College Prep between Sophomore / Junior Years

My daughter will be working, but I was also thinking that maybe she should use some of her time this summer to do some college prep. Wondering if anyone had suggestions, for a kid who will be starting their junior year in the fall, of good things to do to kind of get a leg up on applications and what not. I hear the Junior year can be quite busy and my thought was that maybe she could get a little ahead.

I was thinking that maybe something like starting on some general essays to then tweek accordingly when she starts to apply to colleges, or SAT prep, or even practicing filling out some applications? Or am I going overboard? Are there any tutors or courses that would kind of work with someone as an almost junior to do this kind of thing? I had also thought about having her take a community college course, but with her new job, vacations, etc., I'm afraid that we might be setting her up for failure if she does too much. Any advice is appreciated.

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

it is too early for her to start writing college essays or working on applications but she could research colleges she's interested in to narrow down which to visit during the school year. it's great that she is working, that will go on her college app. If she has time, she could start some SAT prep, but there will be time for that during the school year -- calm down Mom or Dad.

My daughter just finished her first year of college, the first semester at a school that I encouraged her to apply to and accept, and the second semester at the school that was actually her dream school and she applied to all on her own during the middle of her first semester (lol I never even saw the application or the essays). Thus, my advice is this: make all those options available to her, but as long as she has something to do for the summer and is generally a good student, don't push. At the beginning of my daughter's senior year, we used Alpha College Prep to help with organizing the application process (for that first semester), essays, and SAT prep, and having that knowledge really helped my daughter a lot and allowed me to stay out of it.

I got some very good advice when I asked a similar question, and the answer was, "Don't do anything."  Kids are under tremendous pressure concerning college these days -- it just seems to be part of the zeitgeist -- and explicitly asking them to worry about "getting a leg up" on applications when they've just finished their sophomore year would unnecessarily add to it, IMO.  The whole scarcity model of college acceptance -- the idea that our kids have to get into the "right" schools, the "best" schools, or else they and we are failures -- is so messed up.  (I don't mean to suggest that you have this attitude, but it is so pervasively implied in our society that it impacts even kids whose parents try to dial back the pressure.)  The fact is, every kid with decent grades and some kind of financial and/or organizational support will go to college, probably a college they'll enjoy and find success in.  If you feel you must give your daughter an assignment this summer, my advice is to ask her to think about what kind of college she might like -- in terms of geography, size, areas of excellence -- with no reference to GPA.  I highly recommend the book "Colleges That Change Lives" if a liberal arts college is a possibility for you (and colleges sometimes give big scholarships to students from distant states).  Best of luck to you both!

It sounds like you care about your daughter a lot and want to be supportive. For full disclosure my teen is going to community college next fall, so I am far from an expert regarding college admissions. It's also hard to give specific advice without knowing more about your daughter. However, based on my recent experiences parenting a high school student in a competitive academic environment, I can't help but think there is far too much emphasis on college prep. High school is no longer about what is being learned. It's all about getting into college and getting the best grades and taking AP classes. Same thing with things like jobs and sports/clubs, which are encouraged less because our teens enjoy and benefit from them and more because they look good on a college application, As I thought of your daughter's summer, I couldn't help but think she might benefit from a reprieve from school/college prep. It sounds like vacation and work will offer her some interesting and positive life experiences this summer. Junior year is pressure packed - there will be plenty of time to focus on college applications and SAT prep. If you think she might need extra academic support, maybe start a "game" of daily vocabulary words that she can try and stump you with. Whatever you do, I would emphasize the joy of learning rather than prepping for the end goal of college. With that said if she has a goal of getting in to a competitive school (although make sure it's her goal and truly important to her, rather than your goal for her or because she thinks she has no value if she doesn't go to a great school), there may be some advantages to starting early. I think the pressure teens are under these days regarding college admissions is terrible, but it does seem to be the current situation in the high achieving Bay Area. As an aside, my community college bound teen is happy. He's got great friends, enjoys traveling and outdoor activities. He is physically active. He works and is responsible with money. He may not be going to an Ivy League school, or even a four year school, but he's really happy and well adjusted - and as the parent of a teen, I'm more than happy about that.

