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11th Grade College Checklist: Junior Year College Preparation

If you’ve got a rising junior, then chances are you’re anticipating that the college process will kick into higher gear this coming year. But what does that mean exactly? Are you praying for an 11th grade college checklist that gives you a sense of what’s to come? Here’s what parents and teenagers need to know about college to-dos for junior year college preparation.

11th Grade College Checklist

1. Get the best grades you can.

Grades and courses for eleventh grade will be closely scrutinized by college admissions staffers. Encourage your student to get the best grades possible in courses that are challenging for your particular student, not someone else’s student. In general, admissions officers want to see an upward trend, so if your student stumbled early on in high school, encourage her to use this year to show the growth admissions officers like to see in an applicant.

2. Understand how financial aid works.

Think of paying for college like buying car. There’s the sticker price. And then there is the price you will actually pay. And everyone pays a different price. Do you have an idea of what your family will be expected to pay? Now’s the time to figure it out, so your student can apply to schools that are affordable for your family (hint: for most middle class families that means applying to colleges that are generous with merit aid and/or in-state public universities). Learn more: Paying for College: How to Make It Affordable for Your Family.

3. Visit colleges.

Your teenager will get the best feel for a college while students are on campus, so that means you’ll need to plan at least some college visits during your junior year college preparation. Many families use spring break of eleventh grade for this purpose. But if a multi-day college tour road trip is not affordable for your family, then take your teenager on day trips to visit colleges in your region. Chances are you have a variety of colleges (small, big, private, public) within a couple hours of your home. Even if your student doesn’t apply to these schools, he can still experience an urban campus versus a rural campus, for example. Or a big public university versus a small liberal arts college. Learn more: 10 Must Dos for Any College Visit.

4. Make a plan for testing.

College-related testing amps up junior year. Most juniors will take either the ACT or the SAT at some point during the year. But when? Your teenager can take it as early as September or he can wait until June. And which one to take? Some students do better on the SAT, others on the ACT. Here are some suggestions:

ACT or SAT? 

Did your student do well on the PSAT? This is an indication she will do well on the SAT. Students who did well on the Pre-ACT will probably do well on the ACT. If you’re not sure, encourage your student take a sample test. Note also that depending on your student’s curriculum, it may be wise to wait until later in the year to take the test. For example, students on a faster math track will have learned most of the math on these tests by the beginning of junior year. Those on a slower track may learn that math later junior year.

Also, encourage your student to spend some time preparing for the test. Upping a score by just a few percentage points can make a big difference, both in the kinds of schools your teenager can apply to and the merit aid he’ll be eligible for. It doesn’t need to be expensive. Khan Academy offers free SAT prep, as do many local communities (check your library); you can buy workbooks for both the ACT and SAT for around $20 (consider getting one with real former tests).

Other tests to keep in mind. 

If your student is taking an AP or IB class, then she will also be taking the AP or IB test at the end of the school year. Students who plan to apply to competitive colleges should also have a couple of SAT Subject tests on the books, as many of those schools require students to submit at least two.

5. Commit to a couple extracurriculars.

In addition to your student’s academic record, many competitive colleges will want to see some commitment to extracurricular activities. However, these colleges are not looking for a lengthy list of extracurriculars. Most admissions officers want to see a couple of extracurriculars to which your student has devoted considerable time. And if your student has a leadership position in one or more of those extracurriculars, all the better.

Also, there is no “right” extracurricular. Rather, what’s right is what your student enjoys, be that debate, volunteering, sports, or something off-beat, like medieval re-enactment. Many students also work part-time or have family duties, like taking care of younger siblings. Admissions officers consider those extracurriculars too, so be sure to include them on your application. Learn more: The Role of Extracurricular Activities in College Admissions.

Diana Simeon

Diana Simeon is an editorial consultant for Your Teen.