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College Prep 101: What Juniors Need to Prioritize This School Year

By Juaquin, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor

Junior year is an exciting time! You’re halfway done with your high school journey, and it is an important year in the college admission process. However, there are a few things you should keep in mind as you prepare to apply to college next fall.

Colleges and universities consider the junior year critical when evaluating students’ academic preparedness and potential contributions to their community. While colleges do take all four years of academics, activities, and more into consideration, junior year is the last full year of grades and activities that colleges will evaluate when making admissions decisions. Your junior is the most important time for you to “own” the college process and practice important skills that will serve you in college and beyond. It’s important to have a successful junior year so that your best foot is forward when it comes time to apply next fall. By planning now, you will reduce stress and improve your chances of admission into your top-choice schools. Here’s what high school juniors need to prioritize this school year in order to stay on track – or even get ahead! – with their college prep.

Standardized Testing
The junior year is the perfect time to take the standardized college entrance exams. In the fall of your junior year, you should take the PSAT if you haven’t already, as it is what will qualify you for National Merit, which unlocks potential for scholarships from state schools. You can only take the PSAT once, and if you start studying for the PSAT in the early fall of your junior year, you will have a better chance at receiving National Merit Honors.

You should plan to take the official SAT or ACT in the late fall or early in the second semester of your junior year. To determine which exam is the best-fit for you, take a practice SAT and ACT and compare your results. Not only will this help you determine which test to prepare for, it will also help you develop a test prep strategy. After you sit for the SAT or ACT, if you don’t like your score, you can retake the test in the late spring of junior year or early fall of your senior year.

If you’re considering applying to schools that require SAT Subject Tests, and you haven’t already taken them, you should plan to take those at the end of your junior year, just as you’re wrapping up a related course. For example, if you’re taking AP Physics then you should be prepared to take the Subject Test in Physics. Finally, prep for AP exams in the spring. If you’re enrolled in AP classes, colleges will want to see your AP test results. If your school doesn’t offer AP classes, you can still self-study for the exams. Doing well on AP tests is another way to demonstrate your readiness to perform college-level work, and you can receive college credit by passing the AP tests.

Making an Impact in Your Activities and Community
Continue activities you’ve been involved in during your sophomore and freshman year. Colleges like to see continuity and commitment to an activity – they want to know how you’ve made an impact on your community. Your involvement in extracurricular activities should reflect your interests and passions. Don’t join a club just to pad your resume or college application – admissions officers will notice! Instead, take a look at your current activities and see how you can make even more of a difference.

If your school doesn’t have an activity you are interested in, use this as your opportunity to establish a club and show the colleges how you can share your passion by leading and starting an activity that reflects your passion. Colleges also love to see students take a leadership role in the junior year. This shows the admission office that you’re involved deeply and in a meaningful way. This is also a great time to build on your honors and awards. Focus on your interests and consider applying for scholarships or competing in state or national exams, writing contests, all-city or all-state competitions, and seek other opportunities to receive awards.

Build and Refine Your College List
While college might still seem far off, you need to start researching schools and building your balanced college list ASAP.  Learn more about colleges of interest by first researching online. If you know what you want to pursue academically, start there and research the courses offered and professors who teach those courses. Read works published by the professor and send them an email request to meet or attend their class when you visit the campus. Or, if you know that you want to be in an urban area, start researching schools located in a city. Next, attend local college fairs, information sessions, interviews, and start the college athletic recruitment process during your second semester, if applicable. By starting to build your college list as a junior, you can plan ahead for required testing and demonstrate interests by visiting the campus before your senior year. This will take pressure off and put you in the best position to apply early if that’s part of your application strategy.

Foster Teacher Relationships
As you work hard to produce good grades in challenging classes, remember to reach out to your teachers and meet with them outside of class. This will help you build a relationship with them and can help when you ask your two teachers from academic classes to write your letters of recommendation. I suggest at the start of junior year that students begin to think about which teachers they want to write recommendations on their behalf, preferably someone who teaches a course related to their core interests. Build a rapport with them throughout the school year and then approach them to ask if they will write your recommendation at the end of your junior year before the summer starts.

There’s a lot that high school juniors can be doing this year to get on track with their college prep! Want more personalized guidance? The team of expert counselors at IvyWise can help you develop a strategic action plan that will carry you through the college application process senior year, putting you in the best position to gain admission to your top-choice schools. Contact us today for more information on our college counseling services for juniors or to set up an Initial Consultation.