Action Plan for Juniors and Sophomores

If you have a child who is in their Spring of their Sophomore Year or who is their Junior college may on be on your mind.   Perhaps it is the ton of mail you are receiving from the Colleges and Universities which is addressed to your children which reminds you of this reality?   Your child who you have raised and shuttled around town to school and all the activities they participate, but now you are a couple of years away from them taking the next big step in their lives and it is starting to sink in.  For Juniors this is the last full year of grades for colleges to use in evaluating your application.  For parents you may be thinking about what life will be like when your child is not around the house all the time.  What do these High School students and parents need to be thinking about now? How should they plan for college?

High School juniors should have opportunity to take advantage of courses and electives that lead to future college and career goals. This is an important year for them as the process for finding a college that fits their personality, academic qualifications, extracurricular interest – and your capacity to pay for it – heats up. This is the time they should be taking advantage of their school guidance counselor to make sure they are are on the right path for college.   It is also important students realize this is an important year for grades and they should not be afraid to ask for help to maximize their g

In January/February of each year, students will select courses for their next year. It is important to think through the selection in the view of the students abilities and goals. AP, IB, dual enrollment are all options that might earn college credit and save families money. In addition to saving money, colleges like to see rigor appropriate to that student’s ability in the courses chosen.

Action Items for Junior and Sophomores

 Junior Year PARENTS

  • Estimate your Expected Family Contribution & determine how each potential college is likely to be paid for
  • Plan college campus visits in winter and visit in Spring.
  • File tax returns – the “base year” for financial aid
  • Help your child narrow the college list based on interests, likelihood of admission and affordability
  • Encourage your child to determine if Early Decision or Early Action is likely – and plan accordingly
  • Establish a plan to finance each college on the list
Junior Year Student
  • Begin narrowing the college list – visit campuses
  • Take standardized tests
  • Identify scholarship opportunities
  • Find a summer internship or job
  • Take tests: SAT and/or ACT and/or SAT Subject and/or Advanced Placement
  • Visit college campuses
  • Write drafts of college essay & personal statement
  • Register with the Common Application
  • Understand the admissions requirements for every school on your College List
  • Find a summer internship or job
  • Identify good potential writers of Letters of Recommendation
Sophomore Year PARENTS


  • Have a discussion with your child to determine career interests and corresponding academic aptitude and abilities
  • Conduct a college search to match those interests and determine admissions probability given current GPA
  • Review college savings goals and evaluate savings options and strategy
  • Ensure that your child’s course challenge is aligned with the academic rigor expected by colleges of interest
  • Encourage participation in extracurricular activities


  • Estimate Expected Family Contribution & explore how college is likely to be paid for
  • Review PSAT results and discuss how to improve any weaknesses identified


  • Begin to attend college fairs with your child and refine college interests and list
  • Use a College Search Tool to help your child begin to identify potential colleges- colleges based on interests, likelihood. of admission and affordability
  • Keep saving as much as you can and continue to evaluate college affordability and financial aid strategy


  • Review your financial situation (income, assets, investments) and make changes to position yourself for as much financial aid as possible
  • Establish a plan to finance each college on the list
  • Visit colleges, even informally
  • Encourage Your child to explore potential majors and discuss any changes to the high school curriculum that would be relevant
  • Obtain a Social Security card for Your child if you have not yet done so
Sophomore student
  • Do well in school. Focus on getting the best grades possible.
  • Be a leader. Participate in extracurricular and community activities.
  • Meet with guidance counselor to plan future high school course selections to support college and eventual career interests, if known
  • Consider taking the PSAT early to experience standardized testing
  • Begin work on improving any weaknesses identified in PSAT results
  • Engage college students home from vacation about their experience in college, the differences from high school and what advice they offer
  • Check out summer options: jobs, courses in areas of interest or camps in areas of interest
  • Attend college fairs
  • Find a summer internship or job
  • Keep up grades, enroll in honors and AP courses for next year
  • Becomes a candidate for leadership positions in clubs and other extracurricular activities next year
  • Begin thinking of what major and career you might be interested in pursuing
  • Determine which standardized test (SAT or ACT) is best to take and begin studying
  • Develop your college list and understand the admissions requirements for each school

Paying for College

We follow an approach called the College Pre-Approval.   To learn more about this download the guide at the bottom of this page to understand why this is important.   It is also extremely important to have a money conversation with your child as soon as possible to avoid any surprises or disappointments.   Our blog is a great tool for this discussion. This is a discussion which help avoid heartache and stress in college selection.   Understand the purpose of a College Education before you fund it.   Many parents believe college is the Golden Ticket to a life of wealth and prosperity, but in reality this is a myth and many parents will be let down.  Parents and Students need to be real about this, because if you are taking on a lot of debt to pay for college you may either run out of money for retirement or be burdened with debt repayment which will limit the student coming out of college.   I know when I was 18 I thought I knew it all, but I can promise you looking back I really did not.   How can we expect students to know what it means to take on debt unless the parents have this conversation with them?

Get the facts about what colleges cost and gain the knowledge you need about financial aidscholarshipsloanswork-study, etc. Parents need to understand how all the puzzle pieces fit together. What aid is available and how do you qualify for it?

While most merit aid or scholarships are awarded by the colleges themselves, searching for private scholarships can be something ongoing the family and the student works on. Remember to use your guidance counselor as a resource.

Testing – PSAT, ACT, & SAT

Testing, testing, testing. Sometimes it seems like a never ending testing cycle for students. All juniors will take the PSAT/NMSQT in October. The primary purpose of this test is to identify candidates for the National Merit Scholarship awards. The PSAT also can be practice for the SAT. (However in our opinion, a better way to “practice” for the SAT is to take the actual SAT exam itself.)

Ideally, students should have already taken an ACT or SAT test (or both) prior to junior year. Taking them early is great practice to understand the topics covered and the timing involved. If taking the exams for the first time in junior year, don’t panic. Try to take each one at least once. Identify the preferred test for that student, and then take it again 2 or 3 more times prior to senior year.

Thanks to Joe Messinger at Capstone Wealth Partners who introduced us to the College Pre-Approval program.


Recommended Resource

The Way We Shop For College Is All Wrong.

Because most families cannot simply save enough or earn enough to write a check for college, being smarter consumers of education is imperative.

In This Guide We’ll Show You How To:

Step 1: Determine Available Personal Resources
Step 2: Establish a Maximum Student Loan Amount
Step 3: Shop for Schools Within the Budget

Related Articles

Check the background of this financial professional on FINRA’s BrokerCheck & AdvisorInfo

At University Financial Strategies our mission is to help families think beyond just saving for college, but helping leverage strategies that leverage your unique situation to help you save on college costs. We take into consideration topics like specialized college-planning strategies for business owners, planning for financial aid, school-specific scholarships, coordinating college planning with grandparents, cash-flow strategies and options for covering shortfalls, to name just a few.


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