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Preparing for College Admissions as a junior

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About this time of year, many grade 11 students and parents begin thinking about the upcoming college application process. As a junior, the path ahead may feel daunting, but there are a few things you can do now that will support you in feeling confident and well-prepared before beginning applications in earnest.

1. Speak with your Senior Friends about Their Experience

Applying to college is itself a learning process; when to take board tests, when you ask teachers for recommendations, how to spend your summer, when to begin your essays and so forth. Talk to your senior peers about what worked for them and what they would have done differently. Often, their feedback will focus on organization and time management. I wish I had started sooner, some will say. Fortunately, a majority of the college application can be completed well in advance of the deadlines; if you plan your timeline now, you’ll be set up to have a comfortable fall semester with little of the stress that college applications seem to promise.

2. Review the Common Application While It’s Open

The Common Application will close after the final application deadlines pass in March and member colleges process their applicant information offline. CA will then take stock of their year and re-evaluate based on the feedback they receive from the colleges and universities who use their service. It won’t open again until August. Before that happens, however, feel free to register and take a look around. Familiarize yourself with the layout and expectations of each section.

You can also download a previous version of the application here.

While the Common Application has received some criticism in previous years (and is likely to be challenged by alternatives like The Universal College Application, The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, and other tech disruptors for this year’s application season), familiarizing yourself with the ins and outs of the Common App will give you a good idea of what a standard application looks like.

In general, here’s what you can expect:

  • A Personal Statement of up to 650 words
  • Supplementary essays for member schools
  • Standardized Test Score reporting (ACT, SAT I, SAT II, TOEFL, etc.)
  • Letters of Recommendation from faculty and teachers
  • A list of extracurricular activities
  • Current courses
  • Contact information
  • Extenuating Circumstances (if applicable)

A complete application – either through the Common App or another organization –adds up to quite a bit of work! That work, however, will feel less daunting if you understand the lay of the land well before applications open again in August.

3. Know Why You’re Applying

This one is a bit tricky, but it’s useful to consider why you’re applying to college in the first place. Weird question, right? Of course I’m applying to college! you might well reply. What else would I do?

Many students – and teachers and parents, for that matter – will approach this question pragmatically: go to college to acquire skills for your future profession or the prestige of a college degree will open doors for you. These are refrains I hear all the time from clients, and they represent a completely legitimate train of thought. But it’s only a single piece of the puzzle.

Take a step back for a moment, and consider what motivates you. Since you’re ostensibly making a choice about your future, it’s useful to think about the future you’d like to have. Dream for a moment. What are your values? What kind of life do you want to live? What does it look and feel like? How will college have made a difference in five years or in ten?

It’s an abstract process, to be sure, but working backwards from your long-term goals – both hard (career) and soft (personal) – can help provide a clarifying context for why you’re going through this process called “college applications” at all. First, however, you might have to outline what those long-term goals are before you can find a school or list of school that can help you get there.

Here’s the crux: taking care of the logistical aspects required for college applications is half the battle. The other half – and an equally important half at that – is the subjective material you bring to your application, material that you will elucidate in your personal statement, your supplements, and any portfolio or additional material you might submit.

Begin thinking about your purpose now, and when it comes time to write your essays, you’ll have a wealth of material and topics you can write about.

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