Getting Ready to Apply to College: Junior Year

During your freshman and sophomore years of high school, you may have felt as though everything was still a practice round. You were working to perfect your extracurricular involvement and fine-tune your approach to academics, but if you slipped up there was still time to make it right again. You were building relationships and a college list, but you didn’t need to settle on any single ones yet. Everything you did was in preparation for the future.

 

Come junior year, though, that future has arrived. Now is the time to shine, academically and personally. Junior year is the most important year of your high school career in terms of its weight on your college application. This is the year to amp up your academics, focus on standardized tests, take extracurriculars to the next level, and hone in on goals for the future. To learn more about getting ready to apply to college as a junior in high school, keep reading.

 

Academics

 

Your junior year is the last complete year that will be looked at by college admissions committees before they make their decisions, so your academic performance is very important. You will need to take challenging classes and fully commit yourself to succeeding in them by using all of the support networks available to you. Using resources like study groups, friends, teachers, tutors, and online tutorials can all come in handy as your strive to achieve.

 

If you are applying to selective colleges, you will need to take AP or other advanced classes to prove that you are capable of college level work. If your school does not offer AP classes, consider self-studying for a few AP exams. To learn more, check out these posts:

 

How to Register for AP Exams (Even If You Didn’t Take the Class)

The Ultimate Guide to Self-Studying AP Exams

 

Junior year is the time to lean on teachers to help guide and support you, especially if you’ve laid the foundation for these relationships during your earlier years. If you are struggling academically, feeling overwhelmed, or simply need a little reassurance, reach out to people around you for help. There’s no reason to struggle alone. During the spring of your junior year, you’ll need to request teacher recommendations for your college applications. To learn more about these, check out our post How to Get a Standout Recommendation Letter.

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Extracurriculars

 

During your junior year, you should be working to achieve recognition or leadership roles within your existing extracurriculars. Hopefully by this point in your high school career, you’ve joined groups, teams, clubs, or activities that you’re passionate about pursuing and you’ve established a solid foundation of commitment towards them.

 

First of all, if you’re involved in a number of different activities that don’t necessarily excite you, and they are taking up a significant portion of your time, this is your chance to trim some of the excess. Try to focus primarily on about three activities that excite you and represent a broad base of interest. Ideally, at least one of these projects will have some kind of service element and at least one will be related to a future possible major or career goal.

 

Now, work towards achieving at a higher level or gaining deeper experience as a leader within these activities. If you’ve been involved with making theater sets since freshman year, this is the time to step into the role of manager. If you’re involved in a service project, now is the time to organize a fundraiser or work day. Even extending your dedication beyond involvement through your school is a great idea. For example, if you’re involved in student government you might consider an internship at the local town hall.

 

Preparing Your College List

 

Ideally, at this point you’ve been curating a college list for a while now, but if you’re just getting started and need some guidance, check out our Seven Tips for Creating Your College List.

 

Junior year is the time to get serious about this list. By fall of your senior year, you’ll need to have it narrowed down to the 8 or so schools that you’ll actually apply to, so keep this in mind during your junior year.

 

During your first semester of junior year, start to consider which characteristics of a college are most important to you. Use this information to narrow down your choices, though don’t eliminate any schools just yet. Lots can still change in the next year, so it’s smart to keep all schools on the table until you really need to narrow your choices down.

 

During the second semester of junior year, start to make some preliminary lists of schools to apply to. Try to decide if every option represents a school you’d be happy to attend while also offering a well-balanced variety of selectivity. For more about finalizing your college list, see these posts:

 

Seven Tips for Creating Your College List

The College List, Decoded: Safety, Target, and Reach Schools

Five Mistakes to Avoid When Creating Your College List

 

Standardized Tests

 

Junior year is the first year that you’ll really need to focus on standardized tests and getting started during your first semester is highly recommended. Early in your junior year, plan to take the PSAT. This will be your first exposure to these kinds of tests and will also serve to qualify you for National Merit scholarships or recognition.

 

Also early in your junior year you should decide if you’ll take the ACT or the SAT. There is no “right” choice when it comes to these tests, so you should make your decision based on a number of different personal considerations. To learn more about the SAT and ACT, see these posts:

 

The CollegeVine Guides to the SAT

The CollegeVine Guides to the ACT

 

During the first semester of your junior year, plan to take a formative assessment to identify your strengths and areas in need of improvement. You can use this to form a comprehensive study plan. Early on, focus on learning about your pacing and time management skills and take another practice test to gauge your progress towards the end of the first semester.

 

Then, move towards developing strategies and content mastery during your second semester before you take your third practice test. During spring of your junior year, you should take the SAT or ACT for the first time. This way, you can use the summer months to review your score report and work on improving your score.

 

Personal Growth

 

As a junior, you can finally start to think beyond high school, too. You can begin to envision possible college majors, careers, or programs of study to pursue. If you are still feeling totally lost with regards to the future, that’s alright. Now is the time to reach out to your mentors or counselors and discuss your concerns. There are many options available; sometimes you just need a little guidance to narrow in on them.

 

If you’re still looking for some more direction, you might even consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Near Peer Mentorship Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from college admissions to career aspirations, all from successful college students.

 

For more information about your junior year of high school, check out these CollegeVine posts:

 

Attention Juniors: Here are 5 Things to Do Today to Get Into College Next Year

30 Resources for Your Junior Year of High School

What You Should Be Thinking About as a Junior — Part I: Academics + Standardized Tests

What You Should Be Thinking About as a Junior — Part II: Extracurriculars and Summer Activities

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Kate Sundquist

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
Kate Sundquist

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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.