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Got the Junior-Year Blues? Jumpstart Your Future and Begin Your Dream College List Now


For many of us (including the bears of course), the winter months call for hibernation and rest. Activity often shifts from doing to thinking, planning (or even worrying!) which makes this the perfect time for a junior in high school to begin his or her college list. Not only does doing this research and planning now ease the stress of the summer and fall months ahead, but it also can serve to inspire the final months of a student’s junior year. 

So, the next question is - where to begin? There are a variety of resources out there, and a few of my favorites are:

  • Fiske Guide to Colleges: Each year, Fiske puts together a list of every 4-year college and university in the US and a select few in Canada, and the United Kingdom. For each school, the guide gives current student comments, lists of the college’s strong majors, average SAT scores for admitted students, quality of dorm, food and student life rankings, cost of attendance, study abroad opportunities and more. A must have for any college attendance seeking student!

  • CollegeBoard’s Big Future: This is the College Board’s (yes, that same CollegeBoard that renders the SAT and AP exams) website supporting students to find their “right match” school. With resources available for support in finding scholarships and financial aid, to helping a student create a personalized action plan, this website offers in depth and (mostly) free resources for students and families. 

  • Colleges That Change Lives: This book, written 20 years ago but revised in 2006, helped to change the way that students and families looked at higher education. The book, written byindependent college placement counselor, former newspaperman and education editor of The New York Times, Loren Pope, highlighted 50 amazing colleges that were not — gasp — the Ivy League giants! Opening up the door to valuing the quality of experiential education rather than simply “name brand” association, Pope paved the way for students to realize that there were many fine colleges out there engaged in actively changing the world for the better. This book developed into an a now thriving organization, with the website found here with a host of resources for current high school students. I recommend this book and website to any student seeking to find a school that fits their unique personality while furthering their dreams for their future.

  • MBTI (Meyer’s Briggs Testing) and Find the Perfect College For You: An excellent resource if you are the type of student who is seeking to gain insight into your self and how you “tick”. The test combined with the book gives insights into 82 schools that fit your unique “type”. While this style of test and matching are not for everyone, for those into self-discovery and psychology, these are excellent tool.

With these resources in hand, students can begin to create their college list now, before the stress of the senior year push begins. Ideally, I recommend that students create a list divided into three sections: 

  1. “Reach Schools” (schools that would be a challenge to gain admission)

  2. “Likely Admission Schools” 

  3. “Backup Schools” (schools that would be “easy” to gain admittance to)

While students might not know yet what their “Reach”, “Likely” and “Backups” may be given that they may or may not have taken the SAT, by simply looking at one’s GPA, a fair “guesstimate” can be made. Once the student’s SAT or ACT scores are returned, then more definitive rankings within the list can take place.

I recommend that students research and add five or more schools in list 1, ten or more schools in list 2, and five or more schools in list 3, aiming for a total of 20-25 schools.

Many students think that applying to as many schools as possible is the best thing to do, but I recommend that after these initial 20-25 schools are found, the student work to narrow down their final application list to 12-15 maximum. When students can get clear on what they want and why they want it, their chances of getting into a school increase. College admissions officials can feel this clarity and sense of focus and drive in the student’s essay and application, and it can make all the difference. 

In addition to building this College List during the Spring semester of a student’s junior high school year, he or she should of course prepare for and take the SAT or ACT test as well. More about these tests and which one to take will be explored in my February blog post. 

My last tip to students and families - now is the time to dream big and dream bold! This list making is the foundation of your future to come! So, dive in with all your heart, and be ready for a wonderful adventure.