Decision Day is This Week: What Can Juniors Do to Get Ready for Next Year?

Naviance Student Success Stories – Blog Series by Tamir Harper

All across the country, high school seniors and their families are finalizing their decisions for their next steps after graduation. As juniors watch with admiration and excitement for their older peers, many are wondering whether they are on track with their own postsecondary planning.

In this second post in my three-part blog series, I want to share some insights from my own experience with the college search, selection, and application processes. I wrote last week about how I began my process sophomore year, using Naviance to explore colleges and programs that interested me and to stay organized throughout the process.

This week, I want to help juniors use the end of this school year to get a solid head start on key steps, including starting your resume, asking for letters of recommendation, and laying the foundation for garnering as much financial aid as possible through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), scholarships, and grants.

My biggest pieces of advice for juniors are: stay focused, stay organized, and start working on your ‘ask.’ What I mean by that last part is, you’re going to need to ask teachers, counselors, and community members for letters of recommendation. You have the time and opportunity now to stay ahead of the deadlines that are coming. I made it my practice to ask for letters of recommendation two months before the actual deadline, which gave me some ‘wiggle room,’ just in case my letter writers got a little behind.

Keeping track of all the colleges, programs, and scholarships you may be interested in can be difficult. Naviance helped me stay organized with all of this, and starting before my senior year prevented me from feeling overwhelmed by it all. I don’t believe I would be where I am today, successfully completing my junior year at American University, without the Naviance technology.

In my experience, junior year of high school is a great opportunity to begin thinking more deeply about the ‘fit factors’ that are most important to you. One of the organizations I have interned for, FourPoint Education Partners, uses the acronym ACCESS to organize the various fit factors involved in the college selection process: Accessibility – Culture/Climate – Cost – Employable Majors – Student Services. As I thought about potential colleges as a high school junior, I knew I wanted to be in a city that was not too far from my home in Philadelphia, in a school that was well-rounded, with diverse faculty that were leaders in my area of interest, urban education. Naviance helped me navigate these fit factors.

Last, but not least, it is important to have the sometimes difficult conversations with your family about cost. Sit down with your parents now, and get an understanding of the reality of the situation. Ask, “How much can we actually afford?” The ‘cost’ fit factor is an important one to keep in mind, not only to help motivate you to seek and secure financial aid, but also to help you better weigh your options when your financial aid offers come in, and as you begin to get acceptance letters from colleges in your senior year. The FAFSA4caster is a helpful tool to get a preview of the federal financial aid you are likely to receive — and while you’re there, don’t finish junior year without setting up an FSA ID!

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful and reassuring. As you’re seeing through your older school mates, senior year is going to be exciting. On that note, don’t miss my third and final blog post in this series, coming out on Decision Day!

About the Author: Tamir Harper is a Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholar completing his junior year at American University, majoring in public relations strategic communications with a minor in education. Tamir is a Southwest Philadelphia native and a proud product of the School District of Philadelphia. At the age of 17, Tamir co-founded UrbEd Inc., a nonprofit that advocates for a quality and efficient urban education, by working to disband the school-to-prison pipeline, increasing teacher diversity, and improving building conditions. Tamir looks forward to returning to Philadelphia and entering the classroom after graduating from American University. Learn more about Tamir by visiting tamirdharper.com or via social media @tamirdharper.

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