Bill Cass

Planning for college: High school juniors sharpen focus on goals

Bill Cass, 9/6/2017


While not quite crunch-time in the task of preparing for college, the junior year of high school is busy as parents research deeper into financial aid and juniors think more about academic requirements.

During a student’s junior year, parents seeking federal financial aid will want to calculate aid eligibility and begin to organize required documents. Considerations for parents include:

  • Determine the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for financial aid. The EFC process factors income from the “prior prior” year. Note that increases in income — for example, from the sale of a stock or a Roth IRA conversion — may negatively impact aid.
  • The Department of Education has a financial aid website that provides detailed information about the application process and includes a calculator to help determine eligibility.
  • The financial aid calculator (FAFSA4caster) on the FAFSA website can estimate potential financial aid. Review 529 account ownership to determine if changes are appropriate when considering financial aid.
  • Research whether targeted colleges require the College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS Profile) application as part of their financial aid process.
  • Start compiling material for FAFSA submission, including tax returns and information on savings, investments, and assets.

With a clearer picture of what financial aid may be available, parents may want to examine financial priorities. There is still time, for example, to consider a home equity loan as a potential source of funding.

High school juniors will take a number of standardized tests and will want to focus on what they need to solidify in their academic selections.

Academic considerations for students include:

  • Keep a calendar of tests (PSAT in October, SAT, SAT subject tests, and ACT later in the year).
  • Take a prep course or find a tutor for standardized tests.
  • Make sure coursework, such as number of AP classes, reflects the academic requirements of targeted schools.
  • Start building a resume and include summer employment, internships, community service, and achievements.
  • Meet with teachers, coaches, or mentors in person to request letters of recommendation. Be prepared to provide guidance and ideas on content for individuals writing the letters.
Research considerations for students:
  • Research colleges and attend college fairs. Think about an area of interest to pursue, which will help drive the list of colleges.
  • Begin college visits in the fall. Get advice from older friends or family members who have recently gone through the process.
  • If pursuing athletics, register with the NCAA, complete the online recruiting questionnaires on school websites, and begin to contact coaches. Create a resume around athletics.
Advisors may want to help families put together a detailed plan to stay on track. Putnam’s investor education piece, “Four-year action plan to prepare for college,” outlines year-by-year activities for parents and students to use as a guide throughout high school. Families may also seek guidance navigating the financial aid application process.

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