As a high school junior, you may feel like you still have some time before you need to start worrying about college applications. However, what some students don’t realize is that your college application process actually started a few years ago. Every extracurricular, class, volunteer activity, standardized test, and internship you’ve done and plan to do in high school is building your college resume and giving you talking points for your applications.

 

Moreover, many college admissions committees look at and evaluate your junior year of high school more heavily than the other years. For instance, colleges will look to your junior year grades to see if you’ve displayed an upward grade trend (if you’re not sure what an upward grade trend is, read all about it in our previous post What is an Upward Grade Trend?) and have taken more advanced courses as your high school career has progressed.

 

They’ll also be looking at what you did in your extracurricular activities during your junior year to see if you’ve garnered any leadership positions and made any real impact. This is also the year that you should start taking the required standardized tests for college like the SAT and ACT, as colleges pay close attention to those scores.

 

Simply put, your junior year of high school is one of the most important years for your college applications. It’s your last chance to make strides in your academics, test scores, and extracurriculars before it’s time to apply to colleges. So as you start thinking about college and everything you have to do to prepare, here are five things you should make sure to do this year so that you’ll be set to fill out your college applications next year.

 

1. Prepare for Standardized Tests

Most colleges in the United States require you to take either the SAT or ACT and include your score on your college applications.

 

We at CollegeVine have provided many resources for these tests, so if you have questions about either of these tests, see these previous blog posts:

 

 

Usually, colleges will accept both exams, and you can submit whichever test gives you the higher score. You can take each test as many times as you want to get your goal score (though we at CollegeVine don’t recommend you take each test more than three times), but the earlier you take it, the better chance you have of maximizing your scoring potential.

 

As a high school junior, you should be figuring out which of these tests you’re going to take (if you’re not taking both), registering for a testing date, and preparing for the exam. It is recommended that you start studying for each exam a few months before the actual testing date to make sure you are fully prepared.

 

In addition, if you decide to take the SAT only, some colleges require additional SAT Subject tests. You can either wait until your senior year of high school to take these or take them earlier to get them out of the way. For example, the U.S. History Subject Test may be easier if you take it right after you finish taking your high school U.S. history course.

 

Finally, you may be taking a few AP courses this year with the intention of taking the corresponding AP exams in the spring for college credit. While you will probably learn the material you need for this exam as you go through the class, you shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that you don’t need to study for this exam until the spring semester. In order to maximize your scoring potential, you should make sure you’re keeping up with the course material closely so that you can just refresh the material in the spring instead of trying to learn it for the first time.

 

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2. Create a College List

It’s time to start thinking about what colleges you want to apply to next fall. The number of colleges to apply to will vary by student, but, as a general rule, be sure to apply to more than one or two so that you maximize your chances of acceptance.

 

Here are two things to keep in mind while forming your college list:

 

  • Think about “fit” when noting down schools. You should apply to schools that you think you would be happy spending four years at. For example, you shouldn’t apply to a school in Boston if you get sick very easily in cold weather.
  • Have a good mix of safety and reach schools on your list. While you should definitely apply to those competitive colleges that you are truly passionate about, you should also apply to some less competitive colleges so that you can rest assured that you have a high chance of getting into college somewhere.

 

3. Focus on Grades

As mentioned above, this is a critical year in terms of your academic performance. Some college admissions officers will forgive lower grades in your first two years of college as long as you show grade improvement in your later years of high school. This is what is known as showing an Upward Grade Trend.

 

This means that college admissions officers may be more critical of your grades during your junior year, so it’s important that you stay focused and do as well as you can in your classes. This may also be the year where you are taking the most challenging courses you’ve ever taken in high school, so it can be difficult to maintain high academic standards. However, colleges will be looking specifically to see how you were able to tackle those college-level courses. It is important that you reach out to your teachers and fellow students to keep up with the material and maintain your grades.

 

4. Connect With Teachers/Administrators/Community Leaders

Hopefully, you’ve built some good relationships with your teachers in high school. Now, it’s time to start thinking about reaching out to those teachers to write your recommendation letters for college. You don’t have to actually ask them until senior year, but you should make sure that you continue to cultivate your good relationship with your previous teachers by taking the time to stop by their classroom and chat with them.

 

In addition to past teachers, you ought to consider cultivating good relationships with your teachers from junior year. These teachers would be great to ask for recommendation letters because you will have been one of their most recent students. They’re likely to remember you more than a teacher you had two or three years ago.

 

Keep in mind that many colleges don’t just require teacher recommendation letters but also recommendation letters from your guidance counselors or other community members. It’s worth it to set up meetings with those adults and try to build a relationship with them now so that they know you and can speak well about you when you are applying for college.

 

5. Volunteer/Intern

College admission isn’t guaranteed just by having good grades. Colleges want to see that you have gone above and beyond to participate in your community and prepare yourself for a career. Two common ways to do this is by doing volunteer work in your community and procuring a high school summer internship.

 

There are usually entire sections of a college application dedicated to listing all of the community service projects you have participated in throughout high school. The more meaningful volunteer opportunities you have to list, the better your application looks.

 

Some ways to engage in volunteer work include joining community service clubs in your school, joining community service organizations around your community, or seeking out volunteer opportunities yourself by reaching out to your local shelter, soup kitchen, retirement home, etc.

 

In addition to being involved in the community, colleges also want to see that you have work experience and are actively trying to prepare yourself for your future career. Getting an internship as a high school student is a great way to do that. In fact, most companies who hire high school students like to hire them to work the summer after their junior year of high school. The application processes for these internships could start as early as September or as late as April, so keep your eye out for those job openings.

 

For More Information

If you’re looking for more tips on how to approach junior year of high school, check out these blog posts:

 

 

Lastly, if you’re looking for more personalized guidance through high school, consider the benefits of CollegeVine’s Mentorship Program, which pairs each student 1:1 with a mentor from a top college who can help you develop the skills you’ll need for becoming a successful college student.

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Sadhvi Mathur

Sadhvi Mathur

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Sadhvi is a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley, double majoring in Business Administration and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!
Sadhvi Mathur