You’re almost there, Junior!
After nailing those four freshman and sophomore semesters, you may find yourself at a loss for guidance on how to make the most of your penultimate year of high school. Junior year can be a juggernaut of exams, leadership commitments and assignments – a whirlwind of moving parts that makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly how to best position yourself for admission to your dream school.
Between acing exams and changing your community, however, this year plays a pivotal role in shaping the strength of your application. For this reason, be sure to approach it deliberately and energetically! This rigorous home stretch is a special chance for you to demonstrate to schools how your distinct passion, commitment and dedication both inside and outside of the classroom could help shape their campuses indelibly.
With great power comes great responsibility, but don’t stress! We’re here to show you how to plan for every aspect of your college applications, from testing timelines to letters of recommendation.
To make sure that your profile shines with dimension in the next admissions cycle, here are the eight steps you should take to maximize your time and effort this year.
1. Decide upon Your Testing Plan
If you haven’t already completed your standardized testing requirements, then junior year is the time to get the SAT or ACT out of the way. It’s important to finish standardized testing by the summer after your junior year so that you can focus on college applications in the months leading up to early and regular decision deadlines your senior year. We generally advise students sit for the SAT or ACT two to three times following a few months of focused preparation.
Exactly when you take the SAT or ACT is up to you, but there are a few factors you should take into consideration when mapping out your testing timeline, including the difference between your diagnostic test score and your goal score, your academic skill set, and your schedule.
Remember that the College Board usually administers the SAT seven times throughout the year: August, October, November, December, March, May, and June. The ACT also typically administers its exam seven times per year: September, October, December, February, April, June, and July. Both organizations canceled and added test dates throughout the pandemic; however, it’s not guaranteed that they will keep the same testing schedule in future years.
2. Plan Your Testing Timeline
When planning your testing timeline, you should also keep in mind that the College Board has made a few changes to the tests they offer — they have discontinued SAT Subject Tests and the optional essay portion of the SAT, and they will be updating the main SAT, which the organization will provide more information about in April 2021. This means that there will be greater emphasis on the SAT/ACT, GPA, and AP exams in the college admissions process, since these are the only quantitative elements of college applications that remain. This also means that, if you have been preparing for the March, May, or June 2021 SAT, it’s probably best to sit for the exam by the end of the 2020-2021 academic year so you take the version of the test with which you are familiar.
While standardized test scores are just one component of college applications, it’s important to take these tests seriously, especially in light of the College Board’s changes. Colleges use scores from these tests to evaluate your overall academic ability, and scoring high can help you earn scholarships and give you a competitive advantage in the college admissions process.
3. Schedule Visits to The Schools You Love!
Demonstrating interest to schools can take numerous forms, but a perfect avenue to do so is to simply step foot onto campus! Obviously, COVID-19 complicates the visiting process, since many in-person tours have been canceled, but a self-guided tour is still a great way to get an authentic feel for an institution this year. Taking a look at the campus with your own eyes will prove instrumental in shaping your understanding of where you realistically see yourself after walking across that high school stage!
If an in-person visit isn’t an option, however, resources such as CampusReel and school-specific online information sessions can be immensely helpful in your college research process, as well! CampusReel can give you nuanced insight into a real students’ day-to-day experiences that even the most detailed self-guided tour may not reveal. Additionally, hearing application tips and pointers straight from admissions officers themselves can’t emerge through many mediums other than an online informational session.
For a mixture of the structure of a guided tour and the safety of an online informational session, however, look no further than the official virtual campus tours schools have released! These tours mimic the experience you would’ve received in-person by showing you the most impactful features of the school in an intuitive order. In addition to allowing you to stay comfortable and COVID-safe, they can help you paint a clear picture of the school than you would have on your own while ensuring that you don’t miss a lot of the special details that only a formal tour can offer.
This junior year, make the most of these resources to demonstrate interest while fortifying those upcoming “Why this school?” supplemental questions with firsthand experience.
4. Ask for Letters of Recommendation
A stellar letter of recommendation can turn a good application into a standout one, so be sure to choose your recommenders wisely this spring! Most schools require two from teachers and one from a counselor, so take time to convey your academic strengths and intellectual idiosyncrasies to each in an intentional way. Confused about how to ask? Why not consult our article on How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation! We have all the tips and tricks you need to put your best foot forward as you request your letters.
