While most high school seniors are submitting FAFSA, and some are putting the finishing touches on the last of their college applications, high school juniors, waiting in the wings, are busy, er, ah, um, busy doing, hmmm... What exactly are high school juniors busy doing?

Dollars to doughnuts (who says that anymore?), while juniors -- and the parents of same -- may have much on their respective plates, preparing for the madness of college applications and admissions (and we mean seriously preparing, folks) isn't likely a side dish or so much as a snack at this moment.

Chances are, the old, "wait til next year" (gee, it is next year), or, at least, until the junior year of high school is over, is in play.

Too bad, for this is precisely the time when high school juniors (and their parental units) should not only be thinking of college, but actively putting plans in place -- as well as setting the wheels in motion -- to jump start college admissions.

Yes, now -- not August 1, when Common App 4.0 goes live, is the time for high school juniors to take action!

So, what can juniors do, aside from planning for prom and downloading the latest App on their iPhones? Well, here's a short (and by no means all-inclusive) list:

1. Keep Up Your Grades. This is first and foremost on the "To Do" list. For all the talk about grades not meaning what they used to, guess what? They do and they will. If your grades are up there, keep it going. If they need improvement, hit the books. It will be too late midway through your senior year to say, "Gee, I should have put more effort into Chemistry." And believe us when we say that raising that GPA becomes more difficult with each passing semester. Think a tenth of a point doesn't matter? Think Oympics. That squeaker that beat out the other guy by 1/100th of a point makes all the difference in the world!

2. Plan A Rigorous Courseload for Senior Year. Sorry, but senior year of high school is no time to slack off. Basket Weaving 1.0 is out. College level courses (for which you might actually score college credit) are in. That's not to say you should be loading up on five or six APs. In fact, we advise against that. You should, however, make a strong academic showing, challenging yourself, and demonstrating to college admissions officers that you've got what it takes to succeed once inside those ivy-covered gates.

3. Take the ACT and the SAT Once.* Then, take the exam on which you scored higher again. In preparation, while those prep courses may provide a good foundation, and private tutors can help shore up weak spots and give you focus, nothing beats practice, practice, practice. *Many colleges have gone "Test-Optional." Some are even "Test-Blind." Explore and consider your options before you pad the coffers of College Board and/or ACTstudent.

4. Get To Know Your Guidance Counselor. How many times have you met with your Guidance Counselor this year? Once? Twice? Not at all? Stop in the Guidance Office. Introduce yourself. Make an appointment to sit down and chat. The Guidance office is a gold mine, and yet, it is all too easy to simply pass by the mother load on your way to lunch. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Stir some interest in Guidance and your efforts are likely to pay off, big time.

5. Start Searching and Applying for College Scholarships. Sure, it's tough enough to get high school seniors (let alone those already in college and footing that hefty tuition bill) to apply for scholarships. Still, there's lots of FREE money out there, if you know where to look for it and how to go after it. And the best news is that many scholarship opportunities are available to high school juniors. Strike while the iron is just getting warmed up (and your classmates are consumed by that barely visible zit on their chins). Good places to start? Try scholarship search engines such as Fastweb, MeritAid, College Prowler and Scholarships.com. [They can also help you get started on your college searches.]

6. Take A Look At Colleges. It may be a bit early to pack up the car and head off on a road trip to colleges across the nation (though never too soon to check out those that may top your list), but heck, with the Internet, you can -- and should -- take a virtual tour of almost every college (University of Guam, anyone?) without having to get out of your PJs (like you were ever planning on doing that, anyway :-) or leaving the comfort (and pile of dirty clothes) of your bedroom. Virtual tours are available -- and FREE -- any time of day or night, at websites such as YouniversityTV.com, CampusTours.com and eCampusTours.com (because CampusTours.com was already taken :-). Check 'em out before you spend the time and money to head out to campus! [And when you do head out to campus, let them know you're coming. Schedule a tour. Meet with an admissions rep. Sit in on a class. Stay overnight in a dorm room. And, by all means, try the food. Remember, Mom won't be cooking for you while you're away at college!] Want to get a rough guesstimate of your "chances" of gaining admission to a particular college or university? Visit CollegeData.com.

7. Look Over The Common App. You can create an account and actually start your college applications at Common App (a new version hits the web August 1, and will carry over the information you have already entered).You can jump start your application and get a pretty good idea as to form and format, which will help you prepare, organize and gather data and information needed to complete the online applications going forward. [HINT: When the new version is unveiled, be sure to read the instructions and content carefully, as certain critical aspects, including the all-important essay prompts and college-specific supplements, may have changed!]

8. Avoid The College Fiscal Cliff. While we discuss financing college education elsewhere -- and everywhere -- in this blog, it is critical that a plan to pay for college be put in place as early in the game as possible. [By "early" we mean right out of the womb!] That said, it's never too late to start saving -- and keep saving -- for college. For starters, think 529 Plan!

9. Get Involved and Stay Involved! Nothing speaks of a student's character like involvement in the community. Nothing. And saying, "woulda, shoulda, coulda" in your senior year just doesn't cut it! Yes, you may be active on the playing field, but there's so much more to the game of life than Lacrosse and Track. Volunteer. Roll up your sleeves. No such thing as "once and done." Make a commitment to a single activity that in some way improves your community. It will be so much more than a resume builder (which is another topic for another post).

10. Give Some Thought to Your Personal Statement. Sigh. The "Topic of Your Choice" may elude the new version of Common App (as will any attempt to exceed the soon to be strictly enforced 650 word limit. Still, you should be thinking about -- if not putting pen to paper (paper?) the essay, creating a brief outline, and developing a theme that -- within the context of the stated topics and the confines of 650 words -- will tell college admissions who you are and what you will bring to campus. Keep it simple. Write about what you know and what you are passionate about. And don't stress out. It's only an essay!

11. Hone A Unique Talent, Skill or Interest. You never know when a college may be in desperate need of a bassoon player, baton twirler or robotics whiz. Then, too, there may be a scholarship in there for you -- sometimes even a full ride. If you've got it, flaunt it!

12. Speak With An Independent College Planning Counselor. [Hey. If we don't toot our own horn, who will? :-)] Back in the day, when words like "competitive" and "selective" were not in the college admissions vernacular, you could go down that long, if not sometimes lonely road to college admissions alone. No Sherpa Guide was necessary. Today, having a college counselor -- your own personal guru who knows the detours, side roads and rock falls of the application and admissions process, is no longer a luxury. [And if you are coming out of, say, one of Long Island's competitive school districts, having a college counselor at hand to help you successfully navigate the road to college is an absolute must!] The telephone consultation, like every one of the steps listed above to help get you started, is FREE!

So, what are you waiting for, you high school juniors (and parents thereof)? College is closer than it appears in the rear view mirror. Let's get started!

Plan. Prepare. Prevail!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer.

Who knows what peril lurks in the college application and admissions process? The College Whisperer knows. . .

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