College Application Planning Tips for High School Juniors


Stephen Black, Head Mentor for college undergrad students at Admissionado

Congratulations! You made it to junior year. Now comes the fun part: making it through junior year.

Many students report that the transition between sophomore and junior year is even more difficult than the transition between high school and college. Seriously. But we here at Admissionado think that’s just a bunch of hype, a way for older kids to scare the young ones.

The truth is that yes, junior year can and should be rigorous, both in academics and extracurricular activities. The key word here is “should.” Sure, you can coast through the year, which happens to be the one most heavily scrutinized by college admissions committees, but we don’t recommend it. You’ve got to go all out, maximizing your course load and activity schedule, in order to ensure that junior year is the apex of your high school career.

Here are some quick tips to help you plan for greatness during your junior year of high school.


Ideally, your grades have been solid throughout high school. If they haven’t, here’s the chance to prove yourself. The next best thing to a GPA that is consistently high is one that improves over time. It shows that you’ve recognized your faults and increased your efforts accordingly. Also, your course load during junior year should be as rigorous as possible. Challenge yourself with the most difficult courses, including honors and AP classes. Finally, and this is a huge tip, make sure to take the AP tests for all of your AP classes. Even if you’re not going for college credit, it shows commitment and follow through, qualities prized by admissions committees.


Just like with academics, activities should be maxed out during junior year. In school-related clubs, you should angle for a leadership position or two (or more!). Becoming a leader within a club you love isn’t about the title. It shows that you are passionate about the activity, and in the minds of admissions committees, this passion translates to meaningful participation in your future college community. Also, you shouldn’t feel the need to join a million clubs; you’re angling for depth not breadth here. Finally, starting your own activity, whether inside or outside of school, is always impressive.


You should plan on taking standardized tests more than once during junior year. For SAT takers, consider taking the test in January then again sometime in the spring. If you haven’t achieved the superscore you desire, you can take the test a third time in October of your senior year—after some summer prep work, of course. The same advice goes for the ACT. Also, if you’re unsatisfied with your performance on the SAT, you can always hop aboard the ACT train, but we recommend doing this sooner rather than later so you have adequate time to prepare for the new test. Finally, students aiming for Top 25 colleges should plan on taking the SAT II during junior year, likely in the spring.


This may seem like obvious advice, but keeping organized is crucial during your junior year. You’re going to be juggling a lot of balls, so making sure you’ve got a firm grip on each one is important. If you’re old school, keep a daily organizer with important dates and assignment deadlines. If you’re tech savvy, organize your life in the cloud. There are a ton of helpful apps, and you can use Apple iCal or Google Calendar to sync all your information across multiple devices. And set reminders for everything! This will keep you up-to-date and prepared ahead of time.


While you shouldn’t start filling out your applications just yet, junior year is the time to begin seriously considering college admissions. This means doing some research ASAP. The best place to start is the internet, scouring the websites of schools you’re interested in. These sites are incredibly helpful, with information on academics, activities, and even virtual tours. You should also plan on visiting colleges, if possible. For learning all about a school, there’s no substitute for talking to current students. It’s seriously the best way to learn about the pros and cons of different institutions.


During junior year and the summer before senior year, you want to be participating in activities that could potentially become material for your personal statement. However, it’s important to remember that, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, it’s the journey not the destination that matters. You shouldn’t participate in something just because it would make for a good essay. Rather, impressive essay material should be a happy byproduct of the participation itself.


By the end of junior year, you should figure out who you’d like to write your recommendations. Then, you should ask these potential recommenders and lock down at least three. The best people to write your recommendation do not necessarily have the most impressive titles. They should be the teachers/coaches/mentors who know you best and can speak to your strengths. These qualities are what make for a solid letter of recommendation.


A midst all of this craziness, it can be easy to lose yourself and get totally stressed out. Make sure you set aside time to do activities that you like, and treat this time as a reward for a job well done on other things. Love to play video games? Set aside a few hours at the end of the week to indulge, after you’ve finished everything else you need to do. More of an outdoorsy person? Plan for a weekend of hiking or camping to follow a week you anticipate as being particularly stressful. Whatever your pleasure, make sure you take care of yourself throughout the year!

Stephen Black is Head Mentor for college undergrad students at Admissionado, an Undergraduate and MBA admissions consulting firm.

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