SAT and Admissions Timeline: Junior Year

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For many of you, the soundtrack of your junior year will probably be the theme from "Jaws." It may feel like you're barely treading water while monsters from the deep--those heinous Homework Piranha and SAT Sharks--are trying to bite your legs and drag you down into the abyss. This could quite possibly be the most difficult academic year of your educational career. To get by, take one day, one month, and one semester at a time, with the help of the following timeline for college admission.

Fall

This is the most difficult academic year of high school, but you should still continue to take some challenging courses. Don't overload or overwhelm yourself, but attempt to enroll in as many advanced or honors courses as you can handle. Schedule a yearly meeting with your guidance counselor, and ask his or her help in determining the course load you should accept. You can also talk to your freshman and sophomore teachers, who are aware of both your abilities and your limitations.

It is imperative to take the PSAT in October, even if you already took the test last year. National Merit Scholarships are only awarded to junior-level test takers. Plus, taking the PSAT in the fall gives students a final practice run before the real SAT in the spring.

Volunteer or campaign for leadership positions in your extracurricular activities. Leadership is not only a highly-valued characteristic on college applications, but also an essential factor in most local and national scholarships. In addition, presiding over an organization or activity demonstrates your commitment and passion, both of which are keys to a top-rate college application.

While college itself still seems far away, the application process is quickly approaching. Create a list of potential colleges. The list should include several "Sure Things" (schools where you feel your admission is guaranteed), several "50/50" colleges (schools where you believe your admission is an even draw), and a couple of "Stretch" schools (colleges that seem out of reach). Discuss your list with your parents, counselor, and teachers, asking for any insight or information on each school. Research each college online to learn admissions criteria, tuition estimates, and academic requirements. Ultimately, you will be applying to 6 or 7 of these schools.

Most high schools allow students to take a specific number of days off, during both their junior and senior year, in order for the students to visit colleges. Because you are given only so many days each year, you should begin visiting colleges your junior year. Campus visits are imperative in selecting the college you will attend, as it is the only chance you actually have to walk the grounds, sit in on classes, and speak with current students. Avoid visiting during holidays or exams so you get a true sense of day-to-day life on the campus. To arrange college visits, speak with your guidance counselor and call the admissions department of the specific college.

Spring

After the new year, determine which spring administration of the SAT and/or ACT works best with your schedule. The test is typically offered in April, May, and June. Register now, to avoid late fees and to ensure available space at the test center. The SAT is considered a junior-level test, so it is wise to take the exam when junior-level material is still current in your mind. You should also take it during your junior year in the event that your score does not meet your expectations; you'll have several more opportunities to try again during the fall of your senior year. If you are planning on taking a PowerScore SAT Course, schedule the course just prior to the test.

By now you may have narrowed your list of potential colleges after online research and college visits. Continue to visit the universities on your list. During one visit, make an appointment with a financial aid officer so you can begin to understand the process for applying for loans and grants. While you may not choose to attend this college, most schools follow similar models for disbursing financial aid. You should also begin to request information packets and applications from colleges on your list. You can do this online or by calling the admissions department.

There are millions of dollars in regional and national scholarships available to a diverse range of future college students. Are you Irish? There's a scholarship for college-bound students of Irish decent. Are you a member of the Accounting Club? There's a scholarship for those aspiring to be accountant. Are you clinically overweight? Are you a mobile home park resident? Are you a triplet? There are thousands of scholarships based on different criteria. And thanks to the World Wide Web, these scholarships are easy to find. FastWeb is a free service recommended by educators and college admissions departments. After completing a career interest and background survey, FastWeb returns all of the national and school-specific scholarships for which you qualify. Scholarship applications can be quite lengthy and include multiple essays, but when you consider the potential pay-off, they are well worth the extra time and effort. Research these national scholarships in the spring of your junior year to ensure that you don't miss any deadlines (which are also provided by FastWeb in a convenient calendar format).

Remember to take your SAT Subject Tests or AP Exams at the end of your junior year over any curriculum you've covered in the 11th grade.

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