ATTENTION JUNIORS: Have you noticed, my dear juniors, that this year is going by more quickly than you expected? The well-meaning adults in your life have probably told you that each year passes more quickly than the next, and they are correct! Your high-school career is now more than half over, second semester is well underway and you are likely choosing courses for your last year of high school. You may feel anxious, excited, impatient or worried but the warmth of summer is coming sooner than you think!
So, what can juniors do NOW to PREPARE and feel great about the college application season ahead? How can you take action while keeping stress in check? Never fear! Use this easy to follow advice and take a deep breath!
Tip #1: Protect Your Grades
Did you know that your GPA is one of the first things an admissions officer will look at on your application? It is arguably the most important indicator of whether or not you will be admitted into any college, so it is imperative that you put your academics first and protect your grades at all costs. Your cumulative weighted GPA after this semester will be the one that colleges see, so make every effort and get the best grades you can.Seek help and tutoring if you need it. Trust me, holding yourself to high academic standards now is an indispensable college skill.
Tip #2: Choose Wisely
We are all busy filling out our course selections/choice sheets for next year, and meeting with your school counselor about this is likely on your radar for February! My best general advice is to choose the hardest courses you can succeed in. Push yourself especially hard in subjects that have to do with the major(s) in which you are interested. This means for my STEM majors, getting to AP Calculus (AB/BC or both) or even Multivariable Calculus (if offered) is the best idea - even if it means you will need to complete prerequisite coursework in the summer! If a science major is in your future, consider AP Physics, AP Bio or AP Chemistry, and choose AP Environmental as an elective.
For ALL majors, plan on another year of foreign language.
For my humanities majors, AP languages and AP Gov/Econ should be selected. If both Micro AND Macro Econ are not offered during the school year, consider taking one in the summer. AP Psychology is a great elective for my humanities students as well!
Tip #3: Faculty Relationships
Very soon, you will be asking teachers for recommendation letters. Ideally, these come from junior year core subject teachers (foreign language included).
Think about putting forth the extra effort to make a positive impression on your teachers this year. If you are struggling, let them know and seek help. Become a leader in the classroom. Take an interest in the subject matter. These positive relationships are very valuable not only for recommendations, but also because you never know what you may learn if you simply show interest and curiosity.
Another important person to get to know is your school counselor, as this individual may be writing a recommendation letter for you as well. Plan to meet with them and share a little bit about yourself. I promise they are here to help with your struggles and celebrate your success! Ask if they have a brag sheet you can prepare to help them get to know you, and ask about your school’s procedure for requesting letters of recommendation.
Tip #4: Have a Testing Plan
By now, you have probably taken at least a PSAT and are thinking about registering for an actual SAT or ACT. My advice is to pause and if you have not taken a practice version of BOTH tests, do so. We recommend www.aplerouth.com for free practice tests. Many students do better on one test vs. the other, so learn which one is better for you (concordance chart link here) and prepare for that one. No need to put yourself through both!
Once you figure out which is your stronger test, then think about what your goal score should be, based on your top college choices. If you need to improve your score, engage in some focused test prep sessions that end a few days or a week before your test date.
Remember that sending test scores is now an application strategy, and a good (75th percentile) score will always be an asset to your application!
Tip 5: Go There!
If at all possible, get yourself on campus at the colleges you are interested in! Think of it this way: You have the potential to spend four years of your life and a considerable amount of money at this place. It is always best to see the facilities, meet your admissions officer, and chat with current students in person. Go and see where you will study, eat, live and socialize! There is no substitute for seeing it with your own eyes and feeling the vibe for yourself.
Tip 6: Continue College Research
If your college list is still looking a bit narrow, expand it to include at least one in-state safety and one rolling admissions school. Remember that your balanced list, or the schools you will actually apply to, should include safety, target and reach schools. Meet with an admissions officer, even if you have to do so virtually. Ask about your major of interest, and about the overall student experience. Look at the cost of attendance and see if it is reasonable for your family. Look at the average admitted freshman profile, and compare it to yours. Thorough research on a variety of schools is the way to create a balanced list of schools that will fit you.
Tip 7: Plan Your Summer Wisely
I know that the wind chill right now is not giving us summer vibes, but take a moment now to think about what meaningful things you can do with your summer. Of course, there should be plenty of time for relaxing and socializing, but consider taking a MOOC, seeking an internship, or attending a summer program that has to do with an area of academic curiosity for you. Worst case scenario - maybe you discover that a thing isn’t as interesting as you anticipated!
Ask to observe, job shadow or volunteer with professionals who do what you may want to do someday. Get a summer job or rise to a leadership position in your part-time employment.. Seek out graduate students and offer to help with their research. Propose a capstone project to one of your teachers. Let your curiosity be your guide, and motivate yourself to learn and grow this summer.
Junior year is hectic, and I feel your stress as you work to manage homework, AP tests, standardized test prep, activities, practices, social time, etc. Understand that doing these hard things now will make other hard things much easier in the future. With the appropriate planning, college application season will be much easier, and once the apps are in, senior year will be much less nuts. Hang in there, friends!
You’ve got this, and we are here to help!