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Tips for Second Semester of Junior Year

Second semester of junior year is a stressful time for most students. In fact, it might be the most stressful semester of high school. I don’t want to add too many things to your likely-unending to-do list, but here are a few important things to consider including in the whirlwind that is this semester, and (bonus!) a couple of things that can wait until after finals.

This semester, you may want to:

Consider an internship. Not while school is in session. On top of everything else you’re attempting to juggle – test prep, school work, extra-curricular activities, actually sleeping at some point – one more commitment in your schedule is probably not advisable. Now is the time, however, to spend some time researching summer opportunities. Consider your interests, investigate your connections, and make a plan for summer now.

Keep working on that college list. All of the planning and scheming that lurks between now and your admissions deadlines next year will hinge upon your college list. If I had a catchphrase, it would probably be “it depends on the school.” Is your ACT score high enough? Do you have to schedule interviews? Can you take a gap year? The answers to all of these questions depend, at least in part, on specific schools you’re considering. If your list has 30 colleges on it, narrow. If you’ve only got one, more research is in order. Research, go to events, and plan more visits!

Prepare for AP or SAT Subject tests. Depending on your college list, you may be required to take SAT Subject tests. Even if the tests aren’t mandatory for you, some schools recommend that you submit them, and others will consider them if you choose to submit them. If you’re in AP courses now, and plan to take AP exams, consider whether taking the SAT Subject test will benefit you as well. The best way to figure it out is (you guessed it!) to look at the colleges on your list.

Connect with teachers and advisors. Second semester is the time to begin asking for recommendation letters. The best teacher to ask is one who knows you well and who can write about your specific strengths, and the best time to ask them is this semester. The sooner you ask, the more likely it is that you’ll get good letters.  You can generally expect that you’ll need two letters, but depending on your college list, you may need more, or there may be additional requirements placed on which teachers can write them.

Overwhelmed yet? Here’s the good news. You can wait until this summer to:

Write your college essays. College essays can be overwhelming. Working on them too soon, before you even have access to the applications, can be downright maddening. The Common App goes live on August 1st each year. There is not much to be gained by obsessing over drafts before you have a solid college list and the essay prompts for those colleges. Focus on your grades, your test prep, and your college list, and save the essays for this summer.

Plan the entire rest of your life. Actually, this one can probably wait even longer. However, if you’ve got seemingly pressing, urgent questions about your future (my junior year, it was do I want to be an architect?), you don’t have to answer them right now. The key is to avoid limiting yourself too much if you’re unsure. If you think you might want to go into an engineering program, the answer to do I want to take that extra science class? is probably “yes.” Prepare for multiple possibilities. Embrace the creative uncertainty. Explore your options, but don’t feel like you have to be certain right this moment.

For what it’s worth, I had registered for classes in ASU’s architecture program before I changed my mind and enrolled in a tiny liberal arts school on the other side of the country. I don’t really recommend that course of action, but you have time. It’s OK if your college list still looks like a 16- or 17-year-old student who isn’t exactly sure what they want to do for the next fifty years wrote it. I promise.

College Interview Tips

College Interview Tips

Most students will not be required to complete an interview as part of their college application process. However, many schools offer interviews, some going so far as to “strongly encourage” applicants to complete one – online, on campus, or in person with an alumni representative. Some scholarships applications also require interviews, even if the college or university itself does not. Here are some college interview tips for navigating the process.

  • Do your research. What is the interview policy for the schools on your list?

Some schools offer only informational interviews, which are a great opportunity to ask questions about a college, but don’t become part of your application. Preparing for an informational interview will quite different than preparing for an evaluative interview, which is the kind that does impact your application. Some schools offer interviews to all students, while some have a limited number. Some colleges and universities require interviews from only specific applicants, and some will invite a number of students to interview. Knowing how the colleges on your list approach interviewing will ensure that you’re prepared!

  • Practice, but don’t rehearse.

Get help with this part. Practice with a friend or family member. Give your helper a variety of questions, and let them choose the order, so that you’re not simply memorizing a script. Similarly, don’t try to prepare verbatim answers. It will be helpful, for example, to choose a book to discuss, but you’re better off being familiar with the book than memorizing paragraphs of analysis. Select some stories to tell about your life, your academic career, and your goals for the future. Feel comfortable with those stories, the way you might feel if you were telling a new friend about the time your dad tried to drive you to school and help you review for a calculus exam – at the same time. (Bye-bye, hubcap.)

  • Be friendly but professional.

The interview is a great opportunity for the school to get to know you – even more than the essay, this is your opportunity to bring life to the numbers and lists of activities that make up the rest of your application. Actually being a real person is an important part of that process. Be yourself. Try to enjoy the conversation and engage with your interviewer(s). At the same time, be professional. Dress neatly, give the interviewer your full attention, and keep your language appropriate to the setting.

  • Do your research.  Be knowledgeable about the school and city.

Presumably, you’re going to an interview because you actually want to go to this college or university. Think about why you want to go, and if your answers don’t sound like interview material, come up with something a little deeper. Spend some time connecting with the school and its current students, if possible, and figure out how to explain what makes this particular place special. When the interviewer gives you an opportunity to ask a question of your own, be ready. Showing your interest and curiosity about the college is important, but it’s also a good chance for you to learn more about the school!