College Planning During Your Junior Year

Young man with school book

You probably aren’t surprised to hear that planning for college shifts into high gear in your junior year of high school. Your objectives: to prepare yourself for the standardized tests, to
understand the admissions process, and to end the year with a well-researched
list of schools that you will apply to during your senior year.
We’ve included a junior year planner to help keep you focused as you take
those first steps toward college. Remember, your guidance counselor is
an important resource – keep in touch from the moment you start thinking
seriously about college:

Sign up for the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test). This test gives you an indication of how well you will score on the SAT and is necessary for you to be eligible for a National Merit Scholarship. You should also start to consider if you should take the ACT test in addition to the SAT. You don’t have to decide that right now but it is worth learning more about. Remember, your guidance counselor is here to help with your questions.

September/ October
Communicate with your guidance counselor and family as you start to research schools. Discuss your interests, academic standing, budget, geographic areas you’re considering, and other relevant concerns. Research schools you are interested in online. Remember not to rely exclusively on official websites and materials; get real students’ points of view by examining online student newspapers and social media. Find students who went to your high school who are currently enrolled in the college(s) you want to attend, and talk to them about their experiences. The more you learn at this stage, the easier the rest of the process will be.

Take the PSAT/NMSQT. Continue your research. Don’t get overwhelmed!

Some colleges and universities offer early admission or an early decision program. If this
option is one you are considering, you need to register to take the Scholastic
Aptitude Test (SAT) by the fall of your senior year. Discuss the value of early
admission with your guidance counselor; it may be the way to go if you have
one “favorite” college, but you will usually have to commit to attending the school
before you know what their financial aid offer is. If you do decide on early
admission, start reviewing for the SATs. There are a variety of SAT preparation plans ranging from online practice tests to school-sponsored programs to private, paid prep classes. Keep in mind these also vary greatly in cost so make sure you determine what the right choice is for you and your family.

College is expensive, and financial aid is a major concern for most college
students. Start to investigate financial aid options and scholarship opportunities with your guidance counselor. Sit down with your parents and discuss what you and your family
can afford to spend on college. There is lots of aid available, but there are also
many students seeking it.

Keep in mind that there are good schools in every price range, from
community colleges and trade schools to state colleges up to the Ivy League. Remember, other college financing strategies, including student loans and home equity loans, are available through your credit union.

Include them as part of your financial research – they are there to help!

Check with your guidance counselor for dates to register for the SATs or the
ACT if you plan to take them late in your junior year or early in your senior year. Spring break is a great time for you and your parents to start visiting the schools on your list; make sure that each school is in session then, so you can see things in action and talk to the students.
Continue your visits through the end of the school year.

Continue to visit colleges, and start to narrow down your choices. Some
colleges have summer weekend programs for prospective students; take
advantage of these to get additional insight and on-campus experience.
Continue to narrow your perspective choices based on how well each school fits your long-term goals, financial situation and other factors you’ve deemed important. Ideally, you should be happy to attend any school on your shortlist because you’ve done the research, visited, checked them out thoroughly and know that each will meet your needs. Good job!

Random Acts Help You “Pay It Forward”

Volunteers picking up trash

Have you heard of the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation? This is an organization that has one main goal: to change the world through kindness.

So what are Random Acts of Kindness? Well, basically it means you do nice things for people – at random, of course. The idea is that you do something nice for someone, and then that person “pays it forward” to someone else, creating a circle of positivity.

And This Has What To Do With College?
Well, the good news is, while the concept of “Random Acts of Kindness” is based upon people being purely altruistic (meaning “being nice just for the sake of niceness”), things like:

  • Volunteering At A Local Organization
  • Helping Out At A Soup Kitchen
  • Delivering Groceries To Shut-Ins
  • Sending Cards To Troops Or Hospitalized Children

It will not only make you feel like a million bucks, but they could be volunteering experiences that may enhance a college application or even your resume.

Think About It!
You can’t go wrong when it comes to helping others, and the ability to add volunteer work to your resume or college app is a huge bonus.

Odd Ways To Save At College

Girl reading outside

As a college student, either you think about finances in an interesting way, or you don’t think about them at all! So consider the bigger picture and think about how you can keep more green in your pocket.

Time is money: There are 168 hours in the week – 40 for school, 56 for sleep and the leftover 72 for other activities such as sports, socializing and part-time jobs. This means time is your major resource; when you start managing your time and identifying where you spend it, it is easier to manage your money. Pair costs with your hours and identify how you are spending to see if all that spending is justified.

Do the math: Although a few dollars here and a few dollars there on small indulgences do not seem like a big deal, keep track of what you spend on these items. Be especially aware of what you spend on food and beverages. If you spend approximately $20 a week on beverages, you will spend a total of $1,040 a year! This is quite a chunk of cash, so reducing how much you spend by a few dollars a week can really save some money.

Avoid the unnecessary: Of course you should caution against frivolous spending, but more importantly, avoid parking tickets, speeding tickets, late fees, and other charges that usually come from laziness or apathy. Follow the signs, follow the rules, and read the fine print to avoid these costly mistakes.

Find student discounts: There are tons of student discounts available on everything from travel expenses to technology costs. When making a purchase, it never hurts to ask if they offer a student discount. You can also check online for sites that feature student discount options or tips on shopping around.

Transport yourself wisely: There are times it makes sense to drive, and other times when walking, biking or taking the bus will be more economical. The obvious driving cost is gas, but driving can also have some hidden costs such as tolls, maintenance, and emergencies. If you can walk to the supermarket, go for the walk and reap the added rewards of exercise and lessening your carbon footprint.

Educate yourself: You are in college to learn. You should be learning about the different aspects of your major, your future field of choice, and about life. Numbers and finances are going to be something you deal with on a daily basis in life. Learn as much as you can and become financially aware so if you make mistakes, you can make them early and learn. If you put a smudge on your credit, it will take time to rebuild, so it’s better to smudge earlier rather than later!