The key to helping your junior get in and get money for college

Parents of juniors…I want college admissions to be a stress-free process for your teen. Don’t see how that’s possible? Let me share some intentional things you can do to support your teen’s success to help them (and you!) avoid stressing out. The key is to approach the process in a way that makes sense for your teen, beginning with ownership. 

Own the Process 

First off, having your junior own the process (being engaged, responsible and accountable) will take a lot of pressure off you as a parent. But it goes deeper than that. I know from the research, and from experience with my own children that when your teen takes ownership of the process, they:

  • are much more successful in the college admissions process and more likely to get into the top colleges on their ist
  • can be sure they are a good fit for the college, and as a result, 
  • end up getting scholarship money. 

 

The key takeaway is to be sure your teen is in charge so that they are owning the process

 

Now that we’ve established that, where can you and your teen start with finding money for college?

 

External Scholarship Opportunities 

Let’s talk about external scholarships, which are scholarships that are not from the colleges, but from external sources. Oftentimes families are unaware of the other resources that are out there. This year especially, you want to be intentional around external scholarships. Here are five in particular that you may not have considered. 

 

1. Scholarships from Companies

Many companies, including law firms, major restaurants and retail companies offer scholarships. One widely-known example is the Coca-Cola scholarship for seniors which is a very large scholarship. However, your junior can position themselves to compete for that scholarship going into senior year. Also look at some of the companies in your own community that offer scholarships, which you can often find on their websites.

 

2. Scholarships from Civic Organizations 

Another great resource is civic organizations and foundations. Sometimes they are need-based (which require you to provide proof of need) while others involve a contest, where you complete an application with an essay to qualify. Now is a good time to research the civic organizations in your community that offer scholarships.

 

3. Scholarships from Credit Unions 

Credit unions are wonderful community neighbors, and they often will have scholarships as well. Sometimes, there are additional offerings for members of that credit union. If you’re a member of a credit union, definitely check that out! I recommend that you look into these opportunities in junior year; some of the requirements are junior-year specific.  Another note regarding credit unions: if you know that there is a credit union that offers a scholarship and you’re not a member, now is the time to become a member. If you plan ahead your teen can position themselves for that particular award now. 

 

4. Scholarships from Your Employer 

There are a lot of employers that offer scholarships. I believe that NiSource, the energy company here in Columbus, offers scholarships. See if your employer offers scholarships as well. Again, junior year is the time to look into the criteria. 

 

5. National Merit Scholarship Program 

Most students take the PSAT in junior year and their score will determine whether they qualify for national merit. One thing to know regarding the PSAT, is that it is not really considered for college admission. However, when your junior takes the PSAT and scores in the 99th percentile, then they qualify for a national merit scholarship. Have your teen research the criteria for the National Merit scholarship. 

 

Who Can Apply for External Scholarships?

Although you have a junior, be aware that you can apply for an external scholarship beginning at age 13 (keep that in mind if you have younger children as well). If your child wins a scholarship, that money is held and then sent to the college when they enroll. I encourage families with younger teens to apply for scholarships. Not only does it develop their resilience, it also helps to instill that growth mindset that we want our students to have. Plus, they will be adding to their portfolio of writing samples as well.

What your junior can do in December to prepare for college

If your teen is a junior, you are probably already overwhelmed with a lot of information coming from your teen’s school, neighbors, friends who have kids and maybe even your workplace. With that information overload, it can be hard sometimes to prioritize and stay on top of things. I want to make sure that you don’t get left behind in this process. 

Here are some things that you can do right now in the month of December. 

Researching Colleges 

The first action item would be researching colleges in order to learn whether or not that college is a good fit for them. When they find ones that are a good fit, they will likely thrive in terms of their years in college and that’s what we want for them. 

I’ve mentioned before the five areas of fit which are: academic, social, financial, vocational and cultural fit (You can refer to my previous article on fit here ). 

Decide Which Test They will Take 

The second thing they can be doing in the month of December is deciding which test they’re going to focus on –  the SAT or the ACT. Some states have one particular test as a graduation requirement, for example in Ohio, it is the ACT. However, many students still take the SAT because that’s the test that they favor. Taking both tests is actually no longer required. 

When students are taking both just for the sake of taking both, not only does it waste money, but it wastes time as well. I recommend that students focus on the one that’s best for them, which could even be based on the schedule or availability. Whatever it is, just focus on one test because colleges will take either one, there’s no need to do both. 

After they decide which test to focus on, they need to decide how they’re going to prepare. The month of December is a great time for them to prep for the test they’ll be taking. I usually recommend at least 6 to 12 weeks of prep time. 

