What do you do NOW? Junior year is filled with key tasks that must be done in order to successfully get college admission and scholarships submitted. But absolutely NOTHING is normal this year! Juniors should take PSAT/NMSQT®, attend college fairs, prepare for tests, take tests, visit colleges, and choose 4-8 colleges where they will apply during senior year. How is any of that possible when nothing is normal?
What is the PSAT/NMSQT®? It is one of the high school tests that your child will take, in part for practice for the SAT® and in part to see if they qualify for the National Merit Scholarships Qualifier (NMSQT). Read my article here for more detail. This article will be especially helpful when life returns to normal.
The PSAT/NMSQT® is important for 11th grades. If your PSAT/NMSQT® test was canceled, the College Board has added more test dates, so it's not just during one week of October, like normal. If your child is super-smart and a good test-taker, then the PSAT/NMSQT® might be how they qualify for the national merit scholarship. It's a qualifying test ONLY in 11th grade. Because the pandemic is sort of rolling slowly across the country, it's hard to know when your schools might be open, in order for them to take this The PSAT/NMSQT® qualifying test. For that reason, The College Board has recently updated their policy for this year, due to the pandemic. Here is what the National Merit Scholarship Corporation says on the PSAT/NMSQT® Official Student Guide 2020, page 7: "Unable to Take the PSAT/NMSQT®?
If you do not take the 2020 PSAT/NMSQT® because of illness, an emergency, or other extenuating circumstance, you may still be able to enter the 2022 National Merit Scholarship Program. To request information about another route of entry after the Fall 2020 PSAT/NMSQT® administration, write to NMSC as soon as possible but no later than April 1, 2021. The alternate entry request should include your name and home address, the contact information of the person making the request, the name and address of your high school, and a brief explanation of why you missed the test. Do not delay; the earlier you write, the more options you will have for scheduling test dates. Your letter must be postmarked on or before April 1, 2021, for your request to be considered."
Watch this video about taking the PSAT/NMSQT®.
Finding the colleges where students will apply is the overarching goal of junior year. The first step is attending a college fair. With most convention centers closed, the usual plan is a mess right now. Thankfully, some colleges are joining virtual college fairs. There are two options, and I encourage you to attend both. Find a Virtual College Fairs: NACAC Virtual College Fairs and Christian College Virtual College Fairs.
When things return to normal, you can download my eBook that will help you and your student find a college you will love.
Once you have found some potentially interesting colleges, the next important step is to visit in person so you can determine if it's a good fit for your student. At some universities, visits are not allowed. This step is still important, even though it may look different. You and your student can take virtual visits, and have skype meetings with representatives. You can contact each university by email, and read their social media posts. Arrange to take an online class session, to see how they manage when forced into remote learning. In each interaction, ask yourself two questions.
Because of the pandemic, many students are unable to take the SAT® or the ACT®. At the same time, there is concern that the tests do not equally represent the abilities of all students. For that reason, many universities have decided to become 'test optional' or 'test blind'. Test optional means you don't NEED a test to get into that college if you meet all their other admission criteria. Test blind means you don't send them test scores at all unless requested, and in addition, they will not consider tests at all. (Read more about test blind vs test optional here.) However, most parents need scholarships. And in some situations, lack of testing can interfere with the best options for getting more money. But the great news is that we are homeschoolers! We can put test scores on the transcript, so they are seen even if they aren't required. We can incorporate test preparation into our regular homeschool day, and maintain a readiness for the tests at all times. When the test is available, we can drop everything to take the test. You can find some helpful information about test preparation in my article, College Admission Tests: How to Ace the SAT® or ACT® .
I recommend that you include test preparation in your regular homeschool day. I suggest taking one section timed each day, about 3 days a week. Also, shoot for practicing one timed, handwritten essay each week. And I suggest one full-length timed test each month. After each practice, correct the answers, and review what was marked wrong on the test. This strategy can significantly raise scores. My son's SAT® score increased 200 points in one year with this strategy.
You might find these online resources helpful for practicing for the SAT® and ACT®.
If your child CAN score well on tests, then I suggest that you do provide test scores even at a test optional university whenever possible. On the other hand, health is always more important than tests or academics. Always. (I'm not just The HomeScholar, I'm also an RN.) To maximize your success at taking tests, sign up for multiple tests throughout the year. Plan to take the SAT® or ACT® tests earlier than expected. Right now, it's hard to know when students will be able to enter a school to take a test, and if schools will be open for students or not. In addition, because so many tests were canceled during spring of 2020, many test dates are closed or full, or not accepting additional students. Signing up for multiple dates throughout the year will hopefully allow you at least one successful test.
The College Board is trying to be flexible so schools can adhere to safety and social distancing guidelines. This school year high schools can test across multiple dates instead of just one day, so there are fewer students in the test location at one time. They are allowing off-site testing if the test needs to occur somewhere else. They are allowing flexible start times so schools can start testing earlier and/or later than usual and split their students into different testing groups on a single day. And, this year they won't charge the school for unused tests if they're unable to administer the test this fall. Just be aware that schools may not make a final decisions about whether they'll allow testing until closer to the administration dates.
It's hard to know when students will be able to enter a school to take a test, but it will likely involve masks and social distance requirements, but those will vary by school so be sure you check ahead of time to see what your building will require.
By the end of junior year, you'll want to be sure your student chooses 4-8 colleges where they will apply. Because colleges may be closed, or students might become ill, consider the location of the university carefully. Is it close to home or to a close family member? Can you drive there and back, moving the student without requiring a flight? Do they have excellent online classroom management, in case campus is closed? And does the university have high quality health care, with safety measures already in place?
Whatever college your student plans to apply to, homeschool records have never been more important. When schools are closed and the SAT® and ACT® tests can't be taken, how do you prove high school academic success? Homeschool records! Prepare your records now, while you are healthy and have time. I've helped my fair share of parents who have been extremely ill with coronavirus and are really struggling to make their homeschool records right now. Create a professional and accurate transcript and thorough course descriptions. Provide a list of activities and awards and a reading list. Application forms may require additional documentation, but having those records ready to go will make your life much easier in the long run.
Homeschool records are a way to provide pandemic-proof, outside documentation of the homeschool transcript, but the records must be ready. You can find more information about how to make your student's complete comprehensive academic records here.
PSAT/NMSQT® is a registered trademark of the College Board and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.
SAT® is a trademark owned by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this post.
Having had 4 NM scholars, our family sees the PSAT as our most important test. (All four had multiple options to go to college for free--tuition, room, board, books, computer, study abroad, etc.) In fact, our youngest, a 10th grader, is taking it as I type this. Back in August, I signed her up at two different schools in two different counties that will administer on two different days. Because she is in 10th grade, she is allowed to take it more than once (as per PSAT-NMSQT rules), so she will get more practice.
The Common Application can be the cause of anxiety for many homeschool families. You get into it and invariably there are questions that you have, as a homeschooler, that might
Ahhhh, summer! It's the best season ever! June rolls around and our priorities turn to camping, vacation, snuggling young children, relaxing in a hammock, and reading great books. Have some