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Six Reasons You Should Start College Admissions Consulting During Junior Year

Posted by Kimberly Hewitt on Sunday, March 03, 2019


190301 Six Reasons Start CAC 11th Blog



"Starting DURING junior year allows you to improve your COMPETITIVENESS.  Starting AFTER junior year limits you to improving your NARRATIVE."

-Kimberly Hewitt, Business Unit Manager - College Admissions Consulting


Many high school students and families I meet with wait until fall of senior year to think critically about their college list or applications—but for best results, students should begin planning for college admissions during junior year—the earlier, the better.  Why?  If you start planning for college admissions during 11th grade, you will have time to improve your profile and competitiveness (for example, by adjusting your coursework selection, improving your grades and test scores, initiating or enhancing your involvement in specific extracurriculars, identifying and deepening relationships with potential recommendation writers, etc.).  On the other hand, if you wait until after junior year to begin thinking about college admissions in earnest, you will be limited to expressing the most compelling narrative about the profile you already have.  To be clear, optimizing the way you tell your story and express your goals on college applications is critical—but you'll be even better positioned if your profile is more competitive to begin with.  In this post, I'll walk you through six specific, high-leverage areas I work with on students when they start a college admissions consulting (CAC) program during their junior year.



"It's nice to have a third party saying, 'What are your goals? What are your objectives? Okay, then this is what you have to do to get there.'

Also, I like the structure and the timing [of your CAC program].  For example, are we on time, or are we behind, and do I need to be stressing? I like not having to worry about that piece in particular."

-Bhree R., parent of 11th grader at West Anchorage High School


READ MORE: Interview with a West HS Student & Parent: Starting College Admissions Consulting During 11th Grade


Developing and Refining an Optimized College List


Virtually every decision you make during junior year is in some way affected by your target colleges and scholarships.  Your college list informs:


  • Which courses you should take (including the extent to which you should prioritize AP®/IB® courses)
  • The minimum and optimal GPA and SAT/ACT scores that will make you competitive
  • Whether you need to take special tests, such as SAT Subject Tests
  • The types of extracurriculars you should prioritize
  • The quantity and categories of essays you will need to write, along with when they are due
  • The number and type of recommendations you need to obtain


Therefore, the earlier you craft a (preliminary) college list, the more strategic you can be in building your college admissions profile throughout junior year.  Additionally, identifying potential target colleges during junior year allows families to visit or otherwise research colleges during spring or summer break, enabling the student focus entirely on applying—not exploring—during senior year.


Numerous factors play into identifying "best-fit" schools for each student.  One of the first things we'll do when you begin working with me in a college admissions consulting (CAC) program is compile a working college list so we can begin making time-sensitive decisions.  With guidance from me, and as you learn more about yourself and your preferences during junior year, you will refine your college list over time.


"I could find colleges on my own, but I might not find the [right] colleges. I didn't find some of the colleges you picked out, like Claremont McKenna...I wouldn't have looked there.  It's a really good college for me, but just in research on my own, I wouldn't have known that. I can look at academics, but I wouldn't be able to look at things like social life as much."

-Emma F., 11th grader at West Anchorage High School


READ MORE: Interview with a West HS Student & Parent: Starting College Admissions Consulting During 11th Grade



Getting to Know Your Story—and Translating It into Your Essay Strategy


As a college counselor, I prefer to begin working with a student in a college admissions consulting (CAC) program during his/her junior year.  This timeline enables me to get to you know you, your story, and your strengths/weaknesses better.  Consequently, I provide guidance based on a more complete understanding of your characteristics, background, and goals.


Among the most important and daunting aspects of the college admissions process is essay-writing.  Many students I work with, particularly those aiming for more competitive colleges, are forced to write dozens of unique essays for various applications.  When I have the opportunity to to build a relationship with a student starting during junior year or earlier, I have much more information and understanding of who the student is, and can therefore provide much better guidance about the types of stories and experiences they should use in their essays in order to best highlight their strengths and unique attributes.


"I understand what Emma's life experiences are, but I don't necessarily know how those would translate into presenting her to a college.  

You have a better chance if you have somebody that has experience. As a parent, you can get a sense of it and you can learn some of it, but I like having someone who [knows what they’re doing]."

