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The Rising Junior: Looking Ahead, Staying Grounded

Junior year is a bit different than high school past. Yes, it is true that this particular year is unlike any other year because we are living through a global pandemic. You saw your summer plans disappear or be reinvented online, and we are not quite sure how the fall back-to-school will unfold.

What will junior year look like? More virtual classrooms? A return in small groups to our school buildings? Or some hybrid combination of online and in-person learning? Our current situation asks all of us to be flexible as we live in the moment and manage only the things that we can control.

Our time at home also gives us opportunity to imagine and plan for our long-term goals. Which turns out to be what junior year is all about. Your third year of high school asks you to think in new ways. With college appearing on the horizon, you will find that your way of looking at the world shifts. In addition to your daily routine or present reality, you will find a mindset called future planning: college!

Junior year asks that you exist in two time zones. Living in the present, in the day-to-day of life, where you will be challenged by courses and responsibilities such as AP classes, debate team, culture club president, or captain of the swim team. The juggle has begun as two time zones — present and future — exist at the same time, and the key to success comes in your balancing between them.

So cheers to you, the rising junior! Here’s to your transition this summer as you embark on the most important year of your high school experience. With challenging coursework, you will keep eye on your official transcript, step up your college plan, refine your college strategy, and test your selections through campus visits. This passage just may be the most dramatic transition before your grand and final exit on graduation day… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

For starters, let’s review what you have accomplished so far. When planning for the future, it is often useful to consider the past and define what has worked. Two years of high school training: check. As a freshmen and sophomore, you explored extracurriculars, made new friends, joined teams, tested the strength of your coursework, and finished this year virtually. You put yourself out there learning how to navigate Zoom, tests, papers, and class discussions. You’ve tackled major projects, and in the midst of it all, you’ve learned a heck of a lot about yourself. Each decision you made along the way expressed your unique take on life.

You have set the groundwork and are now ready to continue to shape your path with intention. The trick is that this year requires a pivot in perspective. The world suddenly stretches beyond the daily routine, and planning for future endeavors takes you from the math test on Tuesday to your vision, dreams, and aspirations at Dream U — all on the same day.

Relax. Remember the first two years? Hard work, good choices? The same rule applies. And the key to realizing your future vision will be in your present achievement. What does this mean? Work hard, and you will create options for yourself and forge a path for success that is right for you.

For right now, recognize the fact that you will be busy managing the day-to-day and planning ahead. Know that your performance is important. Junior year is a time for widening and deepening your commitments, such as expanding your number of AP courses or gaining a leadership position in an activity. Know yourself and consider your strengths and challenges, and become expert in managing coursework and developing study skills. Junior year covers wide ground: tough courses, the PSAT, SAT or ACT prep, college lists, campus visits, becoming a peer mentor, activities, awards and accomplishments, portfolios, jobs, internship, summer pre-college courses, lists, recommendations, head of club or team, tech crew, auditions, just to name (more than) a few. Know what is expected of you and try to stay one step ahead of the bustle.

Pace yourself, keep your balance, eat well, sleep, exercise, and sleep some more. 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, the standardized testing policy at Dream U, or the coach’s required 6am practice on Saturdays. Make single, good choices over an extended period of time and you will find yourself headed in the right direction. So, the key to your success next year will be doing what you have been doing all along, albeit in greater numbers, at a quicker pace, and with wider implications.

As you embrace the dynamic reality of junior year, understand the expectations, stay alert, commit to what you enjoy, and keep on top of your academic life. Remember that not all transitions are smooth as silk; there may be a glitch or two along the way. These experiences are important teachers as well, and always remember to call for help if needed. True independence lies in the ability to advocate for yourself!

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