It's Never too Early to Start Planning-A Junior's guide for getting it all together

Fall 2012 | Permalink | Category: Career

    You may think you have another year before the hustle and bustle of college prep begins, but you are wrong. According to CampusExplorer.com, "Your junior year is probably the most important year when it comes to preparing for college admissions." 
    The fact is, there are many things you can do now that will ease the stress and anxiety of senior year. By now you probably have an idea of the schools you would like to attend- and if you do not, that is your first assignment. But, if you have already started brainstorming, and hopefully checked with your guidance counselor to make certain you are on track, here are 10 steps to put you ahead of the game. 
   1. Get Organized
Compile a list of every school in which you have the slightest interest and request information. Most will mail you a packet, but many are available for PDF download, as well. Create a system to keep all your information straight. A nice binder or simple filing system will work for paper, whereas online sites such as Springpad or Evernote might help as well. 
    2. Research Financial Aid 
Many institutions offer seminars, as well as one-on-one financial planning help. In addition, sites like PrincetonReview.com offer online seminars for a fee. These evaluate every financial aid option and discuss every aspect of the federal student loan process. However, beware of free seminars. According to US News, some are crafty sales pitches trying to sell you insurance, annuity, and investment products; or worse, may try to rope you into overpriced student loans or expensive scholarship matching services. Do your homework; always research the seminars. If you are unsure about the legitimacy, call the company or your college financial aid office. Next, learn the ins and outs of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). All students interested in financial aid for college-including scholarships- need to complete the FAFSA. While this can not be completed until the spring of your senior year, many students and parents find it complicated. Scholarships.com &Fastweb.com list thousands of scholarships available to high school juniors. Both require you to set up an account, but once your settings are established, eligible scholarships, requirements and due dates are at your disposal. Once again, though, be wary. Almost every scholarship that requires you to send in an application or processing fee is a scam. According to US News, application fees are unfortunately one of the most popular scams and deceive thousands of students each year. Last but not least, go ahead and note school-specific scholarships, their requirements and deadlines. While you may not be eligible right now, most maintain the same dealine year after year, and you will need to stay on top .
    3. Consider Dual Enrollment
According to the Alabama Community College system, Dual Enrollement programs that allow high school students to take academic coursework at community colleges are common accross Alabama and include all of the two-year colleges except Ingram State Technical College and Marion Military Institute. What this means? In many cases, students can easily enter their freshman year of college with 12 or more college credits, the equivalent of one semester. Alabama requires that students be academically advanced, as evidenced by meeting criteria such as grade point average of 3.0 or above and/or 1,000 or above on the SAT. The student is responsible for tuition. And all college-level courses in English, foreign languages, mathematics, science, or social science are open for enrollement. If you are not already participating in dual enrollment, contact your guidance counselor or nearest community college to find out more. 
    4. Study for the ACT and/or SAT
While most Alabama schools take either score, it is important to research your prospects before you begin studying. In addition, many Alabama schools now require you to take the written portion of the exam. You will want to know the specifics on every aspect before hitting the books. Both exam websites offer free test preparation, while almost every local bookstore and library carry test prep guides, as well. ACT and SAT prep courses are available at various locations and online for a fee, but many promise you a higher score or your money back. Just note: If you are considering a National Merit Scholarship, you must take PSAT in October of your junior year. While not all colleges participate in the National Merit Scholarship program, it is a great honor to be a National Merit Semifinalist and to compete for National Merit Scholarships. Colleges are very interested in students who are National Merit Semifinalists. 
    5. Meet with Military Representatives
If considering the National Guard, you need to start the process with the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). Military.com suggests taking the test as a junior "since the ASVAB gives you a snapshot of your current knowledge and skills." The site provides ASVAB study tips and sample questions, as well as helpful articles, such as "Know what to ask before meeting a recruiter." You will also find detailed information about what happens following your testing, and how to contact a recruiter. 
    6. Read the classics
It is no secret that you will do a lot of reading in your basic English courses, so make life easier and start now. Classics such as "Farenheit 451", "Huckleberry Finn", " I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and "Wuthering Heights" are just a few. While not garunteed to be on the list, you will be better prepared to analyze works and write those compare/contrast essays.
    7. Draft your personal statement
Not every school requires a written personal statement or something similar in its application process, but some do. And you can bet to write one for almost any scholarship application. Birmingham Southern requires 250-500 word personal statement on any topic of your choice. "Topics may include a significant life experience, personal aspirations, the importance of a Birmingham-Southern College liberal arts education, or local, national or international concerns." Talladega College requires an essay that tells about youself. "What are your interests, career goals, and leisure time activities. Who or what are the most important influences in your life? Do you or have you been involved in any community service activities? What is the most important book you have read? What do you enjoy most with your family? Why do you want to attend Talladega? Who or what influenced you to seek a Talladega education?" While the questions will not be the same for each school or scholarship, the theme often is. So go ahead, brainstorm and write that first draft. 
    8. Attend college fairs
The Birmingham National College Fair drew more than 160 schools to its 2011 event. Held in September at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, it also offers workshops addressing topics such as financial aid, taking the SAT/ACT, college admissions, getting started, and more. You can also check out VirtualCollegeFairs.com, which gives students the chance to explore Alabama's colleges and universities through campus pictures, videos, Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, and more. 
    9.Take the ACT and/or SAT
According to the SAT website, "Most students take the SAT for the first time during the spring of their junior year and a second time during the fall of their senior year." Tests are offered several times each year. Both exams require advance registration-usually a month or more- so check online for dates. And since you have already studied you will only need to check the web site for tips and tricks, and short video of what to expect on test day. 
    10. Plan your campus visits
Most institutions consider it the single most important part of the college decision process, and students consider it the most enjoyable. Although activities vary slightly from campus to campus, students usually receive complete ground tours, along with complimentary university memorabilia. Some offer additional perks. At the University of Montevallo, students can opt for a Gold Tour, which provides the opportunity to sit in an actual class with current students and have lunch in the student cafeteria, compliments of the University. Virginia College allows you to visit with instructors and your program director and to sit in on a class. And at Athens State University, you will see classroom buildings and technology facilities, and have the chance to talk with students, professors and members of the admission staff. 
 
So there you have it, the 10 steps to get you ahead of the game. Follow the guide and trust us- you will be thanking yourself on that first day of college.