What High School Juniors Should Be Doing to Prepare for College

What High School Juniors Should Be Doing to Prepare for College

Junior year is known to be the most important, challenging year of high school.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun! You can no doubt handle it all in stride with a little organization and planning. Let’s take just a few minutes right now to smooth the road ahead with some guidelines that will help make your junior year a success.  

1. Remember to prioritize academic excellence

I’m sure you’ve heard this more times than you ever wanted to, but with so much going on junior year, it’s worth continually checking that academic performance is staying a top priority. Your GPA is, after all, usually the largest factor in admissions decisions.

It is also a good idea to review your classes for next semester with a counselor to ensure you are meeting college admissions requirements while challenging yourself with the most rigorous classes you can reasonably handle. Colleges do look at your senior year class schedule too, so continue to be just as academically driven all the way to the finish line, senioritis and all.

2. Prepare for standardized tests

Next on the priority list is test score optimization. Even if you took the PSAT your sophomore year, take it again this year—this test can not only qualify you for the National Merit Scholarship program but also give you good practice for the SAT. If you haven’t done so already, figure out which dates you’ll want to take the actual SAT or ACT as well as SAT Subject Tests, and then devise a study plan to get you to your peak scores.  

3. Make a college list

With so many colleges to choose from, where do you start? First, consider your general preferences. Would you feel better at a large or small school? In a city, suburban, or rural setting? On the west coast, east coast, Hawaii, another country? Are there any specific academic programs or extracurricular offerings that are important to you?

You can explore college websites or college search sites like the College Board’s Big Future to find your personal college matches. Then plan campus visits to confirm which aspects in a college you get most excited about and which aspects you don’t care for. To get a feel for the campus culture, try walking around solo and/or take a guided tour. See if you can talk to any students or administrators to gather more up-to-date, inside information about the school.

4. Take your extracurricular activities to the next level

Since colleges tend to want dedicated, passionate students populating their campuses, they’