At the end of the day, requesting letters from your instructors during your junior spring gives them all of the advanced notice they need to compose a letter that makes an impact in the fall. Ask sooner rather than later, since it’s not uncommon for more popular instructors to place a cap on the number of letters they’re able to write, and you don’t want to miss out. Additionally, preparing a ‘brag sheet’ of your accomplishments and leadership track record will provide the instructor more insight into the ways you contribute to your community in addition to classroom discussions. All of these details will enable the recommendation writer to formulate a multidimensional and effective portrait of your dynamism as a student through their letters, so be sure that they know you well!
5. Secure Your College List
Going into your senior fall with a college list will remove a sizable weight off of your shoulders for the busy semester, freeing you to give your all to those supplemental essays! How do you construct the most personalized college list? Research, research, research!
Do you prefer small or large class sizes? Big cities or quaint rural towns? World-class neuroscience labs or phenomenal creative writing instructors? Or maybe a mix of both? All of these preferences will factor into the schools that you select for your reach, match and safety options, so reflect upon your core values and how you would like to see them manifest in your dream school before compiling your list.
Regardless of whether the school is a reach, match or safety for your profile, it’s imperative that you are 100% sure that you would be able to flourish academically and socially at each and every school on your list. To save yourself the trouble, if you know at your core that you would be deeply unhappy at a school, don’t put it on your list!
The key purpose of the three categories (reach, match and safety) is to mitigate risk while allowing you to investigate schools of diverse tiers, not grant you a russian roulette-style assortment of schools you love and hate! For each institution that you add to your list, certify that it harbors a compelling reason that warrants your attendance. Remember – there are schools out there at every level of selectivity that offer you the tools and academic infrastructure you crave to advance your career goals and personal development. It’s just up to you to do the research this year and discover them!
6. Develop Your Hook
Colleges increasingly strive for well-rounded classes rather than students, so there’s no better time to identify and potentiate the traits that make you stand out than now. What makes you unique? Which activities do you get lost in the most profoundly? What change in your community have you made, or are you positioning yourself to make? Whether it be 21st-Century vocal jazz, or paleontology, or advocating against global femicide, the vibrant passion that captures your interest and time should take up more significant space in your life this year.
If you served on the outreach committee of your school’s prominent climate action club last year, now’s the time to lead a new initiative as president or social chair! If you painted as a hobby for years leading up until now, this is the year to go for a Gold Key in the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards, and maybe even expand your passion into a charity that uses art for good. Whatever you do best, lean into it, hone in on it, and lead through it to the best of your ability this year.
7. Apply to Scholarships
If your awards and honors up to this point are looking a bit scarce, scholarships constitute an effective way to earn some prestigious national distinctions this year. In addition to collecting monetary awards to fund your education, winning scholarships allow you to prove mastery of a given subject area and potentially bolster your hook even further! New scholarships are typically released quite frequently throughout the year, so be sure to check the databases Unigo and Fastweb offer monthly so that you don’t miss out.
Casting a wide net still serves as one of the most impactful ways of improving your chances of winning, so don’t be afraid to apply for as many as your schedule permits throughout the year. Scholarships tend to range in length and effort required, from quick slogan contests to 1,000-word essays to artistic compositions, so there’s truly a scholarship opportunity out there for everyone!
Although giving your all to scholarships can be a great way to earn an award, however, a scholarship essay should never take precedence over a graded essay. Be wise about how you spend your time this year, and, when casting a wide net, never compromise grades for scholarship victories.
8. Strategize for a Meaningful Summer
Finally, the summer between junior and senior year could not occupy a more crucial space in the delicate constellation of college application components. This upcoming summer will demonstrate to colleges that you take the reins on your intellectual development, so plan it with discretion. Diving into the topics that excite you at a time when your peers may be reclining on sandy beaches will empower you to stand out in the next admissions cycle.
Research positions, internships, engaging pre-college programs, and skill-expanding jobs are all great ways to show your maturity and commitment this summer. Many applications close in January and February, however, so time is definitely of the essence! A great first step to get started is to finalize your resume, while emailing professors and scouring job and internship postings will set you up for success if you’re looking towards the research, job, or internship route.
If you’re looking for pre-college programs to grant you collegiate-level learning experience, look no further than your dream school’s website! Universities from all over the country, from Yale Young Global Scholars to Stanford Summer, offer compelling and competitive pre-college programs that will allow you to explore topics that could transform into a potential major for you! Definitely take advantage of these opportunities!