What Juniors Can Do Right Now
As the Ivy League schools release their admissions decisions, we have unofficially come to the end of our college application season; however, many of us are still waiting, literally, on waitlists and appeals. For the most part, we have received the majority of our acceptance letters and have a decent idea of what the next few years look like.
For non-seniors, there are many things that can be done as early as now, especially for juniors to do. Here’s a quick summary of what rising seniors can and should be doing during this second semester.
1. Academic planning
Most of you have already chosen your senior classes, but if you haven’t already (or if you still have the opportunity to make changes), pick your classes wisely. Colleges are looking at your applications holistically, so you’ll want to make sure that your classes agree with the major that you pick. In addition, don’t pick classes because other people are too or because your parents are telling you to. The important thing about course selection is picking classes that you enjoy so that you’ll put more effort into them, naturally resulting in a higher GPA. However, don’t stop challenging yourself – find the balance between enjoying-senior-year and keeping up with your academic rigor, which is a legitimate factor that college use to assess applications.
2. Recall all activities and awards
On your college applications, you will be asked to list all the activities, awards, honors, and achievements that you have had throughout high school, starting with the summer after 8th grade graduation day. If you don’t remember everything, make sure to start digging through your old boxes for those ribbons and certificates. Keep track of all the hours you spent (including travel and prep time) so that you can report the most accurate total of hours. Consider everything, not just academic stuff. Time spent traveling to all your karate lessons and competitions. Time spent watching your younger sibling while your parents were busy with work. Time spent tinkering with your computer hardware or software, whether video game related or not. The main goal is to present the hours you spent outside of sleeping and studying. Your activities list is another opportunity to highlight your skills, talents, and characteristics.
3. Brainstorm majors and colleges
If you don’t know what you want to study, start with which majors don’t excite you. Be careful not to dismiss an entire major just because you didn’t like your high school teacher who taught a loosely-related subject. Do your research and look at the various majors that schools offer. There is much more to computer science than just “computer science!” After that, start making a list of colleges that even have the majors that you’re interested in. You might be surprised to find out that your major isn’t offered at all schools. Separate your schools not just by chances of getting in – think about if you would actually attend that school if you were offered admission. Think about where you would be happy for at least four years – that will be the most important factor when deciding a school.
4. Figure out letters of recommendation
Ideally, you would ask a teacher who you’ve had more than once, especially over the years so that this teacher has seen and can attest to your growth throughout high school. Ask early enough so that you are familiar with the teacher’s policies, especially if you are thinking about applying to any schools early. Teachers (and school counselors) need time to prepare well; letters of recommendation are critical in the current application environment, so make sure to get to know your teachers – visit them during office hours and learn more about them!
5. Think deeply about these three questions: How did I become who I am today? Why do I want to study my major? What will I do with my college experience and degree?
Too often students begin writing college essays without putting enough thought into themselves. The key to a successful college essay is one that oozes critical self-analysis and understanding, which shows a level of maturity and self-awareness that signals to colleges that you are ready for the next level. At the same time, try not to overthink things. Tell yourself that this is simply 13th grade. After all, there really is not much difference between an 11th grader and a 12thgrader; why should there be much difference between a high school senior and college freshman? What I’m getting at is the idea that if you can stand out from a crowd of teenagers in terms of maturity and self-awareness, you’re well past the bell curve. Think deeply, and then outline some short stories that demonstrate and highlight your personal experiences that are yours alone. Tell unique stories; that’s how you end up with a unique application.