-Bhree R., parent of 11th grader at West Anchorage High School


READ MORE: Interview with a West HS Student & Parent: Starting College Admissions Consulting During 11th Grade



Choosing Coursework Strategically

—and Maintaining an Excellent GPA

Coursework Selection Strategy


Coursework Selection Strategy


If a student is interested in pursuing a STEM degree in college, I will provide guidance about what kind of coursework they should take both to maximize application competitiveness and to be best prepared to enter as a pre-med or engineering student.  Specifically, I advise students on which math/science classes to take, and to what extent they should pursue the AP®/IB® track.


In addition, some colleges require specific high school coursework for application eligibility.  To provide an extremely basic example, both the University of California system and University of Washington require two years of foreign language study. These requirements—and, by extension, potential interest in these schools—should be identified early enough so that students can complete them by the end of senior year.


GPA Strategy


Here are two facts every high school student should remember about their GPA:


  • The more credits you accumulate, the harder it is to improve your GPA

  • Spring of junior year is the final semester that will colleges will see on your transcript when evaluating applications due in the fall of your senior year (which is the case for many competitive colleges)

By identifying strengths/weaknesses in particular classes or subjects, I will guide you on maximizing your GPA while you still have the opportunity to do so.  For example, should you switch into AP classes (for the GPA weighting) or out of them (if you aren’t succeeding)?  Should you retake a course (over the summer or online)?


RELATED: Four Facts About Your High School GPA for College Admissions (Plus Access Our Free GPA Calculators Kit)



Selecting, Scheduling, and Preparing for Standardized Tests


Beginning a college admissions consulting (CAC) program with me during early junior year (or even before) allows me to help you create the most optimized testing strategy for your specific college and scholarship goals. For example, if you want to qualify as a National Merit Scholar, you would need to begin preparation at the beginning of junior year (or, more ideally, the summer before) in order to prepare for the October PSAT. Or, if your baseline SAT score is 1200, but we've determined that your target score should be 1400 to be competitive with the selective liberal arts colleges you're considering, I can provide individualized guidance about:

  • How to improve your score
  • How many times you should take the test, and whether or not to retake the test
  • Balancing your college list and college goals if your target score is unrealistic



"It is good to start ahead of the curve and get all that SAT prep done and out of the way. And even before the SAT, the PSAT was another piece that it was nice to get squared away."

-Bhree R., parent of 11th grader at West Anchorage High School


READ MORE: Interview with a West HS Student & Parent: Starting College Admissions Consulting During 11th Grade



Optimizing Your Extracurricular Profile


By the time you’ve started senior year, you need to have already built your resume with appropriate extracurricular activities.  It’s important to begin engagement in optimal extracurricular activities prior to (or at the very latest during) junior year.  What is an "optimal" extracurricular activity?  It's an activity that:

  • Reflects your your exploration, interests, aspirations, and personal qualities (such as leadership and commitment)
  • Enables you to demonstrate deep involvement, including in a leadership role where appropriate (which requires prior planning and extended involvement)
  • Facilitates relationship-building with potential recommendation writers
  • Satisfies the preferences of specific colleges you're targeting.  For instance, some colleges, such as Claremont McKenna and the U.S. military academies, place a high value on leadership experience.



Identifying Letter of Recommendation Writers and Equipping Them to Advocate Strongly on Your Behalf


If you can help it, don't wait until senior year to think about or ask for letters of recommendation!  The most effective timeline is to identify and nurture recommender relationships during your junior year, then request your letter in late spring of junior year, prior to summer break. If you wait until senior year to ask for a letter, it will have been 4+ months since your teacher or coach last worked with you, meaning their recollection of your achievements and personal qualities will be less vivid.  Furthermore, they are likely to be swamped with requests from other students who have waited until their senior year to ask for letters. Knowing how, when, and who to ask can maximize the impact of your letters of recommendation.


No matter when you start working with me in a CAC program, I will guide you in how to ask for your letters, and how to equip your letter-writers with information that makes it easy for them to write you the most personalized and effective possible letter that is consistent with your overall narrative. 



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Topics: College Admissions, AP® Exams, ACT, SAT, College Admissions: Explore Early, College Admissions: Excel Academically, College Admissions: Build Your Application Assets, 11th Grade - Juniors, 10th Grade - Sophomores, College Admissions: Apply Right, College Admissions: Test Well, Anchorage