 

      Read more about preparing the for test

 

Read a book for pleasure during winter break

There is plenty of research to support why teens should continue to read (and why they don’t do it, as well). Becoming a real reader can improve your teen’s vocabulary, make them a better writer, help them get into college, and enlarge their breadth of understanding of the world around them.  Click here to learn more

But did you know that one of the most commonly used prompts for college admissions essays is “Tell about a book you read for pleasure and why it should be required”?

 

So how can you get your teen to read during their “downtime?”

 

One resource I highly recommend is  Real Ballers Read – a popular Book-stagram with podcast interviews and other literary fun for teens from near-peer mentors. This is a great place to help your teen find a book to read during the winter break.

These are the important action steps that your junior can take during the month of December – researching colleges, determining which test they’re going to focus on (and how they will prepare for the test), and reading a book for pleasure over winter break. Starting this process now, as opposed to waiting until the new year, will make sure that your teen is on track and not feeling behind and rushed as we get into the spring. 

 

For more help with navigating junior year, sign up to receive my FREE College Prep Toolkit. This resource includes my Junior Year Roadmap, so you and your teen will know what they should be doing each month. 

5 Things your junior can do in November

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – junior year is so important because it is the start of the college admissions process. I want to help make this time less stressful to keep you from hurrying through this process at the last minute and avoid having your teen apply to colleges that are not a good fit for them. 

 

Here are five tips as far as actions that your teen can be doing in the month of November. 

 

What Your Teen Can Do in November 

  • Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals 

The first action that your teen can do this month is to set S.M.A.R.T. goals. These will help ensure that junior year is a time that is intentional for them. Teens are just like adults in many ways, they want to have a sense of control and setting goals is a part of that. It helps them to be accountable in terms of their actions through junior year – that’s where we want to start. 

 

S.M.A.R.T. goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. All of these components will help set your teen up for success and make sure that they have a sense of what they want to accomplish this year. 

 

Goals can be related to academics, be centered around mental health and self-care or pertain to athletics. They should really take the time to reflect and think about these goals. 

 

Teens should have 3 to 5 goals – any more than that and it becomes overwhelming. I always suggest that one of them is a personal goal. It doesn’t have to always be about school. Maybe there’s something they want to do within their community or there is a skill they want to develop. Make it a S.M.A.R.T. goal. 


  • Self-Assessment 

The second thing I would suggest is doing some type of self-assessment; there are a number of them out there. This helps teens develop their self awareness and know what they desire instead of everyone telling them what they should do or who they should be. It is important to give teens the tools that may help them with figuring some of that out. A great tool that I like to use is a personality assessment similar to Myers Briggs, but designed for teens. It’s good to understand your personality and how to determine the best fit for you based on that. 

 

As students are starting to look ahead to which colleges should be on their list, one of the things I emphasize is that the list starts with the student; it doesn’t start with the college. They have to know who they are, what their desires are and their “why” behind wanting to go to certain colleges. The self-assessment can help with that.


  • Career Interest Inventory 

The third one is a career interest inventory, which is sometimes part of the self-assessments. The career interests inventory can help your teen to think about their major and what they may want to study when they’re in college. 

 

I was talking to one student recently and they wanted to do a little bit of everything. Having many interests can be a great thing and some colleges support that love in terms of having all of their different interests. However, a career interest inventory can help with narrowing down all of your interests into a more concise list. 

 

Also, maybe having all of those different interests just means that they are undecided and that’s okay. If your teen is undecided, then looking at colleges that value students who are undecided can be a good idea. A career interest inventory can help narrow it down a little bit to find colleges that are a good academic fit. 


  • Nurturing Teacher Relationships 

The fourth thing juniors should be doing is nurturing teacher relationships, especially with core content teachers (English, math, science, social studies and foreign language). You may have a great relationship with your band teacher, and that’s alright, but usually recommendation letters have to come from core teachers. Also, it is a good idea to have teachers write their recommendation letters in junior year rather than scrambling around to handle this during senior year. 

 

It is important to nurture these relationships in a sincere way. Think of a couple of teachers whose class you enjoy – it can even be a class that’s really challenging for you. Get to know that teacher through talking or setting a time to meet outside of class time, ask questions in class and engage in that way.  One of the things that teachers will be rating students on in their recommendations is productive class discussion. Your participation in class can be a way to let your teacher get to know you and for you to really get to know that teacher. 

 

I recommend that my students meet with one or two teachers each month during the school year, and that’s one way they can intentionally nurture those teacher relationships in a sincere way and develop the skills of how to self-advocate. 


  • Contributing in Junior Year 

The fifth one is for your teen to consider how they’re contributing in junior year, whether in their community or at school. A student’s activity resume shouldn’t just be one hour here and a half hour there. They need to become an active participant, contributing in a meaningful way. If there’s a club on their activities resume but they are not contributing or participating in it, then they need to take it off of their resume. They should focus on those things that they enjoy doing and want to be committed to. 

