This year the college search process really gets going. The combined exploration of the past two years along with your child's testing should help refine the list of colleges that you and your child have been working on. Poor grades will not be as easily forgiven as they were in previous years, and colleges will look for commitment and accomplishment outside of the classroom.
Just as you've been doing all along, help your child stay on top of things and continue to provide support and encouragement -- and constructive criticism, if needed.
Go to the fair
Check into college fairs and college representative visits to the school. (The school counselor should have a schedule.) Encourage your child to attend and to start becoming very familiar with the college resources available at school.
An important note
If you haven't done so yet, get a Social Security number for your child.
Keep driving the bus
If your child is taking the PSAT, make sure the date is in big bold letters on the family calendar. Diplomatically remind your child to read the Student Bulletin and to try some practice questions. Try to refrain from grilling your beloved offspring about how he or she thinks they did as soon as the test is over. Plan a not-test-related treat instead.
Get out of town
Schedule a day trip to visit nearby colleges. Don't worry if these are places where your child won't apply. The goal is to explore different types of schools. Aim for variety. Discuss which characteristics of schools are attractive and which aren't.
Get ready to buckle down
If you have questions about PSAT scores, contact your child's guidance counselor and, if necessary, discuss strategies for improving weak areas for the SAT. This is another year for college admission tests, so look into prep options for the SAT, ACT, and AP.
Look to the future
Help refine the list of colleges, with test results in mind. If you or any of your acquaintances have a college student at home for the winter break, ask them questions and encourage your child to do so as well.
Start thinking dollars and cents
Take an introductory look at financial aid forms just to see what you'll be doing this time next year.
Keep up communication
How's school going this year? Since classes are probably tougher than ever, continue to evaluate your child's academic progress. Does everything seem to be going alright? What does your child need if he or she is struggling?
Dream about summer
Start making initial summer plans for working, studying, volunteering, or attending a summer program. Try to make sure your child is involved in something that looks good on a college application.
Check the schedule
Look ahead to SAT or ACT registration deadlines. There may be one coming up quickly since some juniors take the SAT in March, which isn't a bad idea. Heed the February registration deadline.
Plan, prepare, and plan some more
Consider and plan spring vacation college visits. Hopefully, your child's spring break WON'T coincide with college breaks, so you can see some students and really get a gander at college life when you visit.
Have your son or daughter start a "College Binder" by making an early list of target colleges in a notebook. Visits to college Web sites should increase and he or she should begin calling, writing, or e-mailing target colleges to request publications. Set aside an area where all the marketing materials can be organized and be easily referenced.
Remember those tests?
If you didn't do it last month, check upcoming SAT or ACT registration deadlines for tests your child still needs to take. Is there one on the horizon? Make note of the test and registration dates on your calendar.
If AP tests are coming up, make sure your child discusses plans to take exams with teachers and/or the guidance counselor, as needed.
Discuss the lineup for senior-year classes. Urge your child to include at least one math course or lab science, as well as the most challenging courses possible. Both of you should recognize that colleges weigh senior classes and grades as heavily as the junior record.
Does your child still need to take the SAT or ACT? Check for registration deadlines and upcoming test dates. If it hasn't already been done, have your child update his or her extracurricular activities record.
Prepping for tests
Does your child still need to get the SAT and/or ACT out of the way? (And yes, we will remind you every month until it's done!) Make sure no deadlines or test dates are being overlooked.
If your child needs to take the TOEFL as well, check the test dates and help your child get registered.
Explore some options
Assess the need for and affordability of special services, such as standardized test prep courses, independent college counselors, and private group tour programs.
Make sure your child is registered for anything that still needs to be done. As always, if your child has a test coming up, mark the test and registration dates on the family calendar.
Don't slow down
By now, your child should be accustomed to setting summers aside for employment or some other constructive activities. These are the types of activities that sit well with admission officials. This is also a good time to take some summer visits and plan fall college visits.
Work on your child's list
Keep your child on track with test preparation, if needed. He or she should continue requesting college publications. They should also begin planning, if not executing, any supplemental submissions that will be needed, such as audition tapes or art slides or portfolios. Review and update the list of target schools that you and your child have been developing, adding the pros and cons of each school.