11th Grade

How to Guide and Advise Your Junior

The junior year is when students should seriously begin examining their college options. Juniors should also take college tests, make college visits, and start searching for scholarships.

1. Continue to monitor academic progress.

Since most college applications are completed in the fall of a student’s senior year, the last grades on a student’s transcript are usually the junior year grades. Junior year grades are, therefore, the most important grades in high school. Make sure that your son or daughter understands the importance of getting good grades as a junior. Also, ask your child to find out what his/her GPA and class rank are.

2. Encourage involvement in activities and the development of leadership skills.

3. Have your son or daughter register for the PSAT/NMSQT in September.

The PSAT/NMSQT is a national test that’s administered by high schools in October. It is divided into five sections: two Critical Reading, two Math, and one Writing.

College bound juniors should take the PSAT/NMSQT for the following reasons:

  1. It is good practice for the SAT.
  2. It gives students an idea of how they will score on the SAT.
  3. Students can see how their academic skills compare to those of other college bound students.
  4. Students whose scores are exceptionally high are recognized by the National Merit Foundation. This recognition can lead to scholarships.

Students taking the PSAT/NMSQT are given a “Student Bulletin.” This publication contains valuable test-taking tips and a practice test. Students who read the bulletin and take the practice test are better prepared for the PSAT, and they get higher scores.

The results of the PSAT are available in mid-to-late December. Students receive scores in Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. Scores for each section range between 20 and 80. For National Merit purposes, the three scores are added together to determine the Selection Index. Students with Selection Index scores in the top five percent are recognized by National Merit. Students who have Selection Index scores in the upper one half of one percent become National Merit semifinalists. Hispanic and African-American students with outstanding scores also receive special recognition.

Tip: The PSAT/NMSQT penalizes students for guessing by subtracting a fraction on a point for every incorrect response. If a student has no idea of what the correct response is, he/she should leave the answer blank. If a student can eliminate one or more answer choices, he/she should make an “educated guess.”

4. Think about and explore college options.

There are over 2,000 four-year colleges and universities in the United States. When looking for a college, consider the following:

  • Location
  • Campus Size
  • City Size
  • Reputation
  • Majors / Programs / Activities
  • Cost / Financial Aid
  • Admissions Requirements
  • Environment        

Early in the selection process, determine what’s important to you and your son or daughter. Are you looking for a college close to home? Do you want a small college or large college, a private or public college? Once your have determined what you’re looking for, you can then begin to search for the colleges that meet your needs.

Guidance offices, bookstores, and libraries all have a variety of college reference books. Many guidance offices also have computer programs that can identify all of the colleges that meet a specific set of criteria. A wealth of information is, of course, also available on the Internet. You can do a college search online, and all colleges now have their own Web sites. There are also a number of excellent Web sites with information on testing, financial aid, etc.

Tip: Once you have identified a college that you’d like to investigate further, call the admissions office and ask to be placed on their mailing list.

Tip: Early in the college selection, have a frank discussion with your son or daughter with regards to the amount of money you are able and/or willing to contribute to his/her college education.  

5. Make sure that your son or daughter registers for the ACT and/or the SAT early in the spring.

Why take the ACT and/or SAT?

Almost all four-year colleges require scores for either the ACT of the SAT I. Most colleges accept scores from either test; however, to determine if a college requires or prefers the ACT or the SAT, check their catalog or go to their website. Students hoping to get into a competitive college or program should take both the ACT and SAT. Students applying for scholarships should also take both tests.

Students can take the ACT and/or the SAT as many times as they want, and in most cases, colleges will use a student’s highest score. (ACT reports that the majority of students who retake the ACT score the same or higher.) Students should take the ACT and/or the SAT by the spring of their junior year. If they want to improve their scores, they can then retake these tests in the fall of their senior year. How do you sign up for the ACT and the SAT?

The ACT is offered in October, December, February, April, and June. The SAT I and II are offered in October, November, December, January, March, May, and June. Students can register for the ACT at www.act.org, and for the SAT at www.collegeboard.com. Students can also pick up study guides and registration packets for the ACT and SAT in their high school guidance office. Since registration deadlines are about five weeks prior to each test date, students should register a couple of months before they plan to take the test.

To prepare for the ACT or the SAT, students need to go over the study guide very carefully. Students also need to take at least one practice test. Of course, there are numerous books, Web sites, videos, and computer programs that provide additional preparation for the ACT and SAT. Following a strong college prep program in high school is the best preparation for both of these tests.

Registered students are sent an “admission ticket” before the test date. Both the ACT and SAT are given on Saturday mornings, and both tests take about four hours. (Students with documented disabilities may be eligible for special accommodations.) Students receive their scores three to six weeks after the test.

How is the ACT Scored?

The ACT consists of four multiple-choice tests: English, Reading, Math, and Science. Students are given a score (1-36) for each test, along with an overall Composite score. Students can now also choose to take the optional Writing Test. Students taking the Writing Test receive an additional English/Writing score; this score will not affect their Composite score. Since there is no penalty for guessing, students should answer every question.

How is the SAT Scored?

The new SATI has three sections: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. Scores range from 200 to 800 for each section. Since there is a slight penalty for guessing, if a student has no idea what the answer is, he/she should make an “educated” guess.

Tip: For an additional fee, ACT and SAT will send you the test questions, your son’s or daughter’s answers, and the correct answers.

Why take the SAT II?

