Juniors, here is your college admissions checklist for December:

(reprinted from The New York Times Blog, The Choice)

Be Committed to the Process

The college application process, from research through to submission, takes about 40 hours of work by the student. You do not need to wait until the summer or the fall of your senior year to do much of this work. Just 15 minutes per day – a study break, really – will have you through 40 hours by the middle of August, happy and satisfied with the knowledge that you are well-situated for the senior fall. Be diligent and committed, and the process will take care of itself.

Communicate With Your Parents

This is your process, but you should make sure that your parents are informed and contributing to your college search. Take time to talk with your parents about the ways in which you want to involve them. Have this conversation early and often, even weekly.

Set up a schedule for visits, even though you may not yet have a list. Follow up with your parents after meetings with your college or guidance counselor. Work to understand your family’s financial situation. Explore costs as well as financial aid and loans. These all are essential conversations; now is the time to set up a plan for how you will communicate.

Plan Your Summer Now

December is the ideal time to make plans for the summer so that you don’t scramble at the last minute to pull something together. Have you considered an academic program to pursue advanced work in a field of interest, to bolster or supplement shaky areas of your transcript, or to explore new disciplines not available during the regular academic year?

What about a job? Can you make and save money for college? Have you considered an internship? Community service or volunteer work? Travel? Are there sports or arts camps that would assist in your plans? Discuss with your parents and college or guidance counselor a plan for the summer. Be deliberate and intentional in your planning, and reserve some down time, too.

Research, Research, Research

Begin to construct that college list. There is no substitute for visiting a college for a tour and interview or information session, but there is much to be said about getting online and exploring. Individual college Web sites can be enormously helpful in providing a sense of what your experience could be. What courses could you take? What courses must you take? How difficult is it to double-major or to switch majors? If you are undecided on a major, how might the college’s curriculum assist you in selecting one? What drives social life? How many students live on campus? What are the application requirements? Are SAT Subject Tests required? Keep note of these items that you deem to be important. The more of this information you can obtain and process, the more informed your search will be.

Make a Standardized Testing and Test Prep Plan

Many juniors will receive PSAT results shortly. Take time to review them (and/or any other results that you have, including actual SAT and ACT results or any state exams) and put together a plan for future tests.

You should also carefully consider if and how you will go about preparing for those tests. Results from previous tests should figure prominently into any plan. To prepare, some students will opt to take courses or to work with tutors. You may also self-study by using free resources from the College Board or ACT Web sites. Regardless, now is the time to plan.

Be Genuine and Explore

This time of year, you will hear much about “what colleges want to see.” Of course, the danger here is in pursuing any end exclusively because colleges want to see it.

Be genuine. If you are going to commit your time to anything, be sure that you are doing so because it is of significance to you. Ultimately, this is what colleges want to see, and they are exceptionally talented at sniffing out students who do things exclusively because they are trying to impress.

Keep in mind that we are all lumps of clay, still being formed. Remain committed to those things that are important to you, exploring positions and experiences of leadership, but do not close the door on new opportunities that might help you learn more about that unknowable enigma: you.

This post was prepared in consultation with the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools, a membership organization.