Advice for Juniors

What should juniors be doing right NOW?

For most students, the second semester of junior year is when the college application process begins in earnest. So this month, we asked our high school counselors: What’s the most important task for juniors to tackle in second semester of junior year? Read on to get a jump start on your to do list!


Mai Lien Nguyen
College and Career Center Coordinator

Mountain View High School
Mountain View, California

Be yourself! Everybody else is taken...

High school counselor Barbara Simmons joins us today to examine the meaning of the directive to "Be yourself!" in the college application -- and provides some steps for getting there. Heads up, juniors! The time to start thinking about this is now.


With all of the resolutions swirling around in January when everything is fresh and new – I propose a resolution for all students embarking upon their search for those colleges that will become their new educational and social homes in a year and a half.  So, this resolution is for you, the juniors in high school, heading towards your 2nd semester of junior year.

Resolved:  I will continue to “know myself”.

Many of you will think that this aphorism, “know thyself”, has been both overused and around since ancient Greece – at times a proverb used to help those who boasted about themselves, “exceeding what they actually were,” and at times a “warning to pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude." .  How many times have you heard “know who you are?” from a counselor or educator or parent?  How many questionnaires have you answered with this as the guiding theme?

Juniors: Let Them Show You the Money

Juniors, part of researching colleges is understanding the cost of a college education. It's not too soon to start investigating what your family may be asked to pay for college. To do that, start with the net price calculators (also called financial aid calculators) that every college and university are required to have on their website. (Calculators can also be found through the College Board at and on the Federal Student Aid website at

This online tool will give you a preliminary understanding of the amount you may be expected to pay out of pocket, as well as aid you may be eligible to receive from the federal government and the colleges themselves. Over the coming weeks, sit down with your parents and take a look at the net price calculators on the websites of some of the colleges in which you're interested.

In 2012-13, $238.5 billion in financial aid was distributed to undergraduate and graduate students in the form of grants, Federal Work-Study, federal loans, and federal tax credits and deductions, according to the College Board's Trends in Student Aid. There is money out there to help you finance a college education. But you have to apply for it. 


Juniors: Finish the Semester Strong

Juniors, as the semester winds down and thoughts of winter break begin to dance in your head, remember to continue to give your best effort in all your classes and finish strong.  Grades have been consistently rated as the top factor in admission decisions by colleges for the past decade. In the most recent State of College Admission report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 84 percent of colleges reported grades in college prep courses as decisive. One more time for emphasis: the grades you earn and the classes you take are important -- and grades in your junior year can be critical. For now, focus your efforts in the classroom… Winter break will be here soon.

Check out Chapter 5 in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step for more information about what defines a challenging curriculum and achieving balance between grades, challenging courses, and personal time.

Juniors: Just Do It!

Students -- and parents -- are constantly asking us what colleges want to see students doing outside of the classroom. Volunteer work, student government, a sport, a club? Here's the answer: There is no resume of activities that will guarantee admission to college. You can be involved in soccer, band, debate, robotics, hold a part-time job, have a consuming hobby like cooking or have family responsibilities like caring for younger siblings. But colleges do want to see you do something. If you are sitting on the couch playing video games all day, colleges will not regard that as a positive -- unless you're designing video games.

So this week's advice is: Just do it! Remember, colleges are looking at what you do outside the classroom to understand who you are, but also to understand what you will contribute to the community once you’re on campus. And at this point in your high school career, you may also want to take the initiative and consider a leadership position in whatever activity most interests you.


This Week's Advice for Juniors: Sleep In and Eat Pie!

Juniors, our advice for this week is to sleep in and eat pie. This is a time for relaxing with family and friends. We do have a couple of suggestions, though. If you're visiting family near a college in which you might be interested, consider taking a drive through the nearby campus. The admission office will likely be closed, but it's still a great time to walk through the grounds.  And if you have a chance to visit with any of last year's seniors who are returning from their first few months at college, take the time to ask them about their application experience. What they wish they had known or had done differently or maybe what mattered most for them in selecting and choosing a college. Other than that, stick with the program of football, pie, family and sleeping in.

