Now What?

A semester-by-semester guide to your junior and senior years.

As juniors and seniors, you are about to embark on the most important semesters of your high school career. Don’t stress. We’re here to help.

Here’s a semester-by-semester guide of what you need to accomplish and tips from Eveleen Garcia, district bilingual school counselor for Hillsborough County Public Schools, on how to navigate these important years with ease.

Your Junior Year

FALL

Status update Start your journey at the Florida Department of Education’s site, FloridaShines.org. Here you can learn about the requirements for Bright Futures and the application process for state colleges and universities. Take some notes. Then meet with your school counselor to discuss your academic status and college options.

“It’s important to talk to your school counselor about careers you may be interested in. They can help connect you with free resources at your school and local state college.”

Get organized Whether you use an old-school shoebox or an app like DropBox or Google Docs, you need a system for tracking important dates, deadlines and paperwork. This is also where you can store information you receive from the schools you’re interested in, as well as reference letters, test scores and essays.

Narrow it down Reach out to the schools you’re interested in for information packets. Need some inspiration? Check out the NEXT Get Smart Guide.

“Many schools offer virtual tours. It’s a great way to learn more about a school and see if it’s a good fit for you.”

Money matters Set up profiles on scholarship search websites. We’ve also got a sweet list of scholarships and tips for applying.

Serve your community Sign up for projects that will help you meet the Bright Futures community service requirements and get your tuition paid for. Learn more here.

Sharpen those pencils Take the earliest PSAT, SAT and/or ACT test available so you have plenty of time for retakes. See more tips. Don’t forget about SAT subject tests and AP exams.

“If you qualify for free or reduced lunch, you can take advantage of fee waivers for the SAT and ACT. Talk to your school counselor to learn more.”

SPRING

Money, money, money Start your scholarship research early. The more time you have to apply, the more money you can earn.

“By spring semester of your junior year, you will have already received your PSAT scores. You can link those to Khan Academy for free training in the areas where you need the most practice at Khanacademy.org.”

Get your sparkle on Now’s the time to update your resume, start honing your essay-writing skills and get any audition tapes ready. The sooner you start this process, the less stressful it will be.

Say hi! After a few virtual tours, it’s time for real-life visits to the colleges and universities you’re most interested in. Call ahead to make appointments, especially during the summer. And use a checklist to make sure that you get the most from your trip.

Get some experience Consider a volunteer job or internship in the field you’re interested in. This could help you get more scholarship money. It could also help you get into the school you want.

“By the end of junior year, you want to have your graduation support team in place. They’re your cheerleaders. Don’t feel like you have to do all this on your own. Graduation is stressful, and asking for help is a sign of strength and independence.”

 

Your Senior Year

FALL

Get ready to apply Finalize your list of schools and make sure you have everything you need to apply. Many schools will even let you apply online. Applications for Florida state universities and colleges can be found on FloridaShines.org or on the school’s website.

Apply! It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for! Consider applying to multiple schools in case your first choice isn’t available. Keep a copy of everything you send out. This way if a school tells you something is missing, you can easily resend the item(s).

“Applying to four to eight schools maximizes your chances of getting accepted.”

File that FAFSA The earliest you can submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is Oct. 1. Do it as soon as you can. Some financial awards are first-come, first-served. Check out studentaid.ed.gov for other financial aid resources. See our financial aid tips here.

“Remember, the FAFSA is only for federal aid. You also need to apply for the Bright Futures scholarships. Your school counselor can help you get started.”

Get ’em talking Start asking teachers, employers and other adults for letters of recommendation. Give them at least a month to complete the letters — they’re busy. Be sure to show them how much you appreciate their help.

Gimme shelter Apply for housing if you plan to live on campus. Some schools award the best rooms and dorms to those who apply early.

Track it Use each school’s online application system to ensure they received all your materials. Keep track of all correspondence you’ve had with college admissions and financial aid officials, whether it’s by phone, email or snail mail.

“Many scholarships have deadlines in September and October. Apply early to increase your chances of getting reward money and grants.”

SPRING

Who needs what? If your future college wants mid-year transcripts, submit that request to your counselor now.

Decision time Now comes the fun part! Once the college admission decisions and financial aid award letters start rolling in, it’s time to decide which school best meets your academic goals and financial needs.

Stay the night Consider making another visit, ideally an overnighter, to the schools where you were accepted.

Tell ’em Once you’ve made a decision, notify all colleges immediately. Send in housing and other deposits, and sign up for orientation at your chosen school.

“Make sure you reply to all the colleges where you were accepted, even if you don’t plan to attend.”

Don’t freak! If your top college choices aren’t available, work with your school counselor to find other options.

“Remember, an acceptance letter is not a guarantee. if your GPA falls or you have to drop a class, a college can rescind their acceptance.”

Who needs what? Part two. If you take dual enrollment classes, request that a mid-year transcript be sent to your future college, as well as your final transcripts.

CLEP to it Take College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests to earn college credit, saving you time and money.

Say Thanks You’re done! Congrats! Now’s the time to send thank-you notes to all the teachers, counselors and anyone else who helped walk you through the process. They’ll be excited to hear about your success.

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