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The #1 Mistake Juniors Make

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

So many things can go wrong in the college admissions process. It has certainly become a complex journey filled with numerous potholes. From selecting too many reach schools, to making mistakes and oversights on the applications. But the number one biggest mistake that high school students make is not starting sooner! 

Most parents and students assume they can wait until the spring of junior year, because, after all, applications aren’t due until the fall and the common application doesn’t get released until August 1. 


BUT, what this mindset fails to understand is that there is much more to getting into college in 2023 than simply filling out an application, writing an engaging essay, and getting everything in on time.

In my practice, I take students through a 4-step method that has insured that almost 90% of my clients get into their first choice school. And my most successful students, those who get into their reach schools with substantial scholarship awards, do so because they started the process PRIOR to junior year.  

This four step method includes starting early with college visits, freshman and sophomore year.  See my blog on this important first step.  By the end of sophomore year, you should start studying for the SAT or ACT or both. By mid junior year, you should be building relationships with college admissions officers. (See my previous blog on this topic). And by the end of junior year, you should have all of your tests completed and have narrowed your list of colleges to your 3/3/3/ or 4/4/4

With a few exceptions, my clients who start the process early by reaching out to me freshman and sophomore year, are in the fortunate position to then be able to prepare for and complete their SAT (or ACT) by the END of their junior year! (See my blog post on what to look for when choosing a test prep tutor.)

What that means is that you need to start prepping no later than fall of your junior year so that you will be prepared to take your tests and do your very best by the spring. Why that timeline? Because you need to use the summer and fall of your senior year to focus on your applications, not distracted and stressed out yet again by taking another SAT. 

Finally, summer before your senior year needs to be dedicated to writing the numerous college admissions essays; some students have four or five, others have well over twenty! Not to mention honing your online digital profile, if you have one, and you should start building one, and creating a résumé.

And then there are all of the other essential components to your application, such as your letters of recommendation, transcripts, the parent brag sheet, and the guidance counselor statement. In the years that I have been coaching students in the college admissions process, I have found no two high schools do this process the same way. Each high school has their own policies and procedures.  And some schools are better than others at communicating those to the students! You can only hope your child attends one of those schools.  Ensuring that your child correctly follows all of their high school’s procedures and meets all their deadlines is another task that can be completed in a relaxed and confident manner if we start well in advance of the application due dates. 

You can see the urgent need to put time on your side. 

But if you wait until spring, or even worse, fall of senior year to make that phone call to a college consultant, you have lost precious time when you could have been getting a jump on this very competitive process called College Admissions. Trying to squeeze into 3 or 6 harried months what could have been accomplished in a relaxed 12 to 16 is going to turn your home life upside down, as your child is swirling in a tempest of deadlines and due dates.  

Time is especially crucial, if your child aspires to an Ivy League or highly competitive university. These institutions are not just looking for strong academic performance as measured by the GPA and SAT scores. They are looking for leaders:  the future scientists, social entrepreneurs, and world leaders of tomorrow. 

Looking to be accepted into a highly competitive University?  Your child will need to demonstrate through a passionate commitment to something they care deeply about — whether that be sports participation, accelerated academic experiences, volunteerism or an entrepreneurial venture —  that their actions in pursuit of their passion, and achievements as a result of its application, were unique and impactful. This passionate commitment has become known as the passion project. I will speak more to my thoughts on the passion project in an upcoming blog. For now, suffice to say that the passion project is essential for students striving to be accepted into highly competitive and Ivy League institutions.  (Contact Dr. Donna to learn more about the Passion Project and get your child started on theirs.)

As a parent, there are many things that you simply do not have control over, despite all of the effort that you put into your child’s education in preparation for this moment. Take SAT scores, for example. Unless your child is highly intelligent and a stellar test taker, they will need to put in the effort and time it takes to apply effective strategies so that they can improve their SAT score, which in turn increases their chances of getting into competitive universities.  Selecting an effective tutor and paying the fees helps… but your child still has to show up and do the work. And we all know with teenagers, it's not so easy for parents to get them to do what they want them to do.

Additionally, unless you plan on writing the essays for your child, which is not recommended and highly unethical, your child will be the one putting in the effort to create their own college admissions essays.  

But here’s one thing you do control, how much time you give your child to start preparing to accomplish all of these goals and tasks that go into applying to college in 2024. 

Time, it is a precious, precious gift that you can give your child.

If you would like to learn more about the 4-Step Method for Getting into Your 1st Choice College, mark your calendar for November 28.  Dr. Donna will be presenting once again on this topic at The Weston Public Library.   

Want to talk to Dr. Donna about your child and learn more about our services? Click here to book your complimentary Parent Discovery Call.

For more quality contact on the College Admissions process and updates on speaking engagements, workshops, and presentations, sign up for our newsletter.

Dr. Donna Risolo is the owner and principal tutor of College Prep Tutors, a boutique College Admissions firm.  Dr. Donna has helped hundreds of teenagers get into their first choice college and many with substantial scholarship awards regardless of parent income. She earned her doctorate degree from Teachers College, Columbia University in NYC. When not engaged in her passion project of helping teens realize their full potential, Dr. Donna also works as an educational consultant, guiding public and independent schools in best educational practices, admissions and fundraising, strategic planning and school transformation, parent and stakeholder engagement, and organizational culture building.  

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