If your home-school student is interested in attending college, junior year is probably one of the most critical times for them to be on task. It’s the time when they should be looking for colleges, taking college prep tests, and honing their essay writing skills. Paying close attention during junior year can even make up for some errors made earlier in high school.

One of the most important tasks during junior year is to make sure that your child takes the PSAT. It’s only offered one time, in October, and some schools require you to sign up for it in September or the previous June. Simply call the public high school nearest you to register your child. The PSAT will put your child in the running for the National Merit Scholarship. The PSAT will also ask your student certain questions about himself, such as what grades he’s getting, what classes he’s taking, what his interests in the future are, etc.

Another important job for junior year is to decide whether to take the SAT or ACT. Most colleges will usually accept both. If either test is fine, then you can use a different measurement to decide which one is best. I recommend that you take a sample of each test, and have your child take it at home. Weigh those two tests and compare them, and then choose the one that makes your child look like a genius. One-third of kids will do better on the SAT, one-third will do better on the ACT, and for the remaining third, it doesn’t really matter which one you choose.

During junior year, you should make sure to locate and attend a college fair. Going to a college fair is a lot like going to a home-school convention: each booth has a different college, so you can go door to door and get to know a lot of different colleges at one time.

After attending a college fair, think about the colleges that you met there, and make sure to plan some college visits. Your goal is to find a few colleges your student would like to attend, but there are too many colleges out there, so you have to make a first cut and go visit some, in order to whittle it down to a reasonable number of colleges to apply to.

Try to get to a place where you have just enough colleges to apply to, but not so many that it’s impractical to do so. The national average for the number of colleges to apply to is six; my children applied to four. Make sure that you have a wide variety of colleges to consider, both public and private, and not just one.