The SAT II: Subject Tests are one-hour tests that measure knowledge in specific subject areas (biology, French, math, etc.). Some selective colleges require or recommend that applicants take two or three SAT II: Subject Tests for admission and/or placement. These colleges will list the SAT II as a requirement in their admissions information.

6. Make college visits.

Many high schools allow students to miss a certain number of days for college visits. For information on you school’s policy, call the high school attendance office.

The junior year is an excellent time to make college visits. If you visit colleges during the summer months, be sure to go back to the colleges you’re seriously considering, so that you can get a feel for what they’re like when they’re in “full swing.” To plan a college visit, call the admissions office several weeks ahead of time. Explain that you are the parent of a high school junior and that you are interested in setting up a college visit.

Ask if they have any “visitation days” or “open houses” scheduled. These programs are designed specifically for prospective students and their parents. They generally include tours and information sessions on a variety of topics (financial aid, admissions, honors programs, etc.). If you want to visit a college on a day when no specific program is planned, you can schedule appointments and a tour through the admissions office.

"When my son was a junior, we visited a college over his spring break. Three weeks before we visited, I called the admissions office. They arranged for us to meet with an admissions counselor at 9:00, take a walking tour at 10:00, meet with a scholarship advisor at 1:00 and the coordinator of the pre-engineering programs at 3:00. In between and after these appointments, we ate in the student union, talked to students, looked at a dorm, and watched part of a baseball game. By the time we left, we felt like we had a pretty good idea of what this particular college had to offer. On the way home, we talked about what we had heard and seen, and we made notes on the college’s positive and negative aspects, unique programs, etc.” –S. Mills, Parent

Make the most of your college visit.

  • Prepare for your visit by learning as much as you can about the college. Look over their catalog, visit their Web site, etc.
  • Take a tour, noting the cleanliness, atmosphere, and size of the campus. Also note how the students look and act.
  • Meet with an admissions counselor, and, if possible, attend a group information session. Have your questions ready.
  • Sit in on a class, and talk to someone in the department your son or daughter is considering as a major. Find out about the entrance and graduation requirements for that major, the size of the program, the graduation rate, and the kinds of jobs their graduates get. Be sure to also check out the labs, facilities, computers, etc. for that major.
  • If your son or daughter is an outstanding student, check to see if the college has an Honors Program. Honors Programs offer a variety of unique opportunities including honors housing, access to honors courses, and priority scheduling.
  • Read the campus newspaper; listen to the college radio station.
  • Visit a dorm, and if possible, eat in a student cafeteria. Also, check out the freshman dorm options.
  • Inquire about any special program or activity in which you son or daughter may be interested (band, L.D. tutoring, intramural sports, Greek life, studying abroad, co-op programs, etc.).
  • Visit the student union and talk to students. Ask them what they think of the school, what they like about it, what they dislike, what they do on weekends, etc. Students are generally friendly, honest, and happy to give you their opinions.
  • If you are concerned that your son or daughter may have difficulty getting accepted, or if there are aspects of his/her academic record that you would like to explain, take an unofficial transcript with you and talk to an admissions counselor.
  • Verify the cost of the college. If you are interested in financial assistance, make an appointment with a counselor in the financial aid and/or scholarship office. If you want to discuss scholarship possibilities take an unofficial transcript with you.
  • Many parents have concerns that relate to
  1. the safety of the campus,
  2. T.A.s (teaching assistants) teaching classes and/or labs in place of professors, and
  3. the ability of students to schedule the classes they need in order to graduate in four years. Admissions representatives and tour guides should be able to address these issues.
  • Double check admission requirements. To find out how you son or daughter compares academically, ask what the average GPA and ACT/SAT scores are for incoming freshman.
  • Ask what percentage of the students return after their freshman year. Also ask what percentage of freshman graduate. 
    • Tip: Have your son or daughter write a thank you note if he/she had a personal meeting or interview. Once you start contacting colleges and making visits, start a filing system. In this filing system, keep notes on contacts made and subjects discussed. Include names, dates, etc. Also keep copies of all correspondence and of all completed application forms.

If you can’t visit a college, visit their Web site. You may be able to take a “virtual tour” online. You can also take a quick look at a number of campuses online at www.campustours.com.

7. Help your son or daughter select the right courses for his/her senior year.

Make sure that senior courses fulfill all high school graduation requirements, the requirements for the college(s) your son or daughter is considering and, if necessary, the requirements for athletic eligibility.
All colleges recommend that seniors continue to follow a strong college prep program, and most college applications ask students to list their senior courses. Even though students may want to “take it easy” their senior year, they need to continue taking academic course.

Tip: At many colleges, freshmen are required to take a math placement test before they register for classes. Students who haven’t taken math as a senior are much more likely to have difficulty with this test. All students should, therefore, take a math course their senior year.

Tip: College students must be computer literate. At the very least, they need to know how to use a word processing program, how to use the Internet for research, and how to sent and receive e-mails.

8. Look for scholarships.

Most scholarship applications need to be completed during the first half of a student’s senior year. Students hoping to get scholarships should, however, start looking for scholarship possibilities as a junior.

9. Update your child’s “Activities and Awards” record.

10. Meet with the high school counselor to discuss college plans.

11. Help choose meaningful activities for the summer months.

Students should try to get a job or do volunteer work in a field related to their intended major.

12. Narrow the list of college choices.

Visit colleges over the summer so that your son or daughter will know which schools he/she wants to apply to in the fall.

13. Have your son or daughter establish a permanent email address to use when communicating with colleges.

14. Continue to put money into your college savings account.