Now is a crucial time for juniors and their parents to work hard on college planning.
The whole college process is going to take a lot of time, effort and money. The more you learn and the better you plan, the less painful it will be.
The 5 Things Juniors Need to Be Doing Now
Here are the first 5 areas that you and your student should focus on to get the ball rolling:
- Career and major choices
- Campus visits
- Scholarship planning
- College financial planning
Goals for the End of Your Junior Year
By the end of your junior year, you should have:
- An ACT or SAT test score you’re proud of
- A working list of good-fit colleges that you’ll apply to
- A plan to find and apply for relevant scholarships
- An idea of what the ‘Net Cost of College’ will be for your family
- Your net cost = college minus need-based aid, merit aid and scholarships
- A plan for how you’ll pay the ‘Net Price of College’
- Need-based aid, scholarships, saving and investing, tax savings and/or loans.
A productive junior year will free up time in your senior year to work on the next steps. Things like finalizing your school list, filling out your college applications, pursuing more scholarships, and filling out financial aid forms.
To help you get started and stay on track, I’ve put together a list of the 5 Things Juniors Should Be Doing Now. Let’s take a look at each one:
1. Career & Major Choice (or Undecided)
Ready or not, it’s time for your student to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. Most juniors are spending time at school (and hopefully at home) looking into possible careers and majors. This work will generate one of two results:
- A possible career choice or desired major (or two)
- A student that is undecided.
If your student has some careers and majors in mind, this can be used as a starting point for searching for colleges. You’ll need to find colleges that offer the majors your student is interested in.
Undecided is also a valid option. While parents may not approve, some students will need to choose their colleges based on their undecided status and proceed with the planning in the other areas. Do not let the lack of a major derail the other plans you need to be make.
If your student is undecided, that’s okay. This is a valid choice because some students may have to figure out their major and future career while they’re in college.
For example, instead of deciding to be a nurse and choosing a college with a nursing program, your student might choose “undecided” for a career and major. As a result, your student might focus on colleges that offer a variety of majors because those schools are a good fit for undecided students.
This will allow your student to plug those schools into the rest of college planning and start narrowing down choices. The final selection may come down to factors such as public vs. private schools, the cost, in-state vs. out-of-state, and distance from home.
2. Campus Visit Plan
Juniors should also visit the schools they’re considering. Some students attend college sight-unseen, but the best approach is to arrange official visits and spend some time on each campus.
The junior year is the key year to do that. A reasonable goal should be to have the bulk of your visits completed by the end of the junior year. The optimal number of visits is 3 to 10, depending on how many schools are on a student’s list.
Making these visits during a junior year ensures there’s enough time to schedule each visit and allow it to influence college choice.
3. Private Scholarships
There are two categories of scholarships:
Institutional Scholarships – Institutional scholarships are granted by the college that you’re applying to. Many don’t require an application (more on these scholarships later).
Private scholarships – Private Scholarships come from sources other than the college, such as corporations, charities, non-profits and professional organizations. These scholarships will require your student to apply in some fashion. They will take work! But they’re worth it if you win them.
To pursue private scholarships, a student may need to submit an application, an essay or artwork, perform an audition, or otherwise submit evidence of qualifications or demonstrate a specific talent.
Pursuing these scholarships will require time and effort, so parents and students need to plan accordingly. Students need to be willing to do the work, while parents may need to support them.
There can be considerable work involved to find potential scholarships, apply for them, and hopefully win them. It also requires a clear plan to organize the effort and make sure everything happens in a timely fashion.
So it’s time to get out your calendars, block out the time to learn how this process works, and do the work.
If you need help, visit my website now to access my free video course, The Scholarship Guide for Busy Parents.
The SAT and ACT admissions exams are another big responsibility for high school juniors.
Many students are going to take one or both tests multiple times, especially if they need to improve their scores.
Some will also hire tutors, take prep courses, buy books and do self-study to get ready. This is why you need a testing plan.
As part of your plan, you need to know the testing dates for your area and get them on your calendar. You’ll also need to determine when your student will take the tests, what preparation will be done, and when you’ll need to find and sign up for courses or tutoring to be ready in time.
Remember, some courses may start 10 to 12 weeks before your test date, and many of the best tutors have wait lists for taking on new students.
5. College Financial Planning
College financial planning ultimately comes down to figuring out how you’re going to pay for college. Typically this is the responsibility of parents.
Ideally, college financial planning should have started before the junior year. If you have a junior and haven’t started, you’re not alone, but you need to get to work as quickly as possible.
If you have a freshman or sophomore or other children that may soon be in high school, it’s certainly not too early to get started. Parents can work on the financial aspects of college planning even if your student isn’t ready for the rest.
The earlier you start, the better off you’ll be and the more opportunities you’ll have to save on college. The worst choice is to never plan at all.
College financial planning is a major topic on its own. I have a more detailed overview of it in my article, “Start Your College Financial Plan with These 5 Key Components.” But here’s a quick summary:
There are five key parts to a good college financial plan. Each of these areas needs to be explored to determine if it’s an opportunity for your family.
- Need-based aid — Aid available based on your family showing a financial need.
- Merit-Based Aid — Aid based on criteria other than financial need (academics, athletics, talents, achievements).
- Saving & Investing — College savings plans, monthly contributions, financial assets.
- Tax Savings — Tax credits and deductions, tax favored investing, business owner strategies
- Loans — Student loans, parent Plus loans, private loans
Plan Interactions & Impacts
It’s important to understand that your plans in each of the above areas will interact, and they’ll impact each other.
For example, if your student doesn’t have high enough test scores for the colleges you’re considering, you might need to alter your list of colleges or work harder on testing.
You may also want to alter your college list if the net price of the colleges you’re looking at are more expensive than you can afford. You may also want to arrange campus visits to check out some more affordable options and determine if they’re a good fit.
These are just two examples of how your plans might interact or impact each other in various ways, so be prepared to manage and alter them accordingly.
Getting Started with Your Planning
In addition to the resources I’ve linked above, there are many more great tools and resources on my website, Taming the High Cost of College.
If you’re interested in working with me directly, I’m also available to serve as your professional college planner and financial advisor.
To explore options and make arrangements, contact me at Baldridge College Solutions or call me at 414-529-9400.