What Should Juniors and Seniors Work on for College?

crop woman making plans for month
Madeleine Karydes
Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine attended UC Berkeley and double-majored in English and Media Studies. She is now an integral part of the Empowerly team.

Getting to the last two years of high school? You might be curious about how to get started organizing your college applications process. And junior year is a great time to set this into motion! Even if you’re starting from scratch, you’re not too late to make a difference. Let’s look a little more closely at what juniors and seniors work on for college. 

Now, the following suggested schedule isn’t meant to be comprehensive, or even set in stone. However, it does give a good picture of what working with Empowerly can look like. Keep in mind, our counselors each personalize their sessions to adapt to your student. Each student needs different support to succeed!

11th Grade (Junior Year)

First, junior year is all about initial evaluation and goal-setting. This includes:

  • Analysis of strengths and weaknesses (grades, interests, hobbies and aspirations, etc)
  • Review of the student’s academic record along with planning coursework and SAT/ACT testing
  • Discussion of strategy/unique angle to improve chances of admission

Next, you’ll look at extracurricular activity planning and strategy. Ask yourself, what fits the student’s interests and will offer the most help when applying to college?

  • Build out “standout” extracurriculars: leadership, awards, and/or impact metrics
  • Includes community service planning/strategy
  • Finalize how extracurriculars will be tied to intended major

Summer planning needs to be done in the winter or early spring.  Remember, this is the most important summer! Options include volunteering, independent project, internships/research, or summer programs.

You’ll also want to assess your essay score, research best-fit colleges, and build the first version of your college list. From there, ensure you have safety, target, and reach schools. And of course, continue to revise!

12th Grade (Senior Year)

First, you’ll need to finalize the college list you started. You also want to finalize your intended majors list, and a comprehensive calendar of upcoming deadlines.

Next, you’ll need to brainstorm college essay topics. Then, write your personal statements and supplemental college essays! This includes rounds of analysis, comments and revisions including analyzing drafts and providing commentary on substance and style.

At this point, a counselor can also provide guidance on recommendation letters, possible recommenders, and how to approach the recommenders.

Then, you will finalize all college applications! However, this doesn’t mean you’re quite done yet. At this stage, you will focus on interview prep, financial aid/scholarship support, deferral/waitlist strategy, and more.

Finally, you get to the fun part. Select which college to attend!


This guide outlines what juniors and seniors should work on for college. In summary, starting to prepare earlier rather than later is always an asset. These are the priorities we usually steer towards when working with high school students in junior and senior year.

However, your priorities might be different, so be sure to personalize this to your needs. Even better, you can sign up to work with a counselor! They will help you work through everything that needs to be done.

Questions? Let us know!