Junior Year Should Include College Search

Six people were sitting around the small table in Palo Alto High School’s College and Career Center (CCC) listening to the presentation on Whitman College and the merits of a liberal arts education. The one junior felt fairly out of place among the other five seniors.

The lack of junior attendance could have been because Whitman College is a small liberal arts school in Washington, so perhaps more juniors would have been willing to miss class for a better known college or one that was closer to home. As many students know, applying to colleges is a time-consuming process that typically takes place during the fall of senior year. What some students may not consider is that if they complete their research on colleges by the end of junior year, they will feel more confident and prepared when writing essays over the summer because they have adequate information. Senior Parker Gara believes he could have made his senior year easier by doing more work on colleges during junior year.

“[I] have all the work to do now and since I have all my hard classes now also, I don’t really have time now to do much else,” Gara said.

Why not avoid the stress of cramming research, essay writing and application completion into the fall semester of senior year? Students should find out what they can do during junior year to begin the college application process.

According to the College Board’s timeline for juniors in high school, junior year is the time do extensive research about colleges they are interested in and thinking of attending. This research can include learning about Advanced Placement and SAT II Subject tests, identifying certain charcteristics of colleges that appeal to them, forming college lists and learning about possible scholarships opportunities.

“Building your college list is important and if you don’t start researching in junior year you will be even more stressed in senior year,” Sandra Cernobori, Paly’s college counselor, said. “So in my experience, juniors… are excited about the idea of visiting colleges spring during spring break, but sometimes I feel like they are visiting colleges they have heard of without actually researching them first.”

Cernobori believes that many juniors begin researching schools after second semester starts or during the summer before their senior year.

“You need to make it a priority to invest in actually learning about schools,” Cernobori said. “Knowing why you are interested in them takes time. If you want to go to college, I think you need to make time. If not during the school year, you have got to do it over summer.”

Given how much Paly’s CCC events are publicized and broadcasted, it should be easy for juniors to get involved in researching colleges and the college application process. Even though some of these college events, like college essay workshops, are geared towards seniors, there are many events that juniors may find useful and important.

Events like college visits and the  College Fair on Oct. 12 are more focused on giving information about specific colleges rather than giving advice on how to improve applications. This can be useful to juniors who want to learn about many different schools in a short amount of time.

“If you go [into the college visits] with no plan… I have a feeling that it would be very overwhelming,”  Cernobori said, “As a junior that has never been to a college visit I recommend that you come to one that is well attended… when there is less student attendance it tends to be more of a conversation and more of a personalized visit.”

Junior year is a stressful time, but instead of focusing only on classes and on SAT or ACT practice, juniors should learn about the start of the application process. Taking advantage of some of  Paly’s college events, such as college visits as a junior is a great way to begin the research process in order to make senior year less stressful.