Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re a junior (or almost one), and you either have no clue what you’re doing (don’t worry, I’ve been there), or you really know what you’re doing and but want to know more. Whether you lean heavily onto one side of that spectrum, sit squarely in the middle, or even oscillate between the two ends, fear not—I made it through junior year and hope to hand off some advice so that you, too, can make it out alive.
People say that junior year is the hardest year of high school, and to be honest, I’d say they’re right; juniors deal not only with school and extracurriculars but also with testing, starting the college search, and just general stress as work and responsibilities pile up. So you know what to expect and to make things a little easier, here are some tips on how to balance everything out.
When it comes to academics, junior year is the time to challenge yourself. You may know what courses you have to take this year (and possibly even the next year), but if you’re still facing the decision of whether or not to drop a class or take an accelerated track, I’d say, go for it! Junior year is the last full academic year colleges will see, and you will want to show them that you can are willing to take risks and challenge yourself.
But hey, I know it’s not as easy as it sounds to just add another honors or AP class to the load. With challenging courses, be sure to seek out help, whether it comes straight from your teachers, videos online, or tutoring. While this is the time to take on challenges, it’s not the time to risk a major drop in your GPA. No matter how your schedule ends up, try your very best to keep up with your choices and get help when you need it.
You may be halfway through high school, but at this point school should be your top priority, so don’t give up. It’s true that you’ll face some stressful days, even stressful weeks, but the best thing to do is get help and keep giving it your all.
Whether it’s a sport, a club, a job, or any other activity you do, this is really the time to narrow down and only do the things that mean the most to you. Since you’ll need to split your time with all of the other hectic parts of junior year, do things because you enjoy them. It’s better to focus on a few things that you love and do them well, as opposed to doing everything possible just to fill up your résumé. In the end it’s what you’re passionate about that matters, and this passion is what makes you stand out to colleges.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to join any new clubs or try something new, but you definitely shouldn’t be putting your name on every sign-up sheet that comes your way. Saying yes to things can be incredibly rewarding, but be conscious of how much time you have to avoid spreading yourself too thin.
During junior year, you may have to make sacrifices. With new deadlines and new challenges, extracurriculars will have to spend more time on the sidelines and be, well, extra. Don’t expect to have much free time this year—if you do come across some, prioritize schoolwork, and if you still have some time left after that, take a nap! Trust me on this.
Unless you’ve got a score report in your hands with your target SAT or ACT score already on it, do test prep. Really, do it! I know it can be easy to just sit at home and watch Netflix all day, but if you crack open those prep books, you’ll thank yourself later.
Once you’ve committed yourself to getting ready to face standardized testing, it’s time to set goals. Not just any goals, but many manageable goals. Scores don’t go up overnight—it takes time and practice. Set up a study schedule and a practice test schedule, and get a tutor—whatever it takes to reach that goal. Once you’ve met it, set the next goal, and the next, and the next, until you’re ready for test day.
If you’re the type to self-study, study smart instead of studying hard. Address what you find challenging and stay good at the sections you’re already good at. It can be so easy to practice your strengths and just call it a day, but seeing an increase in score comes from drilling your weak points until they’re as good as your strengths. Once you’ve studied up the sections that you needed to work on, just run through practice tests. Get to know not only the format of the test, but also the types of questions asked and thinking used. Once you feel ready, go out and rock that test.
So, what test(s) should you take? Start with prep for the PSAT, since that test date comes up before you know it. If you’re thinking about national merit, keep in mind that you’ll need to take the SAT to move on from the semi-finalist level. To decide whether you want to take the SAT, ACT, or both, gauge how you do with the different test types through practice tests. If you can’t decide, I’d personally go with the SAT, so that you have a score if you need one for national merit. In addition to these main tests, keep in mind that there are also SAT Subject tests. The number of Subject tests you need to take really depends on what colleges you’re applying to, but if you’re unsure, taking three tests will be enough for almost any school. When choosing specific subjects, think about what you’re interested in pursuing in college, what advanced classes you’re currently taking in school, and what subjects you’re just naturally good at.
Be sure to plan out a testing calendar to make sure you have enough time to prepare, test, and retake. For the SAT and ACT, a retake can be good, especially when colleges superscore (taking the highest scores from each subsection). But I’d cap testing at a maximum of three times. It’s easy to get caught up in the testing frenzy, but remember: your test scores don’t define you. A bad test score isn’t the end of the world, but a good test score can keep a lot of doors open.
Maybe you’re already getting e-mails and mail from colleges. If not, once you start standardized testing, colleges will start contacting you. Start by making a folder for your college e-mails and a box for college mail. Having a place to store college mail may seem a little ridiculous to you right now, but seriously, do not underestimate the amount of letters and packets you’ll get.
For e-mails, look through any from colleges you’re thinking of applying to and file away any that you know you’re not interested in. As a heads up, some colleges are able to see whether or not you open their e-mails, so if there’s a chance that you’re going to apply, just open that message. It may get tedious when the e-mails really start coming in, but a few extra seconds opening e-mails could tip the scales in your favor when it comes time for admissions.
For mail, don’t pitch anything, because any details will come in handy when you need to look closer into the colleges you’re applying to. If you have an interview, or are writing an essay about why you want to apply there, or are deciding if you want to apply, the mail pile is a good place to turn. There’s plenty of information about every school online, but college mail will highlight what the school itself wants you to notice about it.
By the middle of junior year, you’ll have a general idea of what kinds of schools you want to apply to, and you may even have a tentative list (be warned: that list will most likely change by the time you finally apply). To figure out if a school is right for you, plan visits for spring break, summer break, or even the fall of senior year. If you can’t visit, schools often go on tour, so check when a representative may be in your area. Attending college events shows that you’re interested in the school and is a great chance to get your questions answered.
Stress, sleep, etc.
Stressed out? Meet with your teachers. Teachers are your greatest resources. If you’ve got a problem with one teacher, meet with a different teacher. There’s always going to be someone out there willing to help you.
Get enough sleep. This is one of the hardest things to do as a junior, I’ll admit. An extra hour spent on anything can go a long way. Make sure it’s worth your time, and if not, just take a nap.
Don’t procrastinate. Seriously.
Be nice to your teachers. Of course, you should be nice to everyone (even freshmen), but don’t forget about your teachers. Around the end of junior year and the start of senior year, you’ll need letters of recommendation from your teachers. It never hurts to have a couple that you connect with both inside and outside of the classroom. Someone will be writing on your behalf, so why not a teacher you’re close with?
Plan for the future. Right now colleges will pay close attention to how you spend your time. When it comes time to write essays or do interviews, they might ask about what you do in your free time, or what you did in the summer. The best way to be prepared for this is to find what you’re passionate about, and then do it the best you can when you’re out of school. How you spend your time will reflect who you are and what you value, so make sure it’s time well spent.
So that is a look into junior year. What should you do right now? Well, if you’re a stressed-out junior and the sky is dark, take a few minutes to think about what you need to do to get through junior year. Got it? Okay, now go to sleep. Good luck!
Are you ready for (or dreading?) junior year? Talk it out in the comments!