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Expert advice from real admissions officers and college counselors
Issue #17
 
Will You Burn Out Before You Get In?
(Juniors, this one's for you.)
BACKGROUND
If you are a junior, it may seem like your pile of college to-do's is growing steeper by the day. Truth is, this is a very critical year. From SAT and ACT test prep to researching colleges, every week will bring college-related challenges. Talk about stress! But there's no better remedy for stress than knowing what's coming — and what you can do about it.
 
THE QUESTION
What challenging college tasks do high school juniors face — and how can they handle the stress?
 
WORD FROM THE EXPERTS
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For many students, the most challenging task will be deciding where to apply. The key is to get an early start. Visit a local college — even if you don't plan to apply there. The experience of being on a college campus will help you see what colleges have to offer and enable you to better compare their various aspects. Meet with someone who is knowledgeable about colleges and the admissions process, such as your counselor. They can assist you in deciding what you should be looking for in a college, and help you understand your chances of admission at a variety of schools.
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Julie Manhan
Educational Consultant
College Navigation
Seattle, WA
 
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You need to prepare your family for the very important journey you are about to undertake. Including them now will relieve much of their stress — and therefore much of yours. Help your parents by beginning the planning soon. If you want to visit another part of the state or the country to look at schools, let them know now. You will soon begin to get lots of mail from colleges, so ask your parents to help you devise a filing system so all that mail doesn't pile up and create a mess.
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Arlene Cash
Vice President for Enrollment Management
Spelman College
Atlanta, GA
 
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The most challenging college task that juniors face is figuring out what they want in a college. Do they want a large, urban research university or a small, suburban liberal arts college? Do they want to be close to home or as far away as possible? Are they looking for a specific major, sport, or club? We encourage juniors to list the five top factors they are looking for in a college. Many students have never thought about this and only think of the most famous schools, where their friends are going, or where their parents went.
College choice is a personal matter. There is no "one size fits all" and each student must carefully consider what he or she wants. We encourage kids to "think outside the box," to look at schools that may not be household names but have interesting or unique programs. One way to start doing this is to get out and visit different types of schools to see what is out there and what clicks.
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Lois Halls
Head Counselor
Miramonte High School
Orinda, CA
 
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The countdown has begun! Every junior knows that the clock is now ticking on their college application process, but where to begin? First and foremost, don't panic! Take this entire journey step-by-step and the end result will be worth the effort. Use spring break as a time to narrow down your college choices. Spend a day or two of your break either visiting colleges or doing intensive research to find your top five schools — ones that have your major, meet the academic rigor you are comfortable with, have the right location and size, offer the student life you are interested in, and just feel like a great fit. If you cannot visit them all, then do the virtual tours on their websites to help narrow your choices.
Then most important, study, study, study! Junior-year grades are the most critical. These grades show academic maturity and a deeper level of critical thinking. Many students have one or two lower grades as freshmen, or possibly as sophomores. But by junior year, admissions folks expect to see solid and consistent grades across the board.
Have fun with this process and know that if you take these steps as a junior, submitting your applications as a senior will be much easier.
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Douglas Christiansen
Vice Provost for Enrollment
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, TN
 
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The biggest challenge will come next fall, when you're so busy writing essays, talking to your counselor, and re-taking tests, it will be easy to forget you're supposed to be having fun as a high school senior. Don't get me wrong — it's important to make sure your application is polished and your essays show your best side. But high school is a four-year learning experience, and you don't need to put that aside just to apply to college. Set up a schedule where you devote a two-hour block of time every weekend to college applications. Make it the same two-hour block each week, and make that the only time you work on apps. If you start that in September, you'll get to Thanksgiving with killer apps, have time to study and enjoy school during the week, and have great memories of a fabulous fall semester.
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Patrick O'Connor
Director of College Counseling
Roeper School
Birmingham, MI
 
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Of all the college-related tasks high school juniors will need to accomplish next year, one of the most challenging will be starting their college essay. Every year my students say that getting started on their essay is something they dread. They do not know what to write about or how to get started. And it is not easy to boil down your thoughts and experiences to 500 words or less. I suggest that juniors start now and keep a notebook, jotting down ideas and experiences, while continuing to work on their writing skills within their English classes. Juniors can take a look at this year's Common Application to get an idea of the essay questions, as they do not change much from year to year.
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Henry DelAngelo
Counselor, Joel Barlow High School
Educational Consultant
Your Key to College
Redding, CT
 
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Juniors need to keep asking themselves, "Who am I and what do I really want from college?" They need to stay focused on what matters to them — especially when the avalanche of brochures and e-mails comes their way in the second semester. This will help them tackle one of the most daunting tasks: coming up with a list of colleges that offer the qualities they value most.
Juniors need to be objective, not only about their academic strengths, but also about their academic preferences, such as a high-intensity environment or a more laid-back one. They need to think honestly about possible majors, and not just those that others suggest. Also important is a sense of geographic boldness. Are they willing to travel many miles or just a few? And last, they need to do the requisite research — such as making virtual or real visits to colleges — which can show the many facets of a university beyond its brochures.
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Barbara Simmons
Director of College Counseling
Notre Dame High School
San Jose, CA
 
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Your teachers from your junior year are the ones from which you'll get the best recommendations. In fact, many colleges specifically request recommendations from eleventh grade teachers only. So fall in love with a couple of your classes. Ask questions and stay engaged in classroom discussions. Communicate with your teachers regularly so they get to know you. Being mindful of these steps now will put you on a good footing come next fall when you need them to say positive things about you.
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Arun Ponnusamy
College Counselor
Collegewise
Los Angeles, CA
 
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College preparation testing — either the SAT or ACT — is high on the list of the most challenging tasks for juniors. Take the tests once in your junior year and then again in the fall of your senior year. You may prefer one testing format over the other, so consider trying both the SAT and ACT. To arrive at the test site rested and relaxed, try to find a testing date when you have a free Friday evening the day before.
Remember that any test is an indicator of your skills in a given area, and not the final answer on whether or not you will be successful in life. Of course, you should prepare and strive to do your best, but also keep the test in perspective. Many colleges and universities use the SAT and ACT as only one part of their evaluation of an admissions candidate, and test-optional institutions are growing more numerous. Good luck!
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Gretchen Gravely Tucker
Director of Admissions
Sweet Briar College
Sweet Briar, VA
 
THE LAST WORD
Obviously juniors have a lot on their get-into-college plates. It might be overwhelming just trying to think about all the tasks and challenges ahead! But as several advisors point out, tackling the process step-by-step, in an organized fashion, can reduce your stress and improve the quality of your efforts. Also, the more you discover what you want from a college, the better you can make informed decisions about where to apply and create strong applications when you do apply. So take heart, College Class of 2017. The road to college is challenging, but you can do it!
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About COLLEGEword
Advice provided in COLLEGEword reflects the views of the individual admissions officers and college counselors offering the advice. Information in this newsletter is of a general nature. It is provided for educational purposes only and may not apply to you or your situation.