like skyscrapers? Cows? Does Nathan want a large university or a small college? Visit your state university as well as the college nearest your house. Do an official tour and information session. Take notes and pictures, as colleges blur together. What did and didn’t you like about each place? Now is also the time to discuss costs and all the other less exciting stuff that is one hundred percent important and necessary. You should continue researching and visiting through the application season but starting now will give you more dates to choose from for visits and more fodder for conversation.
You can also start to think about standardized testing. Many students have taken the PSAT in school. This is the time to visit the CollegeBoard and ACT websites to get an idea of testing dates and preparation, and to ask colleges whether they require testing. Many juniors take their first ACT or SAT over the winter or early spring, with the expectation that they will likely take a second test later in the spring or over the summer (or possibly even in early fall of senior year). Although not all colleges require standardized testing, it is better to have thought about this now, when students have the maximum number of test dates and prep time available.
The ultimate goal is to feel like you’re in good shape by this time next year. Watch this space for updates about what to do in the late spring and over the all-important summer before senior year, but don’t neglect these months as important times to lay the groundwork for the process. The next 12 months will go quickly and the more you do now, the happier you will be. If you don’t believe me, just ask the parent of a current senior.