 

Some students say they need to do volunteer work just to put it on their resume. I remind them that that is not the reason to do volunteer work. Contributing to your community by giving back, helping animals, working with other students because they love tutoring – those are all great reasons. It’s not about checking a box or doing it for the sake of your resume. 

 

Next year when they’re completing their applications, the colleges will see everything up through junior year. They don’t want to send in an activities resume that is not consistent and doesn’t show their commitment. It’s a waste of your teen’s time, and it’s a waste of the colleges’ time. They need to think about how they want to contribute this year and do it in a meaningful way. 

 

Parents, each month there is something that your teen can be doing in an intentional way throughout junior year. Junior year is where it’s all happening and it’s going to be a short time before they’re going to be applying to colleges. Be sure to check out my roadmap for junior year! It’s a month by month guide of the things your teen can do to get in and also get money for college.

Get ahead and stay ahead! Get my FREE Toolkit.

Preparing for the SAT or ACT

Your teen has taken the practice tests and knows which one best represents their abilities. Congratulations! Now comes the hard part…preparing for the test. Keep reading for my top tips for preparing for the SAT or ACT. 

 

Preparing for the Test 

 

Independent Study

There are a number of ways that students can prepare for either of these tests. Whether they’re taking the SAT or the ACT, they could get a test prep book from the library or from one of the testing agencies to study on their own. I’ve had a number of students who are more disciplined and study on their own. I would recommend that they spend a specific amount of time going through the book and doing the practice tests. They should be going through the different sections of the tests and even on occasion, maybe on the weekend, sit down and go through the entire test for the amount of time of the real test. This extra step can help ensure they are prepared. Again, If your teen is disciplined in that way, that’s a great approach. 

 

Online Programs 

Another way to prepare is using an online service. My son used an online program and that helped him stay on task. The online program provided the practice test and scoring as well so he could see how he was doing. There were also video modules that complemented the material and practice that he was doing. It worked out very well for him and helped him improve his score. There are a number of these different automated online programs available. 

 

Getting a Tutor 

The third approach, which could be a bit more expensive, is getting a tutor. For a number of my students hiring a tutor was the best approach. You can receive tutoring either individually or in a class setting. This is also a great way to ensure that your teen is being held accountable. 

One of the things I want to encourage you to do if you decide to go that route is to interview the tutor. Below you will find some questions that I prepared for interviewing tutors. When it comes to working with a teacher or tutor, some of that learning comes through being able to connect with them. By interviewing the tutor, you can ensure they are a good fit for your family. 

Before interviewing the tutor your teen should first ask themselves a couple of questions. The first is determining how they learn best: would having a one-on-one tutor or a tutor in a class setting allow them to learn best? They should also identify why they need a tutor. 

 

When interviewing the tutor possible questions to ask: 

  • How will you measure your student’s progress throughout their session together? 
  • What kind of homework will they do in between sessions? 

 

(This will allow your teen to plan their schedule and make sure that they have the right expectations around what they should be doing in between time because not only will they be preparing during sessions but also between their time together.) 

 

  • Can you provide a demonstration of a typical session? 

For example, if they have a difficult math homework problem from school can they share it with the tutor and then have the tutor demonstrate how they would explain solving that problem? That can be a way to ensure that the tutor’s teaching style aligns with your teen’s learning style.

 

  • What kind of training have you  had in terms of tutoring?

I know a lot of tutors do professional development. Many of them take the test themselves to make sure that they understand what their students are going through. 

 

Some other questions that parents should also consider would be their cancelation policy, how much they charge, their availability over the holiday break and also asking for references from other parents. By talking with other parents you can get a good sense of how that tutor works, learn about how they engaged their students, as well as their test score results. 

 

If a tutor says they usually help their students get a certain increase over their practice score, then that may give you some indication around their success. Of course it may vary with your own teen. I wouldn’t set the expectation of going from a 22 to 30, but at least getting a sense for how they’re going to engage with your teen. Also, check to see how they will follow through on checking in on the student’s progress between sessions. 

 

If you decide to use a practice book or an online course, then certainly it could be similar in regards to finding out about the best book or program for your teen by reading about past success stories. Any case studies or testimonials available online would be a great resource to check out. 

 

At the end of the day, it’s going to be a two-way street in terms of your teen participating and doing the work. You don’t want to make the investment if they’re not going to follow through on their side. However, if they do follow through they really can achieve those great results. 

 

Have you signed up to receive my FREE College-Prep Toolkit? It includes a Junior Year Roadmap to help you navigate junior year and to know what your teen should be doing each month to stay on track. 

Get ahead and stay ahead! Get my FREE Toolkit.