If you had to pick which year of high school and college is the most challenging, junior year is probably the best candidate. For good reason, too. In this article, we’ll examine why this happens, and strategies for success.
Putting Your Sights on the Future
The fundamental similarity between junior year in high school and college is that this year typically involves (1) the most pressure, (2) the hardest workload, and (3) the need to begin planning for your life after graduation.
As a junior in high school, you’ll need to start thinking about colleges — what kind of school you would like to attend, and what you might want to study. This requires that you start considering possible careers. (You don’t have to pick an actual job, but it will help greatly if you can start narrowing it down, e.g., between sciences and humanities.) The first step is to set up an appointment with your college counselor early on during junior year: they are experts at guiding you through this process.
Once you’re a junior in college, you will have already narrowed down your career possibilities by choosing your major. This is a year, then, to focus on gaining work or internship experience that will support your post-graduation goals for employment and/or graduate school.
Junior Year Academics – High School
Junior year of high school carries the most weight with college admissions departments because it’s the last full academic year of high school that they can evaluate. (Since you submit your college applications during your first semester of senior year, your last semester of high school tends to be less pressured.) Colleges will look very closely at your junior year GPA as an indication of your potential for college academics. However, taking easy classes purely to boost your GPA is not a good strategy!
College admissions officers look very closely at the difficulty of courses that you take as a junior. The most impressive courses are A.P., I.B. (International Baccalaureate), and honor sections. In fact, many colleges award an extra GPA point for A.P. and I.B. courses (which are seen as college-level difficulty), and a ½ point for honors sections. By this GPA metric, a “B” in A.P. Spanish Language is weighted the same as an “A” in regular Spanish class. (Just make sure to plan for extra time to study for A.P. exams at the beginning of May.)
If you are unable to get placed in any A.P./I.B. courses, you might consider taking a college-level course online, or at a local community college (over the summer). This will demonstrate to colleges that you are capable of doing college-level work.
Junior Year Academics – College
By the time you are a junior, most of your course load will consist of upper-level courses that are required by your major. Your junior year course load is typically the most demanding of all four years of college. Taking the hardest courses as a junior gives you the option to re-take them as a senior if you need to.
Why is senior year easier? You usually have less grade-sensitive classes, such as seminars (small group discussion sections), internships/practicums (real-world placements), and independent study (theses/final projects).
Junior Year Testing – High School
In high school, you will need to decide whether to take the SAT or the ACT. Some lucky students breeze through their first SAT, and never look back. Others sit for the test multiple times, take prep courses, and stress over their scores.
The only way to know how you will do on a standardized test is to take one. That’s why it’s a good idea to take the PSAT (Preliminary SAT) during sophomore year to see how you fare. (The PSAT is used as the basis for the National Merit Scholar program, which can lead to scholarships for high scorers.) It’s always a good idea to self-administer at least one practice SAT or ACT before you take the real thing.
The SAT is offered seven times per year, so the earlier you take it, the more opportunities you will have to retest before you submit your college applications.
Junior Year Testing – College
Standardized tests often loom again by junior year of college. The primary reason to take these tests is graduate school: the number of Americans seeking post-college education has been steadily increasing for decades. The GRE is a general-purpose exam for graduate school that is similar to the SAT/ACT in format and difficulty. There are also significantly harder standardized tests for specialized degrees; for instance, law school (the LSAT), medical school (MCAT), and business school (GMAT).
Even if you have no immediate plans to attend graduate school after college, you may want to take the relevant test for your career field. “My grades in college were so bad that I had basically given up on the idea of law school,” says one student at the University of San Francisco School of Law. “But when I took the LSAT just for the heck of it and actually scored pretty well, I realized that law school could still be an option for me.”
Many college graduates work for a few years before deciding to go back to school for a graduate degree. Some employers encourage (and even sponsor) employees who want to pursue post-college education. When the economy takes a major downturn (such as 2000-1 and 2007-8), there’s always a bumper crop of recent college graduates who decide to go back to school while the job market recovers.
Junior Year Jobs & Internships
In both high school and college, your junior year – and the summer following it — is an important time to gain experience that will build out your C.V.
As a high school junior, this can be an internship, a job, or a volunteer position. Any commitment outside of school that demonstrates that you have a mature work ethic speaks volumes to both college admissions officers and future employers. Check out Empowerly’s Startup Internship Program for high schoolers like yourself.
In college, you should also seek the best jobs and college internships to support your career goals.
Junior year of both high school and college is also the time to make sure you have letters of recommendation lined up for the future.
A Defining Year
Junior year may be the most challenging, but that also makes it the most rewarding. Schedule an exploratory consultation with Empowerly to learn how our expert counselors can help you excel during your junior year.