How to prepare for college as a junior during COVID

If you are a junior, here are some key tips to get ahead of the college preparation process even in a COVID world.

How to tackle college admission testing planning and not panic

First, what in the world is a “typical” testing timeline and approach to the SAT/ACT? Before I begin, “typical” is in quotations to remind you that each student will have a separate timeline based off of their individual needs. Each year is different, each student is different, so when I write “typical”, keep in mind it can always be adjusted depending on the student’s needs.

As a junior, a simple approach to preparing for college testing goes like this…

  • Take a PSAT in the fall and take a practice ACT, see which exam you prefer more (colleges accept both, no preference, don’t overthink this part)
  • Sign up for an official SAT or ACT in the spring and retake if necessary
  • Consistently study for 2-3 months leading up to the official exam date
  • Students have until about early fall of senior year to take official SAT/ACT and still be considered for admissions

Now, in COVID world, maybe you don’t have access to a PSAT. Or maybe the spring semester testing gets pushed back. Feeling lost? Helpless? Ya, I get it. Here are some tips in how to best prepare…

  • First, keep in mind grades and courses have and will continue to be one of the biggest factors in an admissions decision (how you’ve progressed in your transcript academically, how you have added advanced, honors or AP coursework in areas you’re excelling in, etc.) Testing may or may not be there, but don’t discount your day to day work in the classes you are in now.
  • Plan for a traditional testing timeline (and be ready to adjust if testing is not available)
  • Test prep companies will often provide free exams online (without paying or signing up for services), decide which exam is best for you and go from there
  • Register for an official exam in the spring (maybe later in the summer too if COVID feels tight) and consistently prepare (Kahn academy is free online for SAT, this could look like 2 days a week for 30 minutes on a set time)
  • If your exams get pushed back, colleges WILL be flexible!

What you CAN do besides testing

Remember, your grades matter, so if you are borderline, or not doing well in a course, take the time to strategize and focus.

Get crafty with your skills, interests and extracurricular activities. You may not be able to play on your baseball team, or you may feel like you have an interest, but it’s limited due to COVID. Here’s a few ways to expand your resume at home…

  • Think about your greatest skill and/or interest
    • Are you creative? Do you draw? Do you write?
    • Do you prefer to volunteer?
    • Did you want an internship?
  • Get focused
    • Reach out to community members, see how you can volunteer safely or via online
    • Take your talents and interests to another level (if you like to bake, can you teach others?)
    • Can you take a college class online? In what subject?

Make sure you keep track of your time and activities! Remember, any skill or activity that you can showcase an interest or a talent over a significant amount of time can be included on a college resume (this even includes things like babysitting your cousin!). 

Get to know colleges and begin creating your college list

Because everything is online, colleges have adapted in a big way that’s really helpful for you! Colleges have online tours of campuses, admission videos, alumni online panels so you can get to know the student community. Think about the different things you want in a campus and start researching colleges that fit your needs. Use reputable websites, don’t worry about what the college is or what people think about it. Dedicate some time to think about your dream college and go from there!

Think about the teachers who will write you a letter of recommendation

Some colleges will require 1-2 teacher letter of recommendations. They typically will come from a core academic teacher in your junior year (it’s the level that’s the highest and most recent). Think about your classes NOW and who may write you a letter of recommendation.

Lastly, be ready to adapt and REMIND yourself that you are not alone in this crazy preparation for college in a crazy COVID world. Take advantage of the things you CAN do and focus on getting crafty during the next few months and allow yourself to shine without overshadowing with doubt. You CAN do this. You CAN go to college. And you WILL!

Published by Casey Rowley Barneson

Author of The College Wellness Guide. Beverly Hills High School College Counselor.

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