My son is a junior now and started with his college counselor in sophomore year. He’ll be prepping for essay writing this summer. He took the SAT twice this school year and had tutoring before his first go at it. I’d recommend SAT prep just before your daughter is scheduled to take it. I believe there’s one in August. If I were to have my son do it differently, I wouldn’t have had him take it the second time the week prior to AP testing. 

As far as summer plans, having a job is a great thing to put on college applications. If she has a particular field of interest yet, she would benefit from pursuing that in the way of work, volunteering, precollege programs, etc. 

Following. Our daughter is the same age and stage. We’re also looking for something structured for her to do this summer. You? 

You will undoubtedly get a lot of different opinions, but you know your daughter better than anyone (and your daughter knows herself even better than you!) College admissions is not a one size fits all process. It's important to discuss with your daughter what HER college goals are -- to aim for an elite university, to get merit scholarships, to get into a CSU, to major in engineering, etc. This should help frame her process. I suggest she spend this summer exploring what she likes to do and what her interests are (if she doesn't already know) and do research on how she can learn more about those things and how to get involved locally. The beauty of the Bay Area is there are so many opportunities and most professionals embrace enthusiastic, hard-working, responsible youth. She should wait until she has done more, knows more about herself and is more mature (yes, a year makes a huge difference) to write her college essays. If she is really motivated, I suggest that she take a practice ACT and SAT early this summer and see which one she prefers. Then she could study/take a prep class for the SAT or ACT and take the test for the first time Fall/Winter junior year. (Many students take them once in the Spring junior year and again Fall senior year, but that's the busiest time of their high school career.) Finally she can start doing online research about colleges (and majors) and see which ones appeal to her and start building a spreadsheet of her list of dream schools, targets and safeties. My daughter started with a list of about 50 schools (gulp!) and now has it down to her final 15. Good luck to your daughter and to you, the parents! BTW, I'm an application reader for a highly competitive university, so I'm mostly speaking from that perspective.

I'd advise against taking the sat or act until doing some prep. Some places want all the scores. Many test prep companies will give you a practice test and I think there are some online too. But I would advise against doing a practice that goes on your permanent record.

Most schools my kid applied to wanted him to be really into the things he loved. Maybe she should just do what she wants to do- work hard at something or play hard or chill!

My son is finishing his junior year and if there's one thing I wish we had done the summer before junior year, it's start SAT prep. Junior year was really insane for him (though he did take 5 AP classes, which is crazy but unfortunately common for most motivated kids at his school). He crammed in SAT tutoring/prep from December through February to take the early March SAT. With so much homework from his classes, plus studying for 5 AP tests and 2 SAT subject tests taking place in May, plus getting started on the college app process, it was very difficult to find time do the SAT practice tests, which take 5-6 hours each to complete. I'm going to make sure my younger son starts on SAT prep the summer between sophomore and junior year to help relieve some of the stress of junior year. Good luck with junior year, it's nuts! 

I will echo what a couple of other posters said.

1) The college counselors at my child's independent, college-prep high school gave us this advice for the summer after sophomore year:  have an intentional summer.  That means, you can do anything you want as long as it isn't sitting around on the couch all summer.  Examples:  volunteer for an organization that you care about; read 10 books on a subject you're interested in; get a job; do a summer program in a subject/area/sport that you're excited about.  I will vouch for the excitement and sense of accomplishment that getting a paid job gives a teenager--sounds like your daughter is already on top of that.  It's probably enough for her just to do that.  The flip side of this advice is that she shouldn't do any activity just so that it looks good for college apps.

2) Way too early to practice filling out applications or writing essays.  She will be a lot more mature one year from now, will have more to say about herself, and she will have plenty of time the summer after junior year to do that.

3) Our school advised us to take the SAT/ACT in spring of junior year, but they also said that some kids do it earlier, some later.  I kind of wish my child had done it in late summer before junior year, and done the associated prep just before that time.  In junior year he was so busy with classwork, sports, and other in-school college prep and college visits that doing SAT prep became kind of difficult.  They say kids do better the later they take it, but if your child had a strong PSAT score, taking the test when he/she the most time to prep beforehand is the best, in my opinion.  That could be in August before junior year starts.  If you're waiting until later but she still wants to do some prep, have her buy the official SAT or ACT prep book and work through some of the practice tests. 

I held off on responding before, but decided to share. My daughter has just finished her first year of college, so we have been through all of this recently.

First, I want to acknowledge that you are acting out of love and a desire to help ease your daughter's stress during her junior year, which is a very good place to start. I agree with many other posters: it is way too early to be writing essays. Let her enjoy her summer, work, take her vacation. Instead of giving you advice on how to help her with the college application process, my advice is how to help her prepare for college itself: the things you help her do now will help her build the skills and resiliency to be happy and healthy in high school, and happy, healthy, and successful in college.  And of course, college is not the goal here - college is just another step in preparing for life as an adult.

1. Do everything in your power to protect her mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Junior year tends to be very stressful; make sure she hasn't taken on too many AP classes.Some teachers give too much homework: too much homework does not enhance learning. If any of her teachers assign more than 1 hour of homework a night, help her push back to set limits. She should get at least 8-9 hours of sleep per night - enforce this. Make sure she has time to have fun built in to every week. Help her master good time management skills: too many students wind up trying to do all-nighters studying or doing projects - this is no way to learn. Students who get into this habit in high school struggle even more when they get to college. Work with her on how to use a planner: many high schools give planners to students for free. If necessary, make sure that her phone and computer are charging in your room at night. 

2. Do everything in your power to protect her love of learning. Do not encourage resume-filling busy-work. Aside from necessary coursework, she should take classes because she is interested in them. She should sign up for clubs only because she is interested in what they are doing, or because she wants to spend time with the members or make new friends. She should do athletics because she enjoys them, they are healthy for her, and they promote emotional, physical and mental well-being. Nothing should be simply because anyone thinks it will "look good" on a college application.

3. Resist the urge to prod her to do more. Anxiety, depression and stress are so prevalent among teens these days - do your best to help prevent this.

4. Remember that there are literally thousands and thousands of colleges out there; don't get hung up on the idea of the "perfect" one, or on prestige. Don't forget that 2 years of community college are an excellent way to prepare for a four year college, and a great way to save money.

Best of luck to you all during this process!

I have two sons who now are done with college.  Both went to College Prep, so I know a bit about the intense pressure faced by kids in academically competitive environments.  I share the dominant view that this is way too early to start college prep, and that your best-intentioned efforts to help your child could have the unintended effect of adding to the pressure that too many kids already feel in high school. Your highest and best use may be to chill, and to help your child to chill.  

Re SATs:  Believe it or not, in this crazy world of competitive parenting and packaging kids for college admissions, there is no rule that a kid must do test prep. Kids can do great without it, especially if they test well. Have your child sign up for the SAT question of the day on the College Board website.  If she is motivated, she can do one question a day and by the time the test comes around, she'll be very familiar with all the kinds of questions they ask. Sign her up in junior year for SAT and ACT.  Before the SAT, she can get a book and do a couple of time practice tests in the week or two before. See how she does. If she does great, she's done. Hooray! If she doesn't, lather rinse repeat with each test. If she still doesn't have a score she is happy to use, then she can consider retaking and doing test prep on the test she is most comfortable with. My younger son was a good test-taker, good PSATs, motivated to do well. We sweetened it with bribery:  If he did well enough the first time out, we'd give him the money a prep class would take.  Talk about motivation!  He did exactly the above -- did the question of the day for months before, did a couple of timed practice SATs out of a used book he got from a senior, ate a good high-protein breakfast and took the SAT. Nailed it and was done. No need to take the ACT.  Everyone was happy, and no one was stressed.   

I would say this for almost any student of any age, but I think it especially applies to someone who is thinking about college. My suggestion is to write everyday. Maybe choose a theme like fashion or sports. Or maybe write something different each day. But fill a page everyday. Hopefully about something they are interested in. Just practicing every day improves writing skill, even with no help or corrections. It will ready a student for essays in a less pressured way. Good luck!