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As we make our way towards the end of the school year, there are a few tasks that I am encouraging my juniors to put on their radar – beyond just academics.

1. Standardized Testing: I have discussed this at length in my earlier posts, so I’m going to provide the CliffsNotes version here. Despite most schools going test-optional, my recommendation is to take the SAT or ACT – especially if you are targeting competitive schools or hoping to win a scholarship. And then based on how strong your score ultimately is, you can decide whether or not to share it with the college. There is considerable ambiguity surrounding the importance of test scores at the moment, but unofficial preliminary data suggests that students who had turned in strong test scores gained a competitive edge in the admissions process. In fact, University of Pennsylvania went on record to state that 74% of admitted students from their regular decision pool and 76% of admitted students from the early decision pool had sent in test scores.

2. Pick a likely college major: I say ‘likely’ because there is a chance that students will change their major in college – and that is totally fine. But going into college completely blind without having any idea about what you would like to study will make it difficult to even find a good fit college in the first place. For students who are struggling in this department, I would suggest starting with a personality and career assessment to better understand their interests and values. The more they discover about themselves now, the better decisions they can make for themselves going forward.

3. Find a meaningful summer experience: This summer is going to be super important for rising seniors. Instead of sitting back and waiting for opportunities to fall into their lap, they are going to have to actively seek them out. This could take the shape of a passion project, research with professors, self-study, or virtual internships. Admission officers don’t generally prefer one activity over another, but they are looking for ‘impact’ i.e. how have students created an impact on their family, their neighborhood, their community or even on themselves.

4. Finalize (or at least narrow down) the college shortlist and start the brainstorming work for college essays: In case you are wondering why juniors need to start so soon, it is because the best strategy to get accepted is to apply early with a strong application. In fact, for some schools, acceptance rates can go up by three times if you apply early. Let’s come back to our UPenn example: the RD acceptance rate for 2020-2021 was 5.68%, while the ED acceptance rate was 14.99%. And by the way, the mid 50% SAT range for admitted students was wider in the ED pool (1470-1560) as compared to the RD pool (1500-1560). Early applications are the way to go!

5. Reach out to teachers for recommendation letters: It’s a good idea to act now and be a step ahead in the game because once senior year kicks in, teachers will start getting inundated with recommendation requests. In fact, some may even restrict the number of letters they are willing to write, so it’s best to approach them early. Share your goals with them and preferably also a brag sheet to make their task easier. The added bonus is that you will come across as being motivated and organized. Who wouldn’t appreciate that?

While seniors are finally catching their breath and making their final college decisions, juniors: you need to dial it up a notch. Your senior year will start and go by quickly and before you know it, you will be on the other side of this story. Make it count.


For more guidance and customized strategies on how to build a strong and compelling college application, get in touch!

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