Junior Year and the Importance of Staying Focused

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Welcome to junior year, the most important year of the high school transcript.

This will be the most recent full year of grades submitted with your college applications. This is the year that highlights your mastery and expertise.

The juggling act has begun as you manage AP classes, debate team, sports, and such, all while keeping in mind the end goal—college. You live in two time zones, present and future, and the key to success lies in the balance.

With the demands of coursework reaching a new high, you should be mindful of how you are doing in your classes. Focus and attention are required. This succession of weeks and months just may be the most dramatic and significant transition of events before your final exit on graduation day. Step up the work in developing and refining your college admissions strategy.

At the junior year mark, two years of high school training is complete. When planning for the future, it is often useful to consider the past and define what has been most successful. Through your freshman and sophomore years, you have explored and tested the rigor of coursework in different academic areas, and have experienced the reward of activities, and excitement of new friends. By reflecting on that history, you can learn much about your preferences and priorities and how each decision you have made along the way has been an expression of your unique take on life.

The groundwork is set and now is the time to continue to shape your path with intent.

The lessons learned through your consistent effort and good choices still apply. Work hard and create options for yourself. This will allow you to forge a path for success that is right for you. As you move through your junior year, keep the following ideas in mind.

Increase your Course Load

Junior year is a time for widening and deepening your commitments, such as expanding your number of AP courses or gaining a leadership position. Know what is expected of you and try to stay one step ahead of your next project deadline.

Become expert in managing coursework and developing study skills. Junior year covers some ground: tough courses, the PSAT, SAT or ACT prep, college lists, campus visits, becoming a peer mentor, activities, portfolios, jobs, internships, summer pre-college courses, lists, recommendations, or auditions, just to name a few.

Take on Leadership Roles

Find deeper involvement in the activities you enjoy, especially in the form of leadership. It is great to show you have worked hard, are dedicated to an activity, and play well with others. Aim to leave a legacy, and make an impact that will last after you graduate. Step forward as a leader and explore pursuits that interest you. Be sure to update and polish your résumé because it will come in handy when you’re filling out applications and preparing for admissions interviews. 

Maintain a Healthy Pace

Pace yourself, keep your balance, eat well, sleep, and exercise. The year may be intense, but think about what has worked for you thus far. Keep a check on what you can regulate, such as the best way to study (for you), your activity choices, and how you spend time with friends. Accept what you cannot control such as, your English teacher’s method for grading essays, a standardized testing policy for Dream U, or the coach’s required six a.m. practice on Saturday. Make single, good choices over an extended period of time and you will find yourself headed in the right direction.

Nail the Standardized Test

Plan your testing calendar. Test scores and grades matter. Talk with an Educational planner to discuss which tests to take and how to best prepare for them. Consider the following tests.

  • PSAT – If your 10th-grade scores on this preliminary test put you in reach of a National Merit Scholarship, it might be wise to spend concentrated time practicing. Think of your results as a diagnostic. After you celebrate your areas of success, take a closer look at weaker areas to concentrate your practice in the weeks ahead.
  • SAT/ACT Take the SAT or ACT during the winter or early spring months. Do not worry if you do not get your ideal score because you can try again in late spring, summer or the fall of senior year.
  • SAT Subject Tests – Tests may be required, recommended, or considered. Check the school testing policy for details. If not required, you may choose to take a subject test to demonstrate subject matter proficiency. A strong score may enhance your college application profile.

These tests are offered at the same time that the SAT is available—except for the March test date. In addition to test dates, check the list of subjects being administered on each date. The information is available at www.collegeboard.org

  • AP Exams – If your junior year curriculum includes an AP or honors course, take the corresponding AP exam. The College Board posts online exams for practice.

Visit College Fairs

Talk with the admission representatives, who are good future contacts. Ask questions and get to know the college firsthand.

Develop a College List

Build your college list. Once you have received your test scores, talk to an educational planner and start putting together a list of target, reach, and safety schools. Make use of new technology and apps to aid your research. Explore college websites and online resources for college and financial planning such as ed.gov/finaid and usnews.com/best colleges.

Visit College Campuses

Make time to be on campus. You may have already visited a few colleges to gain perspective. Consider taking careful notes of your preferences and any hesitations. The notes are useful in evaluating schools and writing supplemental essays. Be sure to register to attend the information session and tour offered by the admissions department. Colleges may consider demonstrated interest as part of the application process, so it is important to show up and sign in.

Advocate for Yourself

As you embrace the dynamic junior year, keep in mind that not all transitions are smooth. Expect a glitch or two. Remember to ask for help because true independence lies in the ability to articulate your needs.

Ask for Recommendations

Ask two teachers if they are willing to write a letter of recommendation for you. It is a required part of most college applications. Choose teachers with whom you have a good relationship and who will effectively communicate your academic and personal qualities. You will want to select people who can offer different perspectives on your performance. To prepare, you may choose to finalize your résumé and share a comprehensive look at your accomplishments with your teachers. Be sure to express your appreciation to them.

Finalize your Senior Year Schedule

Finalize a rigorous senior schedule before you leave for summer vacation. Knowing what awaits you come September will help you to set clear, practical goals and create a successful working plan. Proper preparation and intentional course choices should give you a feeling of confidence as you contemplate your final year of high school.

Plan the Summer Months

The intensity of the college application season can be managed through careful planning. Take a realistic look at your summer months and create a working schedule that makes sense for your life. Challenge yourself to find the balance in achieving your college application goals, while also spending pleasurable times with friends and family.

Set out for your paid job, internship, service position, sports camp or pre-college course and embrace the present. Being resourceful and managing your time are key to using the summer months to your advantage.

Write College Essays

Summer is a great time to write your college essay. In addition to managing your daily activities, schedule precise times to write your college essay(s) and prepare applications. This exercise will take discipline because you will need to sit down and complete a number of drafts over several days or weeks. Incorporate writing into your summer schedule and remember that schools often have individual or supplemental essays in addition to the general college essay or personal statement.

Portfolios and Multi-Media

Collections of paintings, poetry, sculpture, film, and other creative pursuits need to be carefully curated. Summer offers the perfect time to work on an artist’s portfolio and demo videos.

Review your Online Presence

Take an inventory of your social media content, polish your representation, and make your public profiles private. Review your online presence, delete questionable posts, celebrate your accomplishments, and present your strongest self. Your social media is likely to get a look from the college admissions representatives.

Maureen Delaney

Counselor

As a Counselor in Educational Planning, Maureen Delaney considers the strengths and interests of students and helps them to achieve their academic and personal goals. Maureen takes time to establish authentic connections both to students planning for college and those advancing from undergraduate to graduate school. As an engaged partner, she identifies each individual’s strengths, cultivates...

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