Junior year of high school career often feels like a blur. There’s a huge academic leap from sophomore year to junior year. Social freedoms like jobs and cars open new opportunities. Students begin to assume leadership roles in the extra curricular activities they are involved in. Perhaps most daunting, the college process begins. For most Juniors, this is limited to ACT or SAT prep— all while maintaining or improving your GPA. My junior year fit these parameters.
I did not seriously think about which school I would like to go to until I was tasked with sending in my applications. The reality of submitting applications, taking tests again, and including supplements didn’t sink in until I was halfway through the process my senior year. It’s easy to focus on your junior year as a defining moment for your high school career; but waiting until the “application season” of senior year to determine where you will apply is a mistake.
Every application you submit costs you. I did not know what kind of education I was looking for, or where I wanted to live, or what I wanted to study until long after I had mailed in my applications. I applied to schools I had absolutely no intention of going to just to have options and scholarship packages. I wasted my time, my energy, and my money entertaining colleges and universities that weren’t a good fit.
When I visited Whitman in the spring of my senior year, after learning many of my admissions decisions already, I realized the experience I was looking for was vastly different from what I had been putting my energy into. Walking around the small and charming campus of Whitman gave me an “ah-ha” moment. Suddenly it clicked that a school of 30,000 students would suffocate me. While I found the school that is right for me in the end, I would have saved a lot of time and money if I had focused my efforts earlier on.
Juniors: visit colleges now.
The college visit process is critical to helping you develop a sense of taste in colleges. Visit schools locally to understand what campus size, culture, location, facilities, students, and resources feel like. Explore locally to develop some initial preferences, then branch to schools all over the country to see how different areas of the United States can be. These visits will tell you pretty immediately whether you would call a given university “Home”.
Narrowing down the college search is harrowing. However, being strategic about where you apply makes the process less daunting. Try on different types of schools to see how they fit, and from there use that knowledge to apply with confidence and direction.
Tips for a College Visit
- Take a guided tour
- Explore on your own
- Try to speak with current students
- Walk around the city/town
- Ask questions!
- Make a list of pros and cons while things are fresh in your brain