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Seven Steps for Junior Parents over the Next Year

by Carol Barash, PhD, on Dec 11, 2013 4:10:00 PM

Here are seven key actions to remind your son or daughter about during the next 12 months—the ones they might forget as they’re slammed with classes, AP, and state tests.

1. Make a plan to keep standardized tests in perspective.

Your son or daughter should take either the ACT or SAT this spring. For admissions purposes, the tests are interchangeable—although they play to different strengths. Your child should take a free practice test of each to find which is right for him or her. Then focus on that one test. The ACT and SAT have different strategies and different rhythms, so it’s best to focus on only one. Then take the test no more than twice. The test score frenzy is expensive, and, in my opinion, a poor use of your time. Study strategically, pick a date, and cross it off. March of junior year is great because it’s before AP exams. For free ACT and SAT strategy guides, check out www.revolutionprep.comSparkNotes, and Kaplan.

2. Connect with teachers.

As students approach the second half of junior year, they should be thinking strategically about recommendations. Teachers they like are a good place to start—but not the only place. (Ed: I was a classroom teacher, and trust me—your child’s favorite teacher is a lot of students’ favorite.) For which teacher have they done original research and come up with original ideas? Did any of their teachers attend their top-choice colleges? How can they deepen their connections with their teachers, and do work that will be the foundation of excellent recommendation letters? One great question for trusted teachers is: “What do you consider my academic strengths, and where do you see opportunities for me to do better?”

3. Visit colleges.

Your child is probably already planning these, but there are a few key questions to answer in order to make the most of each visit. Are there special programs you’d like to learn more about? Facilities for sports, arts, or labs you’d like to visit? A coach or program director you’d like to meet? All of this takes research, planning, and organizing, and, unfortunately, it doesn’t really look good if you do it for your child. It’s not always comfortable at first for teens, but your son or daughter will learn a lot about professionalism and organizing by setting these up him or herself.

4. Take advantage of interview opportunities.

Some schools call interviews “optional,” but students should take advantage of every interview opportunity they can: everything from informal meetings when admissions officers visit their school/community to student, alumni, or on-campus interviews, where they are available. This is a great chance for students to present themselves as a person to the college—and great practice for all the interviews they will have the rest of their life!

5. Make a reasonable list.

Most college counselors suggest that students apply to 10 to 12 colleges (six target schools, two to three reach schools, and two to three likely schools). Your child may be stuck applying to the same schools their friends are applying to, and some schools will only take so many students from any given high school. I knew I didn’t want to go to the school in my hometown, but needed a different safety school, which took a lot of research, and what felt like shots in the dark. Now, sites like help colleges and students find each other.

6. Take big and new risks.

Senior year courses matter, including the grades, and colleges want to see that students are still committed to taking the most challenging courses their school offers and doing well in them. Many schools also offer senior electives, a great chance to try out some new things. Some of the best college essays come out of pursuing a long-hidden love or interest; encourage your child to try new things and take initiative in their extracurriculars.

7. Financial aid prep

Talk honestly with your son or daughter about what you can contribute to his or her college education, and make a chart of what you are likely to pay (that includes living expenses, books, etc.) at each of the colleges he or she is applying to. Check out these sites that provide financial aid information and forms:,, and

+ 1 more: What is their Story To College?

At the top schools, the college essay is often the top consideration, since everyone has similar grades, test scores and qualifications. Your child should make a list of his or her achievements, activities, and influences and see what they tell you about your aspirations, ambitions, and core attributes. What do the things they’ve done tell an admissions officer about who they would be on a college campus? Check out the results of our survey of what admissions officers are looking for, here.

This post was originally published on College Prowler. To access the original text, click here.


Topics:college admission