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College Resources

How to Prepare for College During Your Junior Year of High School

This college admissions guide will steer you through the tasks you should complete during your junior year of high school to maximize your chances of getting accepted by your top choice colleges.

Click on a month below to find out what steps you should be taking.

Fall Semester:
Spring Semester:


College Admissions Guide: High School Junior Year - July

You’ll hear us (and your parents and teachers) say this a lot: junior year is critical.  While there’s no need to break into a flop sweat, take some time this summer to think about how you can thrive.

•    Certainly, admissions officers will scrutinize your overall transcript.  However, they are likely to give the most attention to your junior year grades and curriculum.  Be certain that you are enrolled in challenging, yet realistic courses.  If you’ve demonstrated achievement in your college prep classes, consider taking an honors or AP class (or two).

•    Time management will be essential to your success this year.  Start working on a plan for the fall that will incorporate your class and homework schedules, extracurricular involvement and other activities.

•    As you’re probably aware, you have to do a lot of research before you determine your definitive college list.  And when trying to gauge whether or not a school is right for you, nothing beats a campus visit.  If you’re traveling with your family this summer, see if you can work any visits into your itinerary.  Alternatively, hop in the car with some friends and tour some nearby schools (after all, what summer is complete without a road trip).  Be sure to keep a log of your impressions and opinions.  This will serve as a handy reference as you revise your list.

•    In our humble opinion, the best summers combine productivity and relaxation.  Strive to strike a balance between work, play and rest.  This will enable you to return to school physically and mentally refreshed and ready to tackle any challenges. Oh, and whatever your plans, be sure to squeeze in some reading.  It will keep your mind agile and might even improve your vocabulary (which will certainly come in handy come the SAT/ACT).

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College Admissions Guide: High School Junior Year - August

You’ve arrived at the half-way mark and you’re on the verge of two exciting (and stressful) years.  To ensure continued success (and limited breakdowns), might we suggest:   

  • Consider lending your talents to a community service project this summer.  We (practically) guarantee that it will be a fulfilling way to spend your time.  Who knows – you might just discover a latent passion (or possibly a future topic for your college essays)!  Whatever you ultimately decide to do, be sure to update your Personal College Resource File (including your profile and portfolio).

  • You know that bestseller that’s been sitting on your nightstand for weeks (or maybe even months)?  Think about picking it up!  Reading will keep your mind active and likely increase your vocabulary (which as you’re painfully aware is a large portion of the SATs).

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College Admissions Guide: High School Junior Year - September

Junior year can seem harried and hectic.  You’re likely to feel less overwhelmed if you begin the school year with a plan of attack.  Get organized with these tips:

  • Sure, you’ve spent some time thinking about life after high school.  However, you need to shift from casually glancing at the occasional college pamphlet to serious search mode.  Talk to your parents about your academic progress and their expectations for you.  Further, find out if your high school or any schools in the area are hosting a college/career fair and make a plan to attend together.  The more you learn now, the better positioned you’ll be when it comes time to start applying.  

  • College provides access to a myriad of wonderful opportunities.  Unfortunately, those opportunities come attached to a hefty price tag.  However, while tuition figures might be overwhelming, there’s no need to panic.  From scholarships and grants to loans and work study programs, there are a number of ways to alleviate the financial burden.  To maximize your aid options, we recommend you begin searching for scholarships now.

  • Ah, the SAT and ACT – a necessary evil in the college admissions game.  And this is the year you go head-to-head with these exams.  Talk to your advisor/guidance counselor about a test prep plan and when he/she thinks you should sit for the exams.  You’ll need to register ASAP if you want to take the test this fall.

  • Hopefully, over the past few years, you’ve been participating in a handful of clubs and organizations.  Are there any that you’ve been particularly passionate about?  If so, consider playing a more prominent role (be it assuming a leadership position, chairing a committee, etc.).  You’ll learn about managing responsibility and you’ll demonstrate dedication and diligence.

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College Admissions Guide: High School Junior Year - October

The primary focus of junior year is to position yourself for college and life beyond high school.  To help you digest that daunting notion, we humbly offer up the following advice:

  • Let’s face facts – you’ll likely have to take the SATs or ACTs this year.  To whet your standardized test appetite, register for the PSAT/NMSQT.  While the results won’t be included with your college application, the test will give you a good indication of how you might fare when it’s time to sit for the real deal.  And don’t forget to schedule in some test prep time.  Those who score well on the exam often qualify for National Merit scholarships.