Juniors: Subjective Guidebooks and Websites for your College Search

One of the most important steps in the college application process is researching the colleges. Last week, we brought you our list of objective guidebooks and websites -- the comprehensive catalogs that provide at-a-glance overviews for colleges and universities with facts and figures on variables such as location, cost, test scores, academics, athletics and financial aid. These are great starting points for your research.

This week, we have the subjective guidebooks and websites. These subjective resources can also provide basic facts about colleges and universities, such as acceptance rates and enrollment. But they also "review" the schools -- offering fact and opinion about the physical campus, student body, academics and other aspects of campus life. Their anecdotal nature makes them very entertaining, but pay attention to how they gather their information and from whom.

All of these guidebooks are usually available in bookstores, libraries and the office of your high school college counselor. Websites are available to everyone free of charge.



Juniors: How do you learn? It's important when considering colleges!

In the last couple of weeks, we've asked you to "research yourself" as you start to create a preliminary list of colleges. 

There's no question the students who do best in the college application process have figured out who they are and what they want. We've asked you to think about your personal preferences and interests like favorite books and television shows and to take advantage of the personality inventories on Naviance and similar platforms. We've even asked you to consider which Star Trek character you may resemble. Hey, we think you can learn something about yourself there!

This week, we're going to ask you to think about yourself in the classroom. Because college is a learning environment, you need to honestly evaluate yourself as a student in order to figure out what schools are best for you.

First, consider your academic record. Keep in mind that there are no "right" answers. You're just mining for information. Here are some questions to help you begin:

What is your GPA? What is the highest GPA reported by your school?

Are you challenging yourself in the classroom with advanced classes, such as AP’s?

What is the most intellectually engaging class you have taken in high school? Why? How did it influence you?

What do you choose to learn when you learn on your own? Consider what topics you choose for research papers, lab reports, or independent reading.

What subjects have you excelled in?

Juniors: The First Step in Crafting a Preliminary List of Colleges

Your task in the next few months is to turn a four-digit universe—2,675 colleges— into a two-digit preliminary list of possibilities: the dozen or more schools you think you might like to attend. Step one in this process: Research yourself. What do you want? Before you start asking how schools are going to see you, think first about how you see yourself.

It is crucial that you set time aside to think deeply about this next phase of your life: what you want out of it, what you absolutely need to have, what you can and can't live without for four years, etc. If you  are so overloaded with activities and academics that you do not take the time for self-reflection in this process, that's a mistake. Because you will end up with choices you are not truly happy with and cannot own.

Start by examining your preferences, priorities, interests, and hopes. You can fnd personality tests and “interest inventories” in some reference guidebooks such as the Fiske Guide to Colleges, or online with a Web- based service such as Naviance. Some of you may seek out friends, family, and guidance counselors to help you. Here are some questions from us about your interests and activities to help you get started:

1. What is your favorite thing to do?

2. What inspires you?

3. Which activity have you pursued outside of school that has been most meaningful to you?

Sheila Roberts, Bob Jones High School

In 1979, when Sheila Roberts and her family moved to Decatur, Alabama, she looked across the Tennessee River to the town of Madison and it was just cotton fields. She was a stay-at-home mother, raising two children. No longer. Today, Madison is a diverse and thriving community -- one of the fastest growing cities in the Southeast -- drawing families from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, the U.S. Army Post Redstone Arsenal and the University of Alabama at Huntsville. And Roberts counsels their students as the College and Career Advisor at Madison's Bob Jones High School.

Named for former Congressman Robert E. Jones, Jr., who represented the area from 1947 until 1977, Bob Jones is a public high school serving approximately 2,100 students. Roberts joined the staff in 2003, building the counseling program from scratch -- growing it from one file cabinet in a small study room in the Media Center to twelve file cabinets in what is now the College/Career Center. She says she is constantly struck by the benevolence, diversity and growth of the community. Bob Jones opened in 1974, moved to a larger facility in 1996, and -- underestimating the growth in the area -- had to relocate the 9th grade class a few years later until a second high school was opened last year.