Junior Year Spring: The College Search Kick-Off 

For high school juniors, the spring brings more than just a flurry of pollen invaders; introductory meetings with college advisors are scheduled, emails from colleges and universities start to consistently appear in inboxes, and a buzz starts to arise as students get into the tempo of the college search process. While there is often much excitement around this unofficial kick-off to the college application season, there are often still many questions – many students (and their parents) are often wondering, okay, we’re here – now what? 

With the onset of junior year spring, it’s as if a flip switches; students are each suddenly immersed in the very real journey that is the college search and college application process. Perhaps it’s the influence of the notorious March SAT – a common test date for juniors, or it’s the discussion of planning first official college visits over a student’s Spring Break holiday, undoubtedly encouraged by the flood of college and university Open House invitations that inundate mailboxes, but the energy most certainly changes for juniors in the spring. While this is an incredibly exciting time, it is also quite daunting, with many students and their families wondering what needs to be happening when.

Junior Year Spring: 
Kick off The College Search!

In my tenth season now of experiencing junior year spring alongside students and their families, I thought it would be helpful to put together a roadmap of what to expect as it relates to the college search and college application process, to hopefully alleviate some of the stress that naturally arises this time of year, while also giving an early look at what to expect ahead. 

Junior Year Spring

Map out a plan for your standardized testing

While many colleges and universities remain test-optional, you do want to plan to submit test scores if you can. You have two options for testing – the SAT and the ACT, and truly, the choice is up to you as to which one you will take. Some students distinctly prefer one exam over the other, while other students find that they score about the same on both. What’s nice is that you have the option to choose which exam works best for you, colleges and universities do not have a preference here. I would recommend taking your choice of exam anywhere from 1-3 times at a maximum. Look at the list of available test dates for your preferred exam (Spring/Summer 2024 SAT test dates are listed here, Spring/Summer 2024 ACT test dates are listed here) and decide which 1-3 dates will work the best for you. You may only need to take an exam one time, but in the case that you need to do further test prep to try and improve your score – it’s helpful to know which future exams you may sit for, so you can map out a strong test prep plan. Please be sure to pay careful attention to exam registration deadlines, there are only so many seats available per test date/test center and you don’t want to miss the opportunity to secure your preferred testing center.

Prioritize your grades – they matter now more than ever

Junior year grades are essential in establishing your academic maturity in admissions committee review. It’s imperative that you are working your hardest this year, to be able to showcase that you are truly “ready” for the academic challenges that await in college. Colleges and universities will also look at course schedules for senior year, as well as senior year grades. It’s important to know that your high school will share a mid-year grade report halfway through senior year, which is sent to all colleges and universities you’ve applied to, as well as a final year grade report that gets mailed at the end of senior year. At any point, a college or university can decide to revoke an admissions decision – so it’s important that even through senior year, you are working to the best of your ability, and in good standing with your school. 

Plan senior year courses with rigor in mind

As you start to plan out your senior year courses, it’s important to keep rigor in mind. Colleges and universities are seeking students who have pushed themselves academically. For some students, this might mean a full AP course load senior year, for other students, this might mean taking their first AP course ever – what’s important is to show that you are seeking out rigor from one year to the next, building upon your performance from the year prior. Colleges and universities seek students who push themselves academically, and who take advantage of the opportunities available to them. Senior year is not the time to lighten course load, as ultimately, this is the year that is preparing you for the rigor ahead: college. 

Get to know your school-appointed college advisor 

Whether this is a school college counselor that has been newly assigned to you, or it is someone who has worked with you in a guidance setting for a longer period of time, now is the time to get to know your school college advisor. This person will be writing a letter of recommendation on your behalf – known as the counselor letter of recommendation, to each of the schools that you plan to apply to, so it’s important for them to be familiar with you as a person. You school college advisor should understand your academic goals and aspirations, as well as have a solid understanding of what you’ve been involved with already as you work towards those future goals. If your school college advisor has not already scheduled a time for you to meet, that’s okay – I would however proactively schedule a time to meet with them, so you can begin that relationship. 

Start thinking about teachers who will serve as recommenders for you

Along with the counselor recommendation letter mentioned above, many colleges and universities will ask you to submit 1-3 academic recommendation letters (this exact number depends on the school, it varies by institution) as part of your application for undergraduate admission. These letters of recommendation need to be from teachers who have taught you core courses (math, English, science, social science, language) – not electives. It’s wise to plan to ask at least two core teachers for recommendations, though some students do ask three teachers if they know they are applying to at least one school that allows up to three recommendations to be sent. In determining which teachers to ask, it’s important that you select teachers who know you best. Teachers who have witnessed your growth as a student and can speak to it in detail in their recommendation for you, are the perfect teachers to consider asking. Aim to ask your designated teachers before summer break, they will appreciate receiving the request with plenty of notice.

Start to build a college list and visit, visit, visit!

When beginning to build your college list, it’s important to think first and foremost about what’s important to you. How far from home are you willing to go? Will you need to be in driving distance, or can you be a flight away? What sort of location appeals to you most – would an urban location excite you, or overwhelm you? Do you prefer a campus with a traditional feel, or are you drawn to more modern features? How about size of institution – are you into a smaller school atmosphere, a larger school, or are you looking for something more mid-size? Most of the time, students find that they don’t really know the answers to these questions when starting out in their college search, and that’s okay – this is exactly where campus visits come in. Whether you physically visit a campus or tour via the plethora of virtual tour options schools offer these days, you can get a great sense of a college or university and its community/culture from touring. When deciding on which schools to visit, it is helpful to cast your net wide – see a variety of schools that represent a mixture of institutions. By touring a public school, a private school, an urban school, a suburban school, a smaller school, a mid-size school…that is how you can start to formulate your opinions on what matters most to you in the college search process and allow you to truly understand your preferences.  

Looking Ahead

In my next post, I’ll be diving into how to best utilize the summer before senior year, with a focus on writing your Common Application Personal Statement. As this is a 650-word essay that will go to all the colleges and universities you apply to via the Common Application, it’s imperative to give this essay the attention it deserves. I’ll walk you through example essays that worked, and also share some advice to help you get started with yours. 

If you’d like to discuss how we can help you best prepare for your upcoming college search and application season, we’d love to help – contact us today.

Former Admissions Reader at Rice University,
3500+ Applications Read and Evaluated
As college admissions professional for the last 16 years, Adrienne has experience working on all sides of the proverbial admissions desk. She has read thousands of applications in her role as an admissions reader for highly selective Rice University, she has aided in the development of admissions and financial aid strategies for colleges and universities worldwide as a higher education enrollment consultant, and she has served as the Director of College Counseling in an elite K-12 school - a role that she was recognized for in 2015 when she was selected as The University of Chicago's Outstanding Educator of the Year.

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