How To Apply for College: A Guide for High School Juniors

It’s finally your turn to apply for college!  As a high school junior, you’ve watched your friends and older siblings cheer as their college acceptance letters arrived in the mail or shed a tear when their dream school sent a polite, “no thanks.” Spending time getting prepared now will help everything run smoothly as important deadlines draw near.

Make a List of Colleges & Application Deadlines

Do you want to go to a large school or a small school? Do you want to stay close to home or move across the country? What major would you like to study? This is the time students and parents can sit down and research colleges that factor into your academic and financial plans. Put schools on the list that you would genuinely be excited to attend — otherwise, why bother?

Once you have your list, make note of each school’s application deadlines. Organizing those important dates will help you feel prepared and have you ready to hit that ‘send’ button with confidence. You can also get a better idea of what college admissions offices are looking for by completing a practice application. It’s a no-stress way to figure out what documents and information you’ll need for a college application, and to get experience presenting your achievements in the best possible light.

Start Scheduling College Visits

Junior year is also the time to start planning college visits. Sometimes a school that seems like a perfect fit on paper feels very different when you step on campus. Try to schedule your visit when students will be on campus, so you can experience the most realistic idea of student life. If you can’t register for an official visit, check the school’s website for other options like:

  • A self-guided tour and map of campus
  • An interactive virtual tour online at
  • Apps that allow users to explore campus on their phones

Prepare for and Take Standardized Tests

Most colleges require prospective students to submit a standardized test score when applying for college. That means you need to take the SAT or the ACT. In North Carolina, all high school juniors take the ACT in school for free.  If you don’t score well on that test you may want to consider taking a free practice SAT test online and see which format you prefer. The ACT and SAT are given multiple times a year and you can take both tests as many times as you want, but you will have to register and pay for each test, which can get expensive! Students that are eligible for free or reduced lunch can qualify for fee waivers for the ACT and SAT. Talk with your school counselor for more info.

The best way to get the scores you want on the ACT or SAT is to prepare ahead of time.  There are lots of free websites with practice questions and test-taking tips.

Letters of Recommendation

Junior year is the time to think about letters of recommendation. Colleges often ask for two or three letters from people who know you well, like counselors and teachers, so check each college on your list for their requirements. Recommendation letters give colleges a better idea of who you are, beyond grades and test scores.

Choose teachers who know you well and can write about your personality, any challenges you overcame, or class projects you’re proud of.  If you need a counselor recommendation, make sure your counselor knows you.  Make an appointment to discuss colleges you’re considering and to get their advice about academic schedules. Many teachers and counselors prefer to write letters of recommendation over the summer when they have more time, so get your request in early, especially if you’re asking a popular teacher. It’s also not a bad idea to fill your teachers in on some of the achievements you’ve made outside of class. They might not know about that summer charity work you did in July, so be sure to keep teachers and counselors informed!

Enjoy Your Senior Year!

Senior year is a time to celebrate all your hard work and to make memories that will last a lifetime. Getting a head start applying for college now is a great way to sail into senior year feeling confident about your college plan. Just make sure you don’t come down with a case of “senioritis!”