Junior Year Checklist: Ways to Make Sure You’re on Track for College Application Season
October 29, 2019
Junior Year Checklist: Ways to Make Sure You’re on Track for College Application Season
I work with students from all over the world and I can tell you with certainty that no matter where you are located or what type of school you attend, junior year will be the hardest year of high school. Some students think that college application season is far away. However, if you are a junior, you don’t have as much time as you think. You spend your freshman year learning the ropes of high school. By sophomore year, you feel a bit more comfortable and should start getting actively involved in your community. But, by 11th grade, there will be plenty to do and you should have a game plan for how you will approach it all. This is where having a junior year checklist can come in handy.
Agenda, Planners, and Calendar Reminders
If you don’t have a planner, get one.
I would suggest that you harness any nervous energy and put it to good use by making an action plan for yourself. Your future self will thank you if you are able to succeed! Even if you’re not nervous, you’ll have to face a lot of questions from family and friends down the line. It helps to get a planner because soon, your brain will start filling up with a lot of information: AP coursework, to-do’s for your extracurriculars, SAT prep, and more. So, it’s best if you have a way to manage your time and tasks outside of your own head in order to prepare yourself for the rigor of the year.
Creating a master resumé is a great entry on your junior year checklist. A master resumé represents all of your educational, extracurricular, and professional experiences – just about everything you have done so far. Because it’s for your eyes only, the master resumé can be as long as you want.
I would suggest that to begin the process, you write down all of the activities that you have done to date in high school. They can include anything under the sun that has taken up your time. Be sure to include things in and out of school like a part-time job, volunteering, hobbies such as learning to play the guitar, and even taking care of your siblings if that’s something you have done. A master resumé reflects who you are in terms of how you spend your time inside and outside the classroom.
By putting it all down on paper, you will have a better sense of which areas you need to strengthen. You can also take note of where you need to cut back in order to make room for things that could add value to your experience. Once you have everything written down, assign a time value to the extracurriculars. For example, how many hours per week would you say you spend as part of that club or initiative? After that, attempt to arrange the activities in chronological order, with the most recent experiences at the top.
The next thing that I would suggest that you cover on your junior year checklist is your prospective major, if you haven’t done so already. I always ask my students to answer very simple and straight-forward questions as part of their interest exploration.
- What is your favorite subject in school?
- What subject do you do best in?
- Is there a subject that you feel like you could spend all day thinking or reading about that doesn’t feel like homework or a chore?
Many students focus on their intended job outcomes instead of what they enjoy learning. While your career is important, when it comes to choosing your academic major, the reality is that the landscape has changed. Routes have become less restricted. English majors become lawyers and art majors become doctors.
Understandably, when it comes to certain fields (like careers in STEM), it is most appropriate and applicable to major in an area relevant to your aspirations. It’s valuable to show a certain direction in your applications so that colleges know that you have put thought into your interests and taken active steps to pursue them. Reflect on them starting now. It conveys that you haven’t come up with these focus areas on a whim, but that you’re genuinely passionate about a career in the field.
Your junior year checklist is also a great place to review your curriculum over the last couple of years. Which areas of study have you excelled at and which areas could you give more focus to as you work through this year?
If you are interested in pursuing a STEM major and/or career, have you been taking the most rigorous math and science curriculum available to you? If not, consider your class options for either your second semester of junior year or for your senior year schedule. Make sure you’re pushing yourself with an intense course load and AP classes. And finally, review your course list to make sure that you are taking language courses as you can and the appropriate level of history and English classes, depending on your major interest. Colleges want to make sure that you’ve taken the necessary core classes.
If you’ve taken challenging courses, colleges can see that you aren’t afraid to continue to push yourself to learn more about a topic, and that you can be successful in higher level classes. It’s a great indication to them that you will continue to do so in college, so it’s worth a review of your current academic curriculum to see if there are any tweaks you can make or need to make moving forward.
Yes, testing is an important component of your junior year checklist. At this point, you should have a good sense of your testing plan and how you plan to accomplish your SAT/ACT requirements by the time application season rolls around. The biggest things that you need to pay attention to are as follows:
- Have you taken your ACT or SAT at least once by this point? If not, it’s time. You might be anxious, but remember that much of the stress that surrounds the first test is just that it’s the first time you will have taken it in the appropriate setting. It’s one thing to take a practice test within the comfort of your own home or even at school. But, when you walk into the real test, it will feel different and by the fall of your junior year, you should have that under your belt.
- Evaluate which SAT subject tests you plan to take. Even though subject tests are optional at many colleges, there are schools that want you to take two to three and that have specific requirements when it comes to how they match up with your intended field of study (i.e. - math for business, science for STEM). It doesn’t hurt to take SAT subject tests in your area of interest to emphasize your prowess in the field.
I would say that this portion of the junior year checklist feels the most obvious because this is when you likely get asked the most about, “where do you want to go to school?” And while most people don’t realize how loaded this question actually is, the answer can only come after you’ve done research on colleges with your interests and how your academic and testing profile will stand up against a schools’ profile.
My biggest suggestions for how to approach your school list and subsequently your college visit schedule is to and ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you looking for a large public university or smaller liberal arts college?
- What kind of class sizes are you looking for?
- Do you want to be far away from home?
- Do you want to be able to come home on weekends?
- Would you fit in with the environment of the location?
- Is the weather suited to you?
- What is your prospective major?
- What kind of extracurriculars do you want to participate in?
- Do you want a college with Greek life?
- How do you wish to spend your weekends?
- Are you planning to study abroad?
- What kind of resources do you need for your academic goals?
Many students have a quick answer to these questions, so use these as a guide for how to approach the process in general. Next up, take a look at the majors that are offered by colleges that are in your target locations. Then, check out the extracurriculars that each school has. Remember that even though you will be spending a lot of time studying in college, you will hopefully also be an active member of the campus community. This research will be great content for those supplemental essays that you will have to write during application season!
Finally, as you begin to build your school lists remember that you will need to have schools that fall in your reach, target, and safety categories. You do not want to only apply to schools that are super selective. It never works out well. Include a mix of institutions where your academic and testing profile is on the low end, the median, and the high end of the schools’ profile. This is the best strategy for ensuring that you get into college come the spring of your senior year!
Remember, when you are researching schools, there are some great tools that you can use to look at schools and even take campus tours from home if you aren’t able to make it out in person. YouVisit is one of my favorites for virtual tours. I will say, though, that an in-person visit can never be replaced by a virtual tour. As the former Director of the Visit Center at Penn, I had the fortune of witnessing the “ah-ha” moments that happened when prospective students came to visit and in particular, got to meet with current students. Some questions to ask current students during your campus visit are:
- Why did you choose this college?
- Why did you choose major X?
- Who is your favorite professor and why?
- What is it like to live in this city?
- What has the school done to help you grow?
- What are your favorite and least favorite things about going here?
- How friendly and welcoming is the campus?
- How accessible are professors typically?
A campus visit is helpful in providing you with a picture of what a day in the life of a student at the school is like. Plus, you can sit in on a class, chat with professors, and talk to different extracurricular club members. So, if you have the chance and resources, definitely put it on your junior year checklist to set foot on campus! But, if you can’t, there are other ways to check out schools without making the trek.
Focus on Teacher and Counselor Relationships
The final piece of advice I have for you as you make your way through junior year is to focus on your relationships with your future recommenders. This process can be overwhelming, for sure. But, remember that you have many adults around you that are there to help! In particular, you should keep in mind that your school counselor is a resource and that they will also be asked to write a letter on your behalf that will go to every one of your colleges. I’m not suggesting that you become friends with them for that purpose. However, they are in general, really awesome people whose purpose is to help you navigate your way. So, stop in to say hello. Make sure they know who you are and make sure they know what you need.
Similarly, if you are struggling, ask your teachers for help and don’t be afraid. If you want to explore beyond your curriculum, ask your teachers for suggestions. It’s usually teachers in your field, ones who have known you the longest, or have worked with you on a project, who write the most insightful recommendation letters. When picking recommenders for college, you should choose at least one of your 11th grade teachers to provide a recent account of your academic prowess. So junior year is the time to continue building teacher relationships.
11th grade will be full of challenges, but it can also be a time that is full of excitement! If you take the time to plan ahead now, make yourself a junior year checklist. I assure you that it will go much more smoothly than you could have anticipated. Ben Franklin once said, “what is best for people is what they do for themselves.” So, own this process and know that you have to be in control to be successful. No one else will do this work for you and when you plan, you won’t regret it!