Jun 1, 2015

Year-end mistakes high school juniors should avoid

As the weather improves and spring fever turns into summer anticipation, high school attention begins to drift away from academics to some more entertaining seasonal activities like weekends at the beach or prom.

But for juniors on deck for officially starting the college application process, getting off track at this stage of the game can be a huge mistake.  In fact, end-of-year slip-ups can spell disaster with irreversible results.

To avoid negative outcomes brought on by letting motivational guard down, here are a few year-end mistakes high school juniors should avoid:

Blowing Final Exams.  After Advanced Placement or other required school-based standardized exams have passed, it’s all too easy to take a vacation from academics.  But for many classes, final exams or important class projects are still out there.  And they often count for a huge percent of the final grade.  This is not the time to lose focus and drift toward finals.  Colleges, especially those to which you plan to apply early, will be looking at junior year grades.  Don’t blow a year’s worth of hard work by failing to do your best on the last few requirements of junior year.

Neglecting Standardized Tests.  Both the ACT and the SAT Reasoning Test have June test dates.  If you’ve signed up to take one or the other or both tests, take time to systematically prepare.  Whether you’re working with a tutor or on your own, make sure you walk into the test center with more than a couple of number two pencils and a calculator.  Work practice tests and additional problem sets to sharpen your knowledge of different kinds of test questions, as June results could have a huge impact on your college list and ability to apply early in the fall.

Failing to Sign-up for Subject Tests.  If you’ve taken an Advanced Placement or IB class that connects with one of the 20 SAT Subject Tests, don’t forget that quite a few colleges and universities require, recommend or just like to see Subject Test results.  It’s far better to take them while the material is still fresh in your mind rather than punting them until the fall or next year.  But don’t just rely on what you learned in the class to get ‘over on’ the Subject Test.  Although much of the knowledge directly applies, you may find subtle and not-too-subtle differences.  Use the coming weeks to prepare specifically for the Subject Tests (up to 3) you plan to take.

Skipping Campus Visits.  Admittedly the summer months are not the best time to visit college campuses.  It’s much better to see colleges when students are around.  But if you simply cannot get to campuses on your list any other time, don’t just skip the visit.  Contact the college and sign-up for both an information session and a tour.  You may be surprised to find a more relaxed atmosphere in the admissions office that could help you make contacts or promote your future candidacy. 

Forgetting to Schedule Interviews.  A significant number of colleges either require or recommend interviews. These can be on campus or off, and they can begin during the summer before senior year.  Check the admissions pages on the websites of colleges on your list and see if interview schedules have already been posted for the coming months.  If you don’t act early enough (like before school ends), you may find that scarce interview slots have already been allocated.

Failing to Secure Recommendations.  Although different high schools treat recommendation requests differently, it’s usually a good idea to ask at least one or two junior year teachers for college recommendations before taking off for the summer.  Be sure to provide a resume or any other materials you think may be helpful for teachers writing recommendations on your behalf.   AND always follow-up your requests with sincere thank-you notes.

Ignoring Scholarship Opportunities.  Now is the time to begin focusing on scholarship opportunities.  Waiting until second semester senior year or until all your college applications have been submitted is usually a big mistake, as a surprising number of competitions have deadlines early in senior year.  In fact, now is a good time to begin positioning yourself to compete for scholarships requiring essays, videos, leadership or just plain good grades.

Neglecting to Prepare for the Summer.  By the end of the school year, you should have a clear plan for the summer which includes anything from internships to summer classes to band practice.  If you’ve arranged for an internship or a summer job, take the time to research the organization and learn more about what you will be doing before the first day of work—first impressions are everything.  If you plan to “study forward” for senior year, try to get books or class materials before everyone leaves for the summer.   And be sure to factor in plenty of time to work on finalizing your college list and getting a head start on applications and essays during the summer.  Organization and thinking ahead now will pay off handsomely later.

Before the end of the school year, it’s usually a good idea to check in with your counselor.  Make sure you’ve provided everything the counselor needs from you by the end of junior year and take the time to update him or her on your plans for the summer.   

And while you’re at it, let your counselor know how much you value and appreciate the role he or she has played and will continue to play in your college search. 

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