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Lee Stetson: High School Juniors Entering Prime Time for College Prep

Here's what you need to remember as you begin the spring sprint toward your college search

The New Year. A time to set goals, make resolutions and get a fresh start on the days ahead.

Lee Stetson
Lee Stetson

This is especially true for high school juniors as they embark upon their second semester. With the start of the new year comes the beginning of prime-time preparation for your college career and the opportunity to initiate the first of a series of steps you will need to take along the way. As you read through this and the following articles in this series, remember that information and foresight are key tools in this endeavor and I aim to provide you with both.

As you enter into the final semester of your junior year, this is an ideal time to begin to formulate and shape your college search according to your individual needs. Through self-assessment and well thought-out planning, this can be a very productive time. Not only is it important for you realize this, but you should also know that college admissions offices are traditionally very interested in the academic outcome of a student’s junior year. In telling you this, it is not intended as a cause for alarm, but rather as an indicator and guide to help you select which areas you need to concentrate on and what questions you may decide to ask.

You will want to continue to focus on your studies and to perform at your utmost, academically. This will be your last opportunity to demonstrate your learning prowess over the course of an entire year, as an admissions committee will not be able to easily assess your progress throughout the entirety of your senior year. You may also want to give some thought at this time as to what courses you would like to select for your senior year. While these will certainly contribute to your development and will be given consideration by your selected schools, it is important to realize you do not need to commit yourself only to advanced courses. The key is to set a challenging but well-rounded curriculum for yourself.

As you reflect upon your course schedule, you will also want to start thinking about your various relationships with the junior-year faculty. Which teachers do you think know you well and can most effectively convey your personal and educational accomplishments and goals to an admissions committee? As these will be individuals working closely with you for an entire school year, they will best be able to provide a suitable recommendation to the schools of your choice when you are selecting application referrals. Faculty observations can be a critical factor in a committee’s assessment of your intellectual ability and academic acumen.

An important ally in this endeavor, one who should be able to help you in numerous ways, will be your school’s college or guidance counselor. Plan to meet with your counselor as soon as possible, if you have not already done so, as he or she will be able to provide valuable advice on all aspects of your college search. Your counselor should also be able to guide you toward resources that you can utilize to further explore your many options.

In regard to resources, it will be very useful to have a few materials readily available during your school selection process that you can refer to whenever necessary. Although this is the “online” era, and such sites as U.S. News & World Report and The College Board’s Handbook can be extremely helpful, I find that it is ultimately best to have some key guidebooks on hand. I would recommend the Fiske Guide to Colleges and the Insider’s Guide to the Colleges, but know that there are numerous other options. Your counselor will likely have some available that you can explore, and friends and family may have some helpful information as well.

This brings me to my final point, one that I would like for you to bear in mind, and that is to remain true to yourself when selecting your schools. Although I encourage you to speak to your family and peers to gain valuable insight and a range of perspectives, the ultimate decision and experience should be yours. This is not to say that there are not numerous deciding factors contributing to the end result, but that you should reflect carefully when considering the many elements that will help you find the school that best fits your needs. In this regard, campus visits will be invaluable in helping you pinpoint your priorities and focus your search. I look forward to discussing this process with you in the next article and wish you very happy hunting in the meantime!

— Lee Stetson is chairman of the Admissions Advisory Board for Global Education Opportunities, a private admissions counseling firm. He has dedicated his life to higher education, serving as dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania for the past 30 years. He was also a College Board trustee, and has authored numerous articles on the admissions process.

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