Top College FAQs For 11th Grade High School Students

The college admissions process kicks into full gear in junior year of high school. And the last thing you want for your junior is to regret all that they didn’t do to make the most of this important year.

Junior year is important not only because it’s the last full year of high school on their transcript to determine college decisions . . . but, it’s the best time to make “realistic” campus visits. (To be honest, campus visits when your teen is younger will likely be too far away from the college application deadline to be useful.)

“Realistic” refers to the fact that junior year is a time when teens will have a sense for where they stand on their GPA and test scores. It’s OK for your teen to dream! I get that…I’m a big dreamer. However, in junior year, it may not be the best use of your time and money to visit campuses where the GPA and test scores of admitted students are much higher than your teen’s.

Perhaps because the prospects of paying college tuition are starting to sink in, more parents contact me during their teen’s junior year than at any other time. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions I get asked from parents:

1. Is it better for my teen to stay in the Honors class with a B or change to the regular level course to “get an A”?

This is a tough question that depends on your teen. It depends on your teen’s wellness, interested major, test scores and prospective college list. I have advised both ways in the past and here’s why:

Scenario 1 – Stay in Honors: The particular student in this case had only taken advantage of a few Honors courses and was interested in majoring in engineering. Their list would include colleges with a range of selectivity from 15% to 60% admission rates. A concern I had with this student was that the Honors course was one where they needed to demonstrate a strong understanding to really be a competitive engineering applicant. Likewise, part of the student’s motivation for changing was about “getting an A”. I discourage students from doing anything just for a grade . . . learning is so much more important and rewarding in and of itself!

Scenario 2 – Change to regular level: In this case, the student was very stressed out over taking an Honors level science course. The student’s major interests were business or psychology. The selectivity range of their college list would likely be 40% to 80% admission rates. Also, the time spent striving for the “B” in Honors science course was jeopardizing the grades in other courses. That Honors science course wasn’t worth the extra tutoring sessions, increased anxiety and lack of adequate sleep. Mental health and wellness is more important than GPA.

2. Should my teen take both the ACT and SAT?

It’s not a good use of time or money to take both the ACT and SAT. All colleges will take either test so students have an advantage to focus on and prepare for the test that’s best them. It’s likely that students will perform better on one test over the other.

3. My teen can send their scores for free to 4 colleges (read “We can save money!”) Should my teen send their scores now for free or later with a fee?

The tricky thing about sending test scores for free is that your teen has to choose that option prior to knowing their scores. Oftentimes, teens are not as prepared for the ACT/SAT as they think when going in to take the test. I’ve heard many students express confidence in their anticipated scores, only to be disappointed later once the scores are reported. One of my students even made a big mistake of sending his lower-than-expected SAT scores to a college that was test-optional. With that said, I think it’s best to learn the scores first, then determine next steps for retaking, if necessary, and the timing of sending the scores. Likewise, the college list typically won’t be finalized until after the summer, so your teen may be sending scores to colleges where they don’t end up applying.

4. How do we learn about colleges that could be a good fit?

This will take time and careful research of each college. Once your teen takes an inventory of their own interests and needs, then they can start researching colleges.

I recommend searching for 3-5 colleges that best match with your teen’s interest and needs based on four areas of fit – academic, social, financial and vocational. Please keep in mind that this will be a search that starts with your teen and not the brand name of any college.

A simple test to recognize if a college is selected because of the brand name . . . ask your teen why the college is a fit for them, i.e. what does that college have to offer in academics, social environment, scholarship potential and life after college. If the answer is about location, friends or other vague response, then that college may not be a good fit.

5. My teen doesn’t seem that motivated about college, so should I just schedule the campus visits and get started for them?

Absolutely not! Your teen owns the college admissions process. When a parent takes over then it undermines the teen’s confidence, ability to self-advocate and admissions chances. This is a great time to help your teen learn some independent skills that will prepare them to navigate college, so please let them handle this process.

You can get help from your school counselor or find an independent counselor through The sanity and trust within your family relationships are deeply important to maintain during the final years of high school.

6. When and how many colleges should we visit?

My students will typically spend the fall and winter months researching colleges, so the spring is a good time then to visit campuses. If you’re thinking about visiting campuses during the winter, keep in mind that admissions officers will be reading applications, so opportunities to visit may be more limited.

The best time for juniors to visit colleges, especially at a distance, is during spring break. A number of colleges may also offer special visit days for juniors in May.

Campus visits can be exhausting. Therefore, I would suggest visiting no more than 2 colleges in a day and limiting the total visits in a week to about 6-8.

7. A lot of colleges have been mailing catalogs to our home, what do we do with these?

Your teen can read them and respond to colleges of interest. Please keep in mind, though, just because the colleges send marketing materials, it doesn’t mean that a college is a right fit. It certainly doesn’t imply that your teen will be admitted.

8. If we don’t have time for a full visit, is it OK for us to drive through the campus?

What do you think you will learn by doing a drive-by? It may not be much other than the superficial aspects of the campus. In junior year, the campus visits must be intentional. I would suggest waiting until your teen can register for an official visit to spend 2-3 hours learning about whether that college is a good fit or not. A thorough campus visit will also bring substance to their fall application essays.

9. Is it worth going to a college fair?

College fairs can be a great opportunity to explore the offerings of different colleges. At the same time, college fairs can be overwhelming so I highly recommend attending with a plan. You can have your teen use this college fair checklist to make the most of their time before, during and after the fair.

Whether your family is considering a college fair or roadshow, which has 4-6 colleges presenting, you may want to think about the return on your time investment. If your junior wants to go just for the sake of going then it may not be the best use of time.

Here are my 6 easy steps to making the most of a college fair.

10. Should my teen start working on college applications essays in junior year to get a jumpstart?

Maybe it will happen this year, but I’ve never seen a senior submit an essay that they wrote in spring of junior year. Frankly, I think your teen would be better served doing any one of these things during their spring of junior year:

  • Maintaining a strong GPA
  • Retaking the ACT/SAT so that they do not have to take it again in senior year
  • Serving in a leadership role with school club
  • Applying for summer programs
  • Participating in a study abroad opportunity
  • Volunteering with prom or graduation
  • Mentoring elementary students in the local community
  • Studying for subject tests
  • Visiting campuses
  • Making the most of high school, in general ☺

If you have a college-bound junior and want to learn more about this exciting and important year, please sign up now for our Junior Roadmap to College to make the most of junior year!