Now is the time for high school juniors to begin researching, evaluating, and selecting the short list of colleges they will apply to in the fall. While the process may seem overwhelming at first, starting now will ensure you are ready and well positioned for the upcoming application season. Here are a few tips to get you started:

• Set your goals. What is the direction you want your life to take during the next five years? Set your goals and work towards them. If you want to attend college, you must actively pursue that opportunity. Only 30 percent of adults in the United States have earned a bachelor’s degree by age 25. You can be among that elite group if you plan ahead, work hard, and stay committed.

• Keep your grades up. High school GPA is known to be the best predictor of college success. Admission officials are very interested in your performance during your four years of high school. They look for high grades in your core courses as well as an upward trend with each passing year. Plan to spend at least two hours each night studying, preparing for tests and reviewing class notes (uninterrupted, of course, by texting, gaming and social media).

• Choose your courses wisely. Next to cumulative GPA, course rigor is the second most important factor in college admissions. Colleges want to see evidence that you stretched yourself academically each year. If you are earning a grade of “B+” or better in a class, you should move up to the next higher level for the following academic year. Therefore, if you are eligible, you should enroll in honors, Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.

• Plan for the ACT/SAT. Most students take both the ACT and SAT in the spring of their junior year. Once they receive their results, they focus their efforts on their higher-scoring test.

Consider taking a test-prep course mid-to-late summer (either in person or online) and then re-take that higher scoring test in the fall. If you are applying to highly-selective schools, be sure to check if you need to take SAT Subject tests.

• Begin the discussion. Meet with your parents to discuss which factors are important for you to consider in the college selection process: location, cost, ratings, selectivity, liberal arts vs. research institution, size, geography, diversity, religious affiliation, majors offered,

Greek life, athletics, weather, political climate, etc. Research schools online and communicate with college representatives. Talk to everyone you know who has attended college (relatives, teachers, coaches, neighbors) and ask about their college experiences. Plan to visit several schools, especially over spring break, to get a feel for what is really important to you. Be open to all possibilities at this point; make your decisions based on YOUR impressions and what is best for YOUR future.

• Above all keep everything in perspective. You will not actually set foot on campus as a student until the fall of 2014; that’s a full 18 months from now. Use this time to your advantage, and enjoy the remainder of your junior year.

Barbara Phelps is an independent college consultant and Ahwatukee Foothills resident. She assists students in grades 9-12 with the college planning, search and application process. Reach her at (602) 697-4543, or

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