Every summer, I sit down with my soon-to-be juniors and give them a pep talk. It is no secret that the junior year of high school is notorious for being difficult, busy, and downright stressful. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. No really.
I find that if students know the purpose behind the importance of the junior year, they head into it with more motivation. It’s like climbing a mountain without knowing if you will have a brick wall blocking the view on the other side.
Yes, the junior year is important. Yes, you will work hard. But it is all building towards your goals. It is not only helping you get closer to the top of the mountain but guaranteeing a pretty amazing view on the other side.
Here are the main areas I tell my students to focus on during their junior year of high school and why they are important.
Grades: Junior year grades get a lot of attention, but few students understand why. Your academic transcript is the most important part of your college application. Usually, your junior year grades are the last set of official grades colleges will see when they review your applications. Most colleges will look at your senior year courses, and some will ask for your first quarter or mid-year grades. However, by the time they see your senior year grades, they may have already made a decision on your application and use updated grades to reinforce that decision.
Strong grades are not only essential to the college application process but they are also considered in the merit aid process. Think of every A as “money in the bank.” The higher your grades, the more options you will have. Also, do not fall into the trap of thinking that a “C” in an AP course is really a “B.” A “C” is a “C”. You need to show colleges that you took challenging courses because you can do well in them, not just to boost your GPA.
Relationships With Teachers and School Counselor: There are so many students who do not consider the value of having a good relationship with teachers. It is not just about completing your work on time (though that is important); it is also about participating in class, helping other students succeed, and showing intellectual curiosity. Colleges want to know how you are going to add to their academic environment, not just that you can do the work.
Colleges will look to your school counselor’s letter of recommendation to learn more about how you contributed to your school community. Make sure to talk to your counselor about what you are involved in. Ask for suggestions for internship or scholarship opportunities. Have a conversation with your school counselor about something other than issues with your class schedule.
Shaping Your Personal Qualities: Not only do colleges want to know how you will add to their academic environment, but they also want to know how you are going to add to their greater community. They assess this portion of your application through your recommendations (see above) and your involvement. It is important that you show depth in your interests. The number of extracurricular activities is not as important as quality.
So your junior year is the perfect time to dive into your activities. Are you interest in politics? Help with a political campaign or see if you can intern for a local representative. Are you an amazing swimmer? Look for a job as a swim instructor or coach your local Special Olympics team. Take a look at the activities you are already doing and expand on them. You don’t have to be good at everything, but showing focus in one or two particular areas will show colleges the depth of commitment.
College Research: Now is the time to do thorough research on colleges. Collecting information, asking questions, planning well-thought-out college visits, etc. will not only help you learn about a specific college but will also help you narrow down what you are looking for in your college experience. There is more information about colleges online now than ever. Schedule a few online information sessions or virtual tours to start getting an idea of what you are looking for in your college experience.
Standardized Testing Plan: After researching the standardized testing requirements for the schools you are interested in, you need to determine which standardized test you need to take (SAT or ACT). You also need to develop a plan for how you will prepare for each test. Finally, you should determine your official test dates. It is recommended that you try to complete your official testing by the end of your junior year. This will help you narrow down your college list and make sure you are on track. Also, be aware that many schools are now test-optional, meaning that if your SAT or ACT scores are not an accurate reflection of your academic ability, you do not have to submit them. Several schools have also adopted test-blind or score-free testing policies, meaning they do not use test scores in their application review process. If you submit test scores, they will be ignored.
Balance and Quality of Life: Junior year is a good time to begin practicing stress management techniques (i.e. maintain an exercise routine, taking time for yourself, etc.) to maintain balance and healthy quality of life. Also, make sure to ask for help when you need it. There are plenty of people around willing to help you problem solve and brainstorm different approaches to the situations that may arise throughout the year!
So there you have it- all of the goals you need to focus on for the junior year of high school. Remember to break each goal down into manageable pieces. By tackling each task in smaller parts, you will feel better about conquering the notorious junior year!