Junior Year of High School Stress: 13 Ways To Get Ready for the College Application Process


Junior Year of High School Stress: 13 Ways To Get Ready for the College Application Process


Junior year of high school stress is a very real thing. As you work your way through your third of high school, it can be easy to get lost in your advanced school work and increasingly demanding extracurriculars. This year is especially overwhelming because this is a key time to take on more leadership at school, prepare for standardized tests, and go on college tours.   

While applying for college doesn’t start until senior year, junior year of high school stress often kicks in as the admissions process approaches. If done right, junior year can be the year you prepare for every aspect of college applications and avoid any curveballs senior year might throw at you. Here are steps you can take now to avoid junior year of high school stress (and simplify the application process in your senior year).

1. Get to Know Your School Counselor

Building a good relationship with your school counselor early on in your junior year will help them help you. They can provide advice on colleges, standardized tests, applications, letters of recommendation, and course selection for your senior year. Go beyond just attending the annual meetings that every student has to go to with their guidance counselor. Stop by, say hello, give them an update on what you’re doing, ask a question about how to take advantage of more opportunities at your school. Taking the initiative to check in every now and then can go a long way.

Don’t forget: your guidance counselor will write a letter of recommendation on your behalf. The better they know you, the more specific and meaningful letter they can write. Don’t underestimate the power of your counselor! They are integral to the college application process, so take some time to get to know them.

2. Research Colleges and Make a School List

This is a great time to start researching and making a school list. Taking the plunge and starting this process often triggers junior year of high school stress, but now is the time!

Your list should include a balance of safety, target, and reach schools. Some things to consider when making the list are options for majors, class size, location, cost, financial assistance, scholarships, extracurricular options, student research opportunities, curriculum, prestige, faculty, and entrance requirements. There are quite literally hundreds of possibilities! Fight junior year of high school stress and get excited about the future ahead of you.

3. Attend a College Night

Your school or local community may host college nights where you can talk to representatives from multiple universities in one night. These college fairs provide a convenient opportunity to get a sense of which colleges might be suited to your interests. To make the most of these interactions, research the schools in attendance beforehand and come prepared with questions to ask the recruiters. A lot of the information on schools is available online, so some of the best questions you can ask are the ones which allow the recruiters to provide their perspective on the institution and help you understand what life at the college might be like.

4. Plan Campus Visits

You should plan to visit the colleges you’re interested in over spring break or the summer of your junior year (or weekends if the schools are nearby). You could be spending four years on this campus; visiting will help you get a feel for the community, environment, faculty, and classes. Make sure to take advantage of your tour guide’s experience at the college and ask questions regarding your interests and preferences. It could turn out that your top choice school doesn’t offer a major in your field. These are the kind of make-or-break things that can come up during a campus visit.

5. Explore Financial Aid Options and Scholarships

The reality is, college is expensive. Thinking about financial aid and scholarships often creates junior year of high school stress, but take the time to plan ahead. Aid can be awarded from the university you ultimately decide to attend, but it can also be distributed from third parties. Explore your options through the government and FAFSA, organizations you are a part of, the companies your parents work for, or competitions you can apply for. Ask your guidance counselor for resources. Google your interests; there are niche scholarships out there. Be creative with your search.

6. Consider Who Could Write a Letter of Recommendation for You

Many schools will require two or three letters of recommendation. Generally, these letters are from teachers and your counselor, but some schools even require a letter from a peer, and some schools ask for letters from teachers of different subjects. It would behoove you in your junior year to carefully review the requirements for each school that you are interested in to make sure that you have people who can write these letters. Look toward peers who have known you the longest, or teachers and mentors from your field of interest.  

Typically, students ask teachers for recommendations in their junior spring. This can seem daunting and prompt junior year of high school stress, but ask as soon as possible and you’ll thank us later.

7. Standardized Testing: ACT, SAT, SAT Subject Tests

Standardized testing is a tremendous trigger for junior year of high school stress. Most students begin taking standardized tests during 11th grade. These tests are intimidating, but get started by making a plan for when you will take the SAT or ACT. There are a few reasons students may choose one test over the other.

Be sure to allow for time to take your test of choice more than once; it is not uncommon for scores to increase the second time you take a standardized test. Some schools might require SAT subject tests as well. For help deciding which subject tests you should take, check out this blog. Some schools don’t require any, some require one, some require two, and some (Georgetown) recommend three. Make sure you know how many SAT subject tests you need to take for the schools you are considering.

Helpful hint: If the content overlaps with the classes you’re taking, it helps to plan to take  SAT subject tests around the time you take your finals. That way, you won’t have as much studying to do. Do this to ease your junior year of high school stress!

8. Plan Your Senior Classes to Complement Your Academic Interests

Your grades are an incredibly important component of your application! Your performance reflects whether or not you’d be able to handle the academic rigor of a given college. Plan your senior classes to complement your future academic interests. Take honors or AP classes to show that you’re up for a challenge. Your guidance counselor can help you plan the courses that will best fit your interests and make you as competitive as possible in the application process.

9. Register for Application Sites like the Common App or Coalition App

Most schools use general applications so you only have to complete one application for multiple colleges (Note: There are usually school specific questions to answer as well). Check the schools that you are considering applying to and go ahead and create accounts for the application sites. Making a profile doesn’t cost anything, but saves you time down the line and can help you become familiar with the platform. Theses sites require you to input all of your classes and grades, so don’t wait to do that the night before the applications are due! Plan ahead.

10. Start Brainstorming Your Personal Statement

Nearly every school requires a personal statement (check out the Common App and Coalition App for the essay prompts). This is your chance to add some personality to your application and show admission officers what makes you a unique fit for their school. It might sound easy on paper, but this is the section where students struggle, as they are used to writing 5 paragraph essays in school. Writing about yourself is difficult!

Finding the right topic, message, and tone can take awhile; you might  start over multiple times, change topics, or need a break from working on it. This is not an essay you can write overnight. Brainstorming early, doing practice prompts in your junior year, and writing the essay early will help you write the best essay you can and alleviate junior year of high school stress.  

11. Start Your Activities List

Begin figuring out which of the activities you participate in best represent who you are and your interests. Start writing down everything you’ve done throughout high school. Things that may seem like irrelevant hobbies to you can add color to your application!

As you make your list, prioritize any initiatives you’ve started, leadership opportunities, and internship opportunities in your field. Applications have different character counts (yes, I wrote character and not word count), but it’ll be about the length of a Tweet. You will want time to refine and edit your descriptions after you select the activities you want to include. Junior year is an ideal time to work on this list.

12. Start a New Extracurricular that Complements Your Interests

As a junior, you still have time to pursue something new or to add a different dimension to something that you are already passionate about. After reviewing your activities list, think about the gaps and potential opportunities for growth. Maybe you haven’t had any paid positions; you could find a part time job or internship. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to share your passion for math, poetry, or art; create an outreach program.   

Maybe you realize that you haven’t had any or many leadership opportunities; seek them out. Run for president of one of your clubs. If your high school doesn’t offer a club that best fits your interest, you can always start one. Initiative and leadership look best on college applications, especially in the Activities section of the Common Application. Challenge yourself, continue to grow, and learn more about what you like and are interested in by trying something new.

13. Consider Summer Opportunities at Universities You’re Interested in Attending

Many colleges have summer school opportunities for high school students.  See if any of the universities you are considering have summer school courses that fit your career interests. This can add to your application, but can also help you truly get a feel for the school. You might even take classes from professors who could be your future teachers if you apply and are admitted to the school.You should note that summer programs like this are very common and will not increase your chances of admission at a specific school. However, they are still great experiences and could help you figure out if the school is a good fit for you.

Junior year of high school stress is undoubtedly very overwhelming. But with the right attitude you can get a head start on reducing it. Follow our steps, work hard in school, and engage in activities that reflect the leader in you. You will conquer junior year of high school in no time.

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