As the 2019 holidays start, it is worth asking what the high school juniors you know can and should be doing now to get ready to apply to colleges.

If you think it is too early to get started – or if you think you shouldn’t expect your kids or students to do more than have another helping of turkey or hang with their friends – perhaps you should think again. You certainly don’t want to overburden juniors with too many stressful tasks. But the fact remains that the right activities now can make the rest of their junior years less stressful – and help them get into the right colleges next year.

One – Visit Some Colleges in Your Area

The colleges you choose to visit could be those that your junior(s) might apply to . . . or not. Simply visiting a campus, signing in, taking a tour and attending info sessions can be a valuable learning experience, both for students and their parents. If you are a parent, try to set the expectation that one or two visits will be interesting and fun. When students visit more campuses later on, they will know what to expect and how to handle those experiences.

Two – Start Making a List of Recommendation Letters Your Student Will Ask for Later On

This activity can take an hour or less. Brainstorm just long enough to make a preliminary list of teachers, coaches, and other people to ask. Your student can add or delete names later on. The point is to get started in the process.

Three – Review Extracurriculars

High school juniors still have enough time to get involved with activities that will appeal to the colleges where they will apply next year. Start by making a list of what your student is doing and looking for any lean areas that can be strengthened with new activities. It is also early enough for your junior to start a new community service or other project that will strengthen the college application.

Four – Network with Current College Students

A number of students from your Junior’s high school will be back in the area to visit their families over the holidays, so it’s a great time for your junior to connect with them to pick their brains and ask questions like these:

  • Is your college what you expected it to be, based on its materials, your tour there, and other factors?
  • What is social life like? Is the college a healthy and happy place to be a freshman or sophomore?
  • Have you chosen a major, and what is that process like?
  • Have you been able to get into all the classes you wanted, and which are important to your major? How does the process of enrolling in courses work?
  • What percentage of your courses are lectures, labs, seminars?
  • In general, how happy are students? Are many thinking about transferring?
  • If you had to do it all over again, would you apply to different colleges, and why?

Five – Start Writing a Few College Application Essays and Personal Statements

At this point, your junior should only be thinking about testing the waters by getting a few lines written. But the earlier your student starts on this process, the less stressed he or she will feel later on when it is time to write “for real.”

Six – Take One or Two Sample Tests Online

Chances are you don’t want to burden your junior with PSAT or SAT tutoring or classes over the holidays. But you can still suggest that your student take a sample test online, just to test the waters and get a feel. Taking these tests online when there is no downside can even be fun.

Seven – Attack Troublesome Courses, Don’t Avoid Them

Remember that the grades earned during eleventh grade are those that many colleges will pay the most attention to when evaluating applicants. So if your student is struggling in a class or simply earning a lower grade than he or she is in other courses, the holiday break could be a good time to address those issues. Would it be a good time to get some tutoring or take a supplemental course later on in the year? Although this topic might seem like one to avoid, addressing it openly can actually relieve stress and provide a positive plan of action.

Eight – Talk about STEM and other Career Paths

What careers and college majors are your junior considering, and why? Are they good choices? How does your student really feel about them – are they really interesting, or the result of trying to live up to other people’s expectations?

Nine – Spend Some Time Planning Next Summer’s Activities

The summer between junior and senior years can play an important role in helping students create the list of colleges where they will apply. Plus, the right summer program, internship, or job can play can help a student gain admission to the college of his or her choice.

No Pressure . . . Only Progress!

Our goal in writing today’s post is not to encourage parents and teachers to overload students with pressured experiences during what should be a happy time . . . the holidays! But with the right mood and expectations, this is a great time of year for high school juniors to make significant strides toward attending the colleges of their choice.

To Learn More about College and Career Options

Teachers, we invite all your students to explore their career options by participating in our career and college research studies. Students who complete the free career test for high school students will receive information on college and career opportunities matched to their interests.