Junior Year IS All It's Hyped up to Be...
I have worked in higher education for my entire professional career and have listened and watched families struggle with the college process and in particular navigate the unchartered waters of the junior year. I always told myself I wouldn't be them, I would respond to it all with more calm and reason because I have worked in the field for so many years. But once my son reached his junior year, reality set in. It was overwhelming at times, especially when it was late in the evening and my son iwa still doing homework after having been at school and then at team practice for several hours. There are just so many things to be thinking about: Here is an example of my stream of consciousness from those months:
Is the course load challenging enough? How are his academics? Should he be meeting with teachers after class in order to show he cares about his work and to improve his grades? Is he involved in enough activities, are they varied enough, and how can he do so many things and still have time to study and work? When does he get time to just be a high school junior and unwind? Which standardized test should he take and what about AP tests and should he do some kind of test prep program? And how is it that you already need to have your college list narrowed down by February of junior year so you can plan college visits over February, April, and summer breaks? Oh yeah, and then there's getting a driver's license, learning how to drive, practicing driving, and then taking the road test. Where in the world does that fit in? And before the year comes to an end, you need to start working on getting teachers to commit to recommendations and find a summer job or internship. I am out of breath just reading this. Yes, indeed, junior year is all it's hyped up to be.
Working at MEFA and in the higher education industry has allowed for me to have access to resources that have helped me compartmentalize so many of these thoughts, which I share to help those who currently have a high school junior:
- Remember - there's a school for everyone. You, at this point, cannot make your child into something that he or she is not, so stop worrying about it. Colleges come in many different shapes, sizes, and varieties. Focus on what your child does well and not what he or she hasn't done, and then start exploring.
- Take your child to a few schools (even if they're not on anyone's list) that are relatively easy to get to - maybe a day trip or less. Think about visiting a big school and a small school, one that's in an urban area, and one that's more rural or suburban. This will help your child get a flavor of a few different campuses and it will help your child determine what he or she likes and doesn't like. Once you've done that, college search engines can help narrow your list for you.
- If your child's high school offered the PSAT (the pre-SAT test) or the PLAN (pre-ACT test), see if you can determine whether your child did better in one versus the other. Most schools these days accept either, so there's the possibility that your child doesn't have to take both. The student can then focus on one test. If your child can take the test in the winter or spring of junior year, he or she will get the results early enough to assess whether he or she will need to take it again and possibly do online prep.
- Most importantly, remember, to give your child and yourself a break. The stress can be overwhelming and, to the extent possible, you want this to be an exciting time in your child's life. Breathe!
Looking back at this junior year, I know that working at the start with my son to make sure he had planned through the year properly was really important. Use all the resources at your disposal to gather as much information and assistance as you can. MEFA's online resources are extensive. Visit mefa.org and read our blog postings on admissions and financial aid information and utilize tools like MEFA Pathway to start getting organized.
Junior year is all it's hyped up to be, but breaking down the process into smaller steps and using the resources available will let you accomplish it all, piece by piece, without it being so overwhelming.