What Should High School Juniors Do to Prepare for College?

Get ahead on testing and be organized in your communication with colleges, experts say.

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As sure as the sun will rise, students will start to get visions of lakes, barbecues, and sleeping in past noon as the weather gets warmer and the school year comes to a close. Seniors have already been through the admissions process and now juniors start their search for the school that's best for them. Andrew S., a junior from Renton, Wash., wants to know the best things to do over the summer to get a leg up in the college admissions race:

Q: As a junior looking to stay on top of my college admissions timeline, what are the most important things for me to be doing before senior year starts?

A: Good for you: Set your 'game plan' now!

Nancy Meislahn, dean of admissions and financial aid, Wesleyan University Being organized in your communications with colleges will put—and keep—you on the right path. Decide now what E-mail address you will use for all your correspondence with colleges. Choose an address that will give colleges a good first impression (nothing cutesy or suggestive). And, commit to reading that E-mail regularly, at least weekly now and more frequently once you've made applications. Discuss with your family how to deal with college-related mail, where to put mail before you've sorted it, and how to file things for reference. Start a 'college calendar' with important test dates, deadlines and program invitations/open houses you might want to attend.

A: Position yourself for freshman success.

Eric Furda, dean of admissions, University of Pennsylvania As a junior, the choices you make on your senior curriculum are important, not because of 'how it looks to colleges', rather, 'how will these courses prepare me for the expectations and realities of the college curriculum'. I have a great deal to say on this subject, but will keep my comments at a fairly high level:

1. In the United States you don't have a major in high school. Taking senior level courses in English, math, natural science, language, and a social science is essential. Of course there are exceptions, but this should be the rule.

2. For engineering students, take a second level of physics, even if you want to enter a field like bioengineering.

3. Taking calculus at the highest level available in line with your math background is the preferable senior year math selection for college level work.

[Get advice on how to choose the right school.]

A: Get a jump on testing.

Dr. Michele Hernandez, president and founder, HernandezCollegeConsulting.com and ApplicationBootCamp.com The most important advice for juniors is to plan out testing early in the year so that you are done with the SAT or ACT by March at the latest and can save May and June for subject tests and AP's. Senior fall testing should only be a fall back, one more chance to push up a score, not the first time you're seeing a score. The reason: it's near impossible to target schools to visit unless you have a good grasp of where your SAT/ACT, subject tests, and AP scores fall. After testing, the main thing is to have a great junior year in terms of academic performance. Colleges want to see an upward grade trend as classes get progressively harder. Finally, be sure to go 'above and beyond' in your classes and develop relationships with your teachers and your guidance counselor so they will know you well enough to write a great teacher evaluation. These are extremely important in the process and can help applicants stand out in a hyper-competitive applicant pool.

[Get 6 tips for ACT success.]

A: Construct a roadmap for your future.

Don Fraser Jr., Director of Education and Training, National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Develop a roadmap complete with month-by-month action items and goals related to the college application process (e.g., working on your essay, continuing in-depth research of a variety of postsecondary opportunities, and planning campus visits). Visiting multiple college campuses, for example, requires coordination and careful planning that will be more difficult to do once the school year starts. Admission offices are open in the summer and typically less busy, so pick up the phone and ask about their fall visits as well as any interesting events going on in the fall. That might help you select dates for your visit.

[See U.S. News's list of questions to ask on campus tours.]

A: Plan, don't panic. Enjoy junior year.

Ralph Figueroa, director of college guidance, Albuquerque Academy The college timeline seems so rushed today. That is artificial. Plan, but don't panic. Junior year is a great time to explore college options through websites, guidebooks, and most helpful of all—college visits. Visit colleges of various sizes and locations, the more, the better. Fill out visit cards even if you are on the mailing list; they keep track. Also, focus on doing the best you can academically, this year is critical to your application. Mostly, though, enjoy being a junior. The future is important, but don't lose sight of your high school years—you will miss them later.

Visit the Unigo Expert Network for 40 more ideas on making the most of your summer break and to have your own questions answered.