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College planning: The 3 things HS Juniors (and their parents) should do right now
Written by Jack Delehey on September 09th, 2022
Previously written on 9/24/2021
Parents often ask me (in regards to college preparation), “What can my child do right now?”

So I’ve decided I’m going to answer that. Starting with the most important, HS Juniors, and working backwards (Sophomores, then Freshman) over the next couple of weeks.

As an aside, if your child is a HS Senior, the answer should be simple this time of year: everything. Finish your essay, submit your apps, finalize your SAT/ACT score, get your rec letters submitted. It’s a lot. And while I’m here to help all grades, my program is designed to be worked through over a minimum of two years, not a frantic last second “I need to do everything right now” burst. The #1 factor leading to a stress-free college application experience is time. Seniors, you unfortunately don’t have much. If you’d still like to reach out, I am here to help, but I likely won’t recommend my program. It’s just not a fit for HS Seniors looking to do everything and jam-pack it into such a short window. On the theme of starting with who my methodology works best for, let’s start with Juniors and work backwards over the next couple of weeks.
My child is a HS junior, what should they focus on right now?
I’m glad you asked. A good amount, but I’ll prioritize. Here are the top three things a HS junior can (and should) be working on right now to put themselves in the best position for college planning:
1. Sign up for one (1) SAT and one (1) ACT right now. Sign up today (link to SAT sign ups; link to ACT sign ups) for whatever test is next available in your area (as long as the application fee isn’t a serious financial burden on you). Then take each test, once, nearly blind. That’s right. Without studying! What?!! Jack, are you crazy?
  • That’s right. In my College Confidence Program, it’s actually mandatory for my HS juniors to take each test once without studying. In my 12 years of doing this, I’ve found that 90-95% of students have a strong preference for one test or the other. Instead of studying extensively for both...or arbitrarily picking one (50% chance you choose the one that does not correlate to your best testing abilities)...why not get a baseline of both your junior fall, assess scores of both, and then starting junior winter, go “all-in” on your favorite test? I’ve had this policy for years, but I must admit, haven’t really heard other college coaches preach this. Which is why when I interviewed SAT-prep guru Larry Cheung a few weeks back, I asked him his thoughts on this methodology. Check out his complete thoughts on this methodology here (skip to the 19:10 mark for the question/answer).
2. Get your very first, no-big-deal college list somewhere outside of your head. P=MV. That’s the equation for momentum. I’ve got to give props to our good friend Isaac Newton, because my students harness momentum consistently in my program. I often preach “just get the ball rolling” with many tasks. You don’t have to get over just have to start. And this methodology is applied in no better situation than a school list. 
  • If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a student say “We kind of have a school list, it’s mostly in my head,” I’d be a rich man. The reason the “possible school list in your head” method is difficult is it can lead to doubling-back. You see a school on ESPN during a football game, think “Wow that school seems interesting. I’d like to learn more about it.” You make a mental note. And then, nothing...until of course March rolls around and you see the basketball team on CBS during March Madness. You think to yourself, “Wow that school seems interesting. I’d like to learn more about it…” You get the point. A list in your head rarely leads to action.
  • ​So how should I get that school list ball rolling? Simple: If you like good old fashioned pen and paper, start a paper school list. If you’re a spreadsheet person, start a Google Sheet (and share it with all family members who want to be a part of the college planning process).
  • The #1 speed bump I see: Families who say “But (student name) doesn’t really have any schools she knows she wants to apply to yet”...This, of course, leads to no school list. I have some insight: As a HS junior, your child very likely will have zero schools she knows she’s going to apply to yet. That’s normal! Instead, think of the school list as an exploratory list. What schools do we want to learn more about? Then, next to the school name, keep track of notes and/or next steps. Screenshot below of what all of my students use to keep track of their schools. But I promise, yours can be even simpler. The key, again, is just to get that very school list out of your head...then let momentum take over!
3. Grades, grades, grades: If you’ve been on my mailing list for a little while now, you’re likely tired of hearing this...but I’m going to say it again. The single most important factor in college admissions is a student’s HS grades & the rigor of classes they take.  
Nothing...and I mean more important. The best college essay ever written still cannot overshadow a low GPA. But here’s the good news: not all HS semesters are weighted evenly in the eyes of college admissions. And, if you are a HS junior (or parent of one) reading this, the good news is your three most important semesters are still on the horizon! They are: Junior Fall, Junior Spring, Senior Fall.
  • In my program, we start with this base first, walking through tips & strategies to perform exceptionally well in the HS classroom...while also reducing the time spent on homework (you would be shocked to hear that sometimes HS students aren’t the most efficient with their time...crazy!)
  • ​Jack, if you could only recommend two books for my high schooler to read to help with their academics, what would they be? Here you go and here you go. Cal Newport’s study tactics changed my life when I was a junior in high school (I went from a total grind student to straight A’s...not a single A- grade...and spent ⅓ the time on homework). Perhaps he can help your child as well.
I hope this was helpful for parents of HS juniors out there. If you implement even one of these three tips today, you’ll be significantly better off than the vast majority of your fellow junior-year peers. And if you implement all three? Watch out, world! You mean serious business!

Of course, these tips require your child to implement them on your own. If you are reading this and you’re thinking, “You know, my child would love this...but he needs a more structured program to make it all happen,” don’t hesitate to reach out (or pass the link onto a family who could use it!). I can’t guarantee we’ll be a fit...but that’s why my first college planning strategy session is always complimentary--it’s important we determine the right next steps for your child, whether that’s working with me, on your own, or with someone else.

Sophomores next week!

Happy college-searching,
Committed to helping students & parents experience a stress-free college search

Jack Delehey

Jack Delehey (Vanderbilt '14) is a college admissions expert originally from Concord, MA and now resides in Denver, CO.  It is his goal to pass on his college admission knowledge, strategies, and unique perspective to high school students in a young, fun, relatable, older-brother type manner.

The college application process is often confusing and stressful. But it just doesn't have to be that way! If you are interested in gaining clarity, peace of mind, and a detailed step-by-step program to help your child through the college application process, reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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