Junior year is the most important year of high school in the college admissions process. While admissions committees will consider every year of high school, including senior year, junior year is the one they will generally scrutinize the most.

 

That means you’ll need to work particularly hard and take plenty of high-level classes that complement your interests this year. You’ll likely face new challenges and experience, so it’s important to prepare yourself and ensure you can handle everything on your plate.

 

Be strategic in choosing classes for this year. Since this is such an important year for your transcript and college admissions, you want to prove that you’re able to handle a demanding curriculum. Read on for our advice on how to achieve a balanced but still challenging curriculum.

 

Take AP Classes

Because this year is so important, you’ll want to include Advanced Placement classes to demonstrate that you’re up to meeting the demands of a college-level curriculum. You may have taken AP classes or exams in the past, but you’ll probably take a good handful this year. Briefly, APs are year-long advanced courses that are intended to match a one-semester, usually introductory college course. After taking or self-studying the course, you’ll take the corresponding exam and receive a numerical score from 1-5, five being the highest. If you score well, you may be able to receive college credit, depending on your college’s policy. For an overview of AP courses, read What Is an Advanced Placement (AP) Class?.

 

Many colleges accept credit for some AP classes but not others. Still, if a certain class on your list doesn’t grant credit for, say, AP U.S. History, it’s still a good idea to take that course and exam if history is a strong subject for you, because it shows that you are willing to challenge yourself.

 

If you’re deciding between APs that are of equal interest to you, it’s worth taking into account how colleges view the distinctions between and rigor of the curricula. Learn more in Are All APs Created Equal in Admissions?.

 

If your high school doesn’t offer certain or any AP classes, there are some alternatives. For example, you might self-study a test, start a program at your school, or take college classes. Check out What if My School Doesn’t Offer AP or IB Courses? for more tips.

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Include a Mix of Courses

This year, you’ll probably have more choice in your curriculum than you did previously. It’s worth pursuing electives that interest you, not just the ones you think will impress colleges, particularly in your area of specialization. That demonstrates you’re truly interested in your discipline and want to find means outside of your requirements to pursue your passion. For instance, if you love to write, you might take a journalism or creative writing elective.

 

Taking courses outside of your requirements will allow you to expand your breadth of knowledge and prepare you for college, when you’ll have more choice in the courses you take.

 

Still, you should keep your requirements in mind. Make sure you at least meet them in subjects that aren’t your strongest and exceed them in your areas of interest.

 

Don’t Overdo It

While you should always strive to challenge yourself, don’t cram your schedule with too many AP classes, because you may wind up exhausted and unable to handle your curriculum. Focus on challenging yourself in your stronger subjects first, and then, if you think you can handle more, add some in subjects that aren’t your best.

 

Try to maintain a balance. Don’t overload your curriculum; you’ll probably have more work this year than you have before, so need to be cognizant of that fact and use your time wisely. Remember that you’ll also need to stay on top of your extracurriculars, where you may have leadership positions or a more active role this year, so keep your other commitments in mind when choosing your classes.

 

Start Thinking About Your College Major

In college, you’ll have more leeway in choosing your courses. However, you’ll still need to fulfill certain distribution and major requirements. Start thinking about your passion and choose courses that complement it now. For instance, If you’re considering engineering, you’ll need to take plenty of high-level math and science courses.

 

Remember to take AP courses that correlate to the major you want to pursue. That means if you’re planning on studying literature, you should take AP English; likewise, if you’re hoping to be pre-med, you should be thinking about AP Chemistry and Biology. You should also reach the maximum level that your school offers in the subject that correlates to your planned major and take electives in that area.

 

If you reach the end of your school’s offerings before senior year, see if you can do an independent study or college classes in that subject. You could also try to self-study APs if your school doesn’t offer all the AP classes available in a given subject. Learn more about how to study for AP exams independently in Which AP Exam Should You Self-Study?.

 

The Takeaway

Junior year is an important time—in most cases, the most important year for college admissions. That’s why you’ll need to maintain a strong GPA and show admissions committees that you’re up to the demands of college.

 

You also need to keep your life balanced. Try not to overtax yourself. Now is a good time to learn how to manage your time and implement stress-management strategies, which will come in handy when you head to college—and start your career.

 

Also be sure to keep your other commitments in mind. Remember to make time for extracurriculars, family, friends, and other activities that are important to you.

 

Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Check out the CollegeVine Mentorship Program. Our mentors drive significant personal and professional development for their high school mentees.

 

Combining mentorship with engaging content, insider strategies, and personalized analyses, our program provides students with the tools to succeed. As students learn from successful older peers, they develop confidence, autonomy, and critical thinking skills to help maximize their chances of success in college, business, and life.

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works in publishing. She also writes, dreams of owning a dog, and routinely brags about the health of her orchid.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine