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College Planning Tips: Junior Year of High School

November 23, 2023 :: Admissionado Team

high school student

It’s second semester junior year, which means you’re officially on the road to college admissions. Pretty soon, you’ll be donning a cap and gown and off to the college of your choice. But first, you have to get in.Second semester junior year is a critical time to prepare for the college application process senior year. From test prep to summer plans, from here on it, every detail matters. So get out your to-do list and write down everything admissions consultancy experts say.

1. Academic Hail Mary

You’ll probably hear that junior year is the most important year academically for college applications. This is only partially true. EVERY year matters, from freshman year all through senior year. Adcoms look at your college application cumulatively; they want to see either consistently high marks OR a clear trajectory of growth.

And that’s why second semester junior year is so important. It’s your academic Hail Mary. If you had a weaker start in high school but you’re aiming high, you’ve got to get those grades up by second semester junior year. Any progress you make senior year will also count towards your application, but those grades won’t be on your transcript if you submit early, and may not be finalized before the regular decision deadline in January. Put in the extra push now!

Your course load during junior year should be as rigorous as possible. Challenge yourself with the most difficult courses, including honors and AP classes. Finally, and this is a huge tip, make sure to take the AP tests for all of your AP classes. Even if you’re not going for college credit, it shows commitment and follow through, qualities prized by admissions committees.

2. Set Up Leadership Positions for Senior Year

Just like with academics, activities should be maxed out during junior year. In school-related clubs, you should angle for a leadership position or two (or more!). Becoming a leader within a club you love isn’t about the title. It shows that you are passionate about the activity, and in the minds of admissions committees, this passion translates to meaningful participation in your future college community. 

So whether you’re on the debate team or running track, take some steps this semester to ensure that you’ll be in a leadership position senior year. Put your name in for captain, start planning your student council campaign, talk to your coach or teacher about how you can contribute more to the team. Also, you shouldn’t feel the need to join a million clubs; you’re angling for depth not breadth here. Finally, starting your own activity, whether inside or outside of school, is always impressive.

3. Plan a Productive Summer

Summers are just as important as the school year, so make sure your summer is productive and full of inspiration for your college application. Work, volunteer, travel, or study – you have so many options, but you’ll have to start planning for them NOW. If you’re planning on volunteering, ask now if there will be projects you can lead in the summer. A lot of summer study programs have application processes that will need to be finished by March.

4. Test Prep

You should plan on taking standardized tests more than once during junior year. For SAT takers, consider taking the test in January then again sometime in the spring. If you haven’t achieved the superscore you desire, you can take the test a third time in October of your senior year—after some summer prep work, of course. The same advice goes for the ACT. Also, if you’re unsatisfied with your performance on the SAT, you can always hop aboard the ACT train, but we recommend doing this sooner rather than later so you have adequate time to prepare for the new test. 

5. Know your Recommenders

Start thinking about who will write your letters of recommendation. By the end of junior year, you should figure out who you’d like to write your recommendations. Then, you should ask these potential recommenders and lock down at least three. The best people to write your recommendation do not necessarily have the most impressive titles. They should be the teachers/coaches/mentors who know you best and can speak to your strengths. These qualities are what make for a solid letter of recommendation.

6. Narrow your College List

While you shouldn’t start filling out your applications just yet, junior year is the time to begin seriously considering college admissions. This means doing some research ASAP. The best place to start is the internet, scouring the websites of schools you’re interested in. These sites are incredibly helpful, with information on academics, activities, and even virtual tours. You should also plan on visiting colleges, if possible. For learning all about a school, there’s no substitute for talking to current students. It’s seriously the best way to learn about the pros and cons of different institutions. By the end of second semester junior year, you’ll want to have a pretty good idea of WHERE you’ll apply to college. You don’t have to finalize your list yet, but you should start the research. Know your “competitive tiers” – the schools that would be your match, reach, and safety schools.

7. College Visits

A lot juniors use spring break to visit colleges while they’re in session. If it’s an option, then take the opportunity to visit some of your target schools, but also include a variety of schools – urban, rural, big, small. In the end, fit doesn’t really matter as much as you think, but when it comes to making your final decision, your college visits will help inform your choice.

8. Get Organized

This may seem like obvious advice, but keeping organized is crucial during your junior year. You’re going to be juggling a lot of balls, so making sure you’ve got a firm grip on each one is important. If you’re old school, keep a daily organizer with important dates and assignment deadlines. If you’re tech savvy, organize your life in the cloud. There are a ton of helpful apps, and you can use Apple iCal or Google Calendar to sync all your information across multiple devices. And set reminders for everything! This will keep you up-to-date and prepared ahead of time.

9. Essay Fodder

During junior year and the summer before senior year, you want to be participating in activities that could potentially become material for your personal statement. However, it’s important to remember that, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, it’s the journey not the destination that matters. You shouldn’t participate in something just because it would make for a good essay. Rather, impressive essay material should be a happy byproduct of the participation itself.

9. Enjoy Life!

Amidst all of this craziness, it can be easy to lose yourself and get totally stressed out. Make sure you set aside time to do activities that you like, and treat this time as a reward for a job well done on other things. Love to play video games? Set aside a few hours at the end of the week to indulge, after you’ve finished everything else you need to do. More of an outdoorsy person? Plan for a weekend of hiking or camping to follow a week you anticipate as being particularly stressful. Whatever your pleasure, make sure you take care of yourself throughout the year!