  • Admissions officers pay close attention to the grades you earn junior year.  While there’s no need to lock yourself in the library 24/7, you do need to hit the books.  Meet with your guidance counselor/advisor to discuss your academic progress and strategies for improvement and/or (in the case of a 4.0) remaining consistent.

  • By now, you’ve hopefully sampled (or better yet participated in) a handful of extracurricular activities.  Think about taking the next step and assume a leadership position.  You’ll learn about responsibility, delegation and dedication.  And, once again, remember to update your Personal College Resource File with any and all achievements.

  • This is the year to start giving serious consideration to potential colleges.  To begin crafting a list of schools, you’ll need to be proactive with your research.  Attend local college fairs and meet with the college reps who visit your school.  Get a sense of the different options available to you.  Only after thorough inquiry and reflection will you come to discover the schools that will best meet your needs and interests.

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College Admissions Guide: High School Junior Year - November

Junior year often feels like a pressure cooker.  To make sure you remain at the top of your game, take deep breaths and remember the following:

  • Once again, we recommend having a heart-to-heart with your parents and guidance counselor/advisor about your academic progress and college planning.  Are you pleased with your standing?  Do you need to log more hours in the library?  After an honest evaluation, you’ll have a more realistic idea of which type of colleges you should target.  You can craft a preliminary list and from there begin to investigate which schools might be of interest to you.

  • Break out those #2 pencils!  It’s time to register for the February ACT and the March SAT.  And then get cozy with some test prep materials!

  • We hate to sound like a broken record but are you involved in any clubs, playing on any sports teams or holding down a part-time job yet?  Participating in extracurricular activities helps you learn about time management and makes you a well-rounded individual, both facets that are important for college admissions and beyond.

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College Admissions Guide: High School Junior Year - December

As you head into the holiday vacation, don’t lose sight of what you need to accomplish.

  • If you haven’t yet experienced the joys of standardized testing, now’s the time!  Be sure to register for the March SAT Reasoning Test and the February or April ACT.  Of course, simply signing up for the test isn’t enough.  You should spend some time prepping for the exams.  After all, you’re likely to have better results if you face the test with confidence, not dread.

  • Find a minute to check in with your guidance counselor/advisor.  Review your academic progress and your schedule for second semester.  Does anything need to be tweaked?

  • Between academics, extracurriculars and standardized tests, you’re juggling a lot.  However, you can’t let your college search fall by the wayside.  Contact colleges that are of interest to you and make sure you are on their mailing lists.

  • Okay – we’re going to confidently assume that by now you’ve participated in a handful of extracurricular activities.  Be sure to keep your Personal College Resource File up to date with any and all achievements.

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College Admissions Guide: High School Junior Year - January

You’re slogging through this crucial year.  We realize it’s stressful and hectic at times; remember to take a deep breath every now and then.  And be sure to keep these ideas and events on the horizon: 

  • It’s important to assess where you stand academically.  Visit your advisor/guidance counselor to review your record and your progress.  From there, you can plot out the appropriate course-load for senior year. Who knows – maybe the appointment will validate your hard work or motivate you to hit the books a little more.

  • Ah, standardized tests – a necessary evil.  Register now to take the SAT I in March and/or May.  You should also use this time to review the results of your PSAT/NMSQT and begin to log some hardcore test prep hours (if you haven’t already started).

  • Conversely, register now to take the ACT in April.  And start acquiring a collection of #2 pencils!

  • Application time is really just around the corner.  You should begin to whittle down your college list to serious contenders.  Really start to mull over items and attributes that are important to you (size, location, cost, selectivity, athletics, distance from home, Greek life, scholarship opportunities, housing options, etc.).

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College Admissions Guide: High School Junior Year - February

Here’s some more advice to ensure your junior year continues to proceed (relatively) smoothly:

  • You can postpone, but you can’t hide forever.  If you haven’t taken your standardized tests, there’s no time like the (near) present.  Register to take the SAT in March or the ACT in April.

