It’s your junior year, meaning you’re halfway done with high school! The junior year also marks a pivotal time in the college admissions process.
This is the last full year of grades and activities that colleges review when making admissions decisions. That can be overwhelming, but we’re here to help. Use this checklist to keep on track.
When it comes to course selection for your junior year, you should take demanding classes while still getting high grades of at least a B+. However, grades shouldn’t come at the expense of your school/life balance, maintaining positive mental health, and enjoying your high school experience.
Yes, grades really do matter. The rigor of your classes and your grades are the two most essential components colleges will use in evaluating your application. They aren’t the only components, but they carry more weight than the other areas of the application.
MAKE A GOOD IMPRESSION
Participate in your classes and the learning environment. Ask thoughtful questions, do your homework with intention, and get to know your teachers. Go out of your way to help fellow classmates in any way you can.
Because you’ve taken time to develop relationships with your teachers and make a good impression in class (see above), you should be able to identify at least two teachers who would write letters of recommendation for you. Colleges will want recommendations from core teachers (Math, English, Science, Social Studies, and Foreign Language).
Some colleges will allow you to have additional recommenders that can speak to you in a different context than a teacher. Examples are a coach, performing arts instructor, employer, faculty advisor, a leader at your place of worship, a leader in a volunteer project, or an advisor to an activity you’re involved with outside of school, like Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts.
ASK FOR LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
Before the end of your Junior year, secure commitments from your recommenders. You want them to have time to write thoughtful and insightful letters that you’ll be able to submit early in your senior year.
GET TO KNOW YOUR SCHOOL COUNSELOR
Please get to know your school counselor by proactively scheduling one-on-one time with them. They will be writing a counselor letter of recommendation and sending colleges your high school’s profile. They can help colleges read your application in the context of your high school.
DON’T FORGET ACTIVITIES
Please be sure to dedicate yourself to a few extracurricular activities that you truly care about. It’s more important that you have fewer activities where your participation makes an impact rather than multiple activities where you aren’t deeply involved. Depth is better than breadth.
Remember that activities can be hobbies, work, and family responsibilities. They also include in-school and out-of-school time commitments.
PORTFOLIO OR AUDITION PREP
For music or theatrical auditions, nothing beats practice. It can help to perform mock auditions, much like a mock interview, several times beforehand. If the audition is virtual, you can conduct sound checks and test your equipment, lighting, and internet connection in advance. Some auditions may have an interview component. Review common questions you may be asked and be prepared with your own questions.
If you’re interested in athletics in college, make sure you’re targeting schools where coaches will be impressed with your skill set. Understand that you will be responsible for initiating communication with the athletic team. Reach out to the head coach and recruitment contact to introduce yourself. This communication should be customized for each school and include a current transcript, test scores, a letter from your coach, video, times, or rankings if appropriate for your sport.
Take both a practice ACT test and a practice SAT test to determine which test you feel more comfortable with and which you’re likely to score higher. Once you choose a test, stick to that choice and ignore the other option. All colleges accept the ACT and SAT, so there is no need to study for both tests.
REGISTER FOR THE ACT OR SAT
Know the dates for the ACT or SAT and their respective registration deadlines. Register for the ACT or SAT once you’ve researched on which you scored best by taking practice tests. Skip this step if you have determined to not submit test scores.
Once you decide to focus on the ACT or SAT, begin the test prep process. This should include taking practice tests and studying where you’re making mistakes. You can target your prep on those specific areas.
Decide if you need or want formal tutoring for the ACT or SAT. There are a few tutoring options: group or one-on-one and online or in-person tutoring. Regardless of your chosen method, give yourself at least 6-8 weeks of focused prep.
EVALUATE YOUR TEST SCORES
Once you’ve taken the test and received your scores, you can decide if you’ll take the test again and possibly need additional test prep. Be strategic with this timeline because you’ll want your final ACT or SAT scores by the summer before your senior year.
THE COMMON APP
You can set up your Common Application and complete the Profile, Family, Education, Testing, and Activities sections. Texas Tech has one of our favorite walkthrough videos of the setting up of the Common Application process.
When completing the Activities section of the Common Application, it can be helpful to brainstorm with a parent or someone familiar with how you spend your time. Remember that hobbies, work, and summer experiences should be included. Record the years you participated in the activity, the number of weeks it lasted, and the number of hours per week you were involved.
The Personal Statement is your main essay for the Common Application. The prompts will be updated in late January. Use February and March to complete this essay, and you’ll be ahead of the game!
COLLEGE ADMISSIONS RESUME
Create a one-page college admission resume. You’ll be able to give this to college counselors, interviewers, and include it as part of your application to schools that allow for resumes. This resume gives you a chance to provide more details on your extracurricular activities than a college application allows.
We don’t recommend you provide the resume to teachers writing your letters of recommendation as colleges want them to discuss you in the context of the classroom.
BEGIN COLLEGE VISITS
If you’ve not been to many college campuses, visit a range of different types of schools within a few hours of your home. You’ll get a sense of what kind of college you’d like to attend. You may discover that you like big schools with lots of school spirit surrounding their athletic teams or that you prefer a smaller, tight-knit school.
BUILD A COLLEGE LIST
Research colleges and assemble a list across a range of selectivity levels. Your list should include options from each of the below categories:
- Challenge Schools – These are schools that will be difficult to gain admission to but not impossible. Include 3-5 options in this category.
- Possible Schools – These are schools where your qualifications are similar to the average admitted student. Include 3-5 options in this category.
- Probable Schools – These are schools that you’re highly likely to be admitted to and that you would be happy to attend. Include at least two options in this category.
JOIN THEIR MAILING LIST
Even if you’ve begun getting communication from schools that you’re interested in, it’s worthwhile to register on the admission section of their website. This demonstrates your interest in the college and could.
Even if a school offers in-person tours, most provide virtual and on-demand programming that covers various topics. These can include student panels, departmental presentations, financial aid sessions, facility tours, or virtual classroom sessions. Explore and register for these opportunities to dive deeper into schools on your list.
REVIEW CURRENT APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS
Familiarize yourself with the current applications for schools you’re interested in. There may be some changes, but they don’t tend to change much from year to year. You’ll also gain insight into what the college values in applicants. You can review this information on the Common Application or the school’s admission website.
Review the median test scores for colleges on your list. This will provide a guideline for submitting your test scores to a particular school. These rules are subject to change, so review them before submitting your application.
Now that you’ve done some research and maybe some virtual visits, it’s time to begin visiting schools you’re interested in. This involves careful planning to maximize your time on campus.
Some colleges will offer interviews to high school juniors as part of the application process. If any schools on your list offer this option, take advantage of it! College interviews should be a conversation; make sure you have questions for your interviewer. Check out this list of questions for inspiration.
Discuss with your parents the financial parameters for your college education. You’ll need to know how much your family can afford for your college education. Are you expected to take out loans, and how much? Are you expected to work and contribute to the cost? If so, is the expectation that you’ll need to work during the school year and summer break?
NET PRICE CALCULATORS
Complete net price calculators for all schools on your list. These calculators must be on every college website and will give you a good idea of the expected cost. This will enable you and your family to determine if a school will likely be a good financial fit.
Begin researching both institutional scholarships provided by the college and scholarships provided by other organizations.
There is no one “right” way to spend your summer break before the senior year of high school. Colleges won’t give more weight to starting a charity vs. working as a waiter if you’re able to communicate what you learned from your choices. Examples of perfectly acceptable summer activities include working, job shadowing, taking a class (this could be at school or online), cultivating your sport or performing arts skills, or doing meaningful service. Many opportunities are filled by the time summer starts so get an early start on your plans. Whatever you choose to do, be sure to have some fun, and recharge your battery. The most important thing is that the activities you choose are intentional and provide you with an opportunity for personal growth.
SHOULD YOU HIRE A COLLEGE COACH?
Listen to the question “Question from a Listener” segment on episodes 285 and 287 on the Your College-Bound Kid podcast for a conversation about what colleges can do for students.
Decide if you’ll work with an independent college counselor. Given most high school counselors’ workload, this personalized counseling option can be beneficial if your resources allow it.
Check out Your College-Bound Kid podcast for tips, interviews, and analysis of college admissions. It’s the next best thing to having your own private counselor.
These books are essential reading for students and parents as you go through the college application process
- Who Gets In and Why by Jeffery Selingo
- The Price You Pay for College by Ron Lieber
- Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be by Frank Bruni
- Fiske Guide to Colleges by Ed Fiske
- The College Conversation: A Practical Companion for Parents to Guide Their Children Along the Path to Higher Education by Eric Furda & Jacques Steinberg
- Valedictorians at the Gate by Rebecca Munsterer Sabky