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It’s time for high school juniors to get serious about college

Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.

Juniors need to become invested in the college admissions process as early in their junior year as possible.

If you ask most college freshman for advice, you’re likely to hear this good advice: Start the process earlier and don’t wait until the last minute to visit colleges or submit applications. Juniors don’t need to have identified a college major or even to have finalized their college list, but they do need to be on top of a range of college-related items.

Testing. High school juniors will take the PSAT in school on Oct. 16. Colleges won’t see these scores because it is a “practice” test, but a strong score could translate into scholarship money since the PSAT is the National Merit Qualifying Test.

Unless you think there is a good chance you will score extraordinarily well, there is really no need to prep for this test; but it can be used as a benchmark for future testing. When you get your results back, you’ll be able to see where there are gaps and areas for improvement.

Course selection. The most important factor in the college admissions process is the rigor of a student’s schedule and the student’s performance in classes, relative to other students at the school and relative to the offerings at each high school.

Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes are not for everyone. Some high schools don’t have the capability to offer as many AP/IB classes as other schools, and those students are not penalized by colleges. Colleges are looking to see how students challenged themselves within their own environment.

Grades. Keep up with your grades. Applications for Early Action (non-binding) or Early Decision (binding) are due in October and November, and therefore colleges will not see any grades beyond junior year.

Foreign language. Check different college websites to see how many years of a foreign language they either recommend or require. Just because your high school only requires two years does not mean that a selective college will think that is enough.

Leadership roles. Seek out leadership opportunities during junior year. Leadership is the strongest transferrable skill from high school to college. If students served in a leadership role in high school, there is a good chance they will be interested in getting involved while they are in college.

Campus visits. Visit a few colleges nearby; if possible, select a large public university and a small private college so you can understand the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.
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