  • It’s only a matter of months until you begin filling out those applications in earnest.  Make an appointment to meet with your counselor (and your parents) to discuss your post-secondary plans.  If college is in your future, begin making a preliminary list of schools (along with plans to visit a few during spring break).  During the meeting, you should also discuss research tactics for scholarship opportunities.

  • Do you have the winter blues?  We have a (potential) cure.  Start thinking about what you might want to do this summer (aside from getting a good base tan).  Use the extended vacation as a time to explore potential career interests and develop new passions.

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College Admissions Guide: High School Junior Year - March

This time next year, you’ll be playing the waiting game (and finding a prom date).  Until then, keep your nose to the grindstone.

  • All right – it’s time to bite the bullet and register for either the May SAT or the April and/or June ACT.  By sitting for the exam now, you’re leaving yourself with time to retake either test (if need be).
  • You should be in the thick of your college search now.  Once again, we recommend attending any college fairs being held in your area.  The alumni and university reps will provide great insight.  Additionally, reach out to individuals you know who have attended colleges you are considering.  Ask about the quality of academic programs, student life, financing options, etc.  After all, current students and alums are the real experts!
  • To ensure you haved as many options as possible, continue to research scholarship opportunities online.

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College Admissions Guide: High School Junior Year - April

Phew – you’re nearing the end of your junior year.  As you round the corner, make sure you heed the bullet points below:

  • By now, you have (hopefully) logged a number test prep hours.  It’s time to push aside those practice exams and conquer the real thing!  Register now to take the June ACT and/or June SAT tests.

  • Together with your parents, make an appointment to meet with your counselor to discuss your post-secondary plans and develop a college search list.  Be sure to inquire about any local college fairs/college nights.  And start really investigating the schools on your list along with scholarship possibilities.

  • While you don’t need to pull the trigger just yet, you should start pondering which teachers to ask for letters of recommendation.  Don’t necessarily approach someone because you excelled in his/her class.  Sometimes a teacher who has seen you struggle yet persevere will write a more glowing reference.

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College Admissions Guide: High School Junior Year - May

There’s a lot of work to be done as you head into your senior year.  Make sure you have your ducks in a row (metaphorically speaking of course; actual ducks could be quite a headache).

  • Most college applications require teacher recommendations.  Find a moment to reflect on your relationships with current (and past) teachers.  Are you especially close to your English lit teacher?  Did your geometry teacher observe you persevere while struggling with a difficult theorem?  The better a teacher knows you, the more meaningful the recommendation will be.

  • The best way to gauge your feelings about a school is to pay a visit to the campus.  Ask your parents if you can embark on some college trips this summer.  This will certainly help you narrow down your options (we recommend a final list of 6 – 12 schools).

  • Wouldn’t it be great if tuition bills paid themselves?  Unfortunately, that’s simply wishful thinking.  And until that becomes a reality, we suggest you continue to search for scholarship opportunities.

  • Though this might sound like a novel concept, summer is actually the perfect time for productivity (and ice cream).  Use your vacation wisely.  Think about volunteering or landing a job.  You might even want to consider taking a summer course to boost your academic preparation (or, on the off chance, for fun).  Whatever you ultimately decide, remember to update your Personal College Resource File.

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College Admissions Guide: High School Junior Year - June

You’re heading into the high school home stretch.  And while being “top dog” at your school will be great, there’s a lot you’ll need to accomplish.

  • Hands down, the best way to get a feel for a school is by touring the campus.  Hopefully, your summer schedule will allow for some college visits (though you should keep in mind that schools tend to have a slightly different vibe when the semester is in full swing).  The more you’re able to explore, the more you’ll come to understand what you really want in a school.  And then you’ll be able to confidently narrow down the list to your top contenders (we recommend between 6 - 12)!

  • Books are surprisingly enjoyable when you’re not reading to complete an assignment.  Pick up a novel (or 5) during the summer.  It’s a relaxing way to kill some time, it will keep your brain from atrophying and it’ll enhance your vocabulary.  After all, you want to sound erudite when you start college, don’t you (yeah we snuck an SAT word in there)?

  • Have you settled on your plans for the summer yet?  If not, think about engaging in meaningful activities such as community service, a summer job or project, travel, job shadow, etc.  Any one of those options is bound to be rewarding (or at least a learning experience).  And, as an added bonus, they are likely to bolster your college applications.

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Don Munce