Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How to Make the Most of 11th Grade

This is a post that you'll want to print out, save and share with anyone you know that has a child in high school, especially 11th grade. 

Chocolate Chip is honored to have Admission Director, Karen Abigail Williams as a guest blogger sharing her insight and perspective on maximizing the junior year of high school. 

Making the Most of 11th Grade:

Tips for Helping Students Reduce the Pressure of Senior Year by Planning ahead in Junior Year

By Karen A. Williams

August 10, 2010

As summer comes to a close for students around the country, this is a perfect opportunity to begin thinking about and (planning for) the “tipping point” of high school- junior year. Traditionally, students and their families waited until 12th grade to go into full planning mode around the college process. Today, more and more families are beginning to realize that the12th grade is too fast paced and high pressured to spend much time thinking. Senior year is the time for action. Junior year is the time for thinking.

Take advantage of the following tips so that the 11th grade can be the period of preparation before the launch. The time you spend planning as a junior can ensure that you will sail smoothly through senior year.

1. Get serious about your studies
As a Director of Admission, most of my colleagues will tell you that we like to see more A’s and B’s on the transcript than C’s and D’s. Take as many challenging classes as you’d like but be sure of your ability to do well in them. Register for a rigorous academic schedule and do your very best to score as many good grades as possible. If you can handle it, consider signing up for advanced classes. Admission officers don’t expect you to take more than 1 or 2 as a high school junior.

2. Take the SAT or ACT at least once for practice but do not have the scores sent to any colleges.
This process will allow you to take the test under regular test conditions without the pressure of having someone see the scores. Use your scores as the basis for improvement while you study or hire a tutor to for test prep.

3. Commit to a sport (or instrument) if you haven’t already.
Generally, admission officers aren’t impressed by the students who are a “Jacks of all trades, masters of none.” If you run track fairly well but you’re great at volleyball, drop track and focus on becoming excellent at volleyball.

4. Commit to regular community service or an extracurricular activity or get a job.
Do something with your lives besides studying. Admission officers want to admit interesting and well rounded students.

5. Begin thinking about the kind of college you'd like to attend and add yourself to mailing lists.
Take this time to consider the following:

Location: do you want to live at home or could you live an hour or two away? Can you go across the country, and if so, can you afford to get home quickly when you're homesick?

Size: do like small classes or are you just fine in large lecture halls?

Style of the college: do you need to have close personal relationships with your professors or would you prefer to blend in among your other classmates? Do you want to pledge a fraternity or sorority? Do you play sports? Are you interested in an HBCU?

Consider your school types carefully as there are major differences between large state institutions, ivy league schools and small liberal arts institutions.

And finally, here are a few tips for parents so that the whole family can make the most of this year:

1. Initiate conversations about the process of choosing college but don't force it.
Let your child guide the discussion. Every child is at varying stage of readiness in the 11th grade. Inaction or procrastination in 11th grade isn’t a huge deal but juniors shouldn’t waste the year being so disengaged that they end up under pressure (with nothing accomplished) in 12th grade. Severe procrastination about the college planning process could be a sign of fear and anxiety about moving on.

2. Don't connect every mistake they make to their chances of getting into college
Kids make mistakes. Sometimes, kids make really stupid mistakes. In the admissions field, we’ve seen them all. Don’t panic. Colleges consider grades, courses, and activities over the four year period of high school but we focus most on 11th and 12 grade. If you child gets a C or D or experiences disciplinary action in school, sit down with them, understand the issue, and rectify it- quickly. Also, be prepared to explain it during the college admission process.

If your child is consistently late for school or received detention in the 9th grade, don’t sweat it. We'll never know.

3. Stop waking them up in the morning, doing their laundry, and making their beds immediately.
No one at the college will do it for them.

The best way to prepare your children for this new phase of life is to help them become self-sufficient. Support them as they make their own phone calls, secure their own applications, and write their own essays. Helping them is fine. Hovering over them makes you a “helicopter parent” and this is our greatest pet peeve as admission officers.

4. Finally, lead by example. Don't allow this process (or your child) to make you crazy.
Your child will be fine wherever they attend college.

President Barack Obama may have attended Harvard and Columbia but successful people attend all kinds of colleges. General Colin Powell attended City College, Oprah Winfrey attended Tennessee State University, and Drs. Bill and Camille Cosby earned their doctorates from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Remain open to the possibilities. Don’t use junior year to program your child into loving the school that you love.

With your guidance and support, they will achieve every goal they set their minds to. In the meantime, let’s make junior year as pain-free and enjoyable as possible.

Karen Abigail Williams is the Director of Admission at a highly selective liberal arts college in New York City. She specializes in college admission counseling, the first year experience and retention issues among at-risk and first generation students. Karen is completing her doctoral degree in Higher Education Administration at Northeastern University and is a married mother of two, a son age 12 and a 16 year- old daughter, who will become a high school junior in the fall.


  1. This is great! I will be adding this link to the ELA curriculum reading list for a college and career readiness unit that will be taught in my school.

  2. Thank you for this valuable information - especially the points about parental over-involvement. Can Ms. Williams be contacted for possible school or organizational functions?

  3. Hi Jasmine: Thank you for posting the article! I hope it can be helpful to families during such this very important academic year. @ Patricia: I am happy to assist with your school/ organizational function. I can be contacted at karenabigail@gmail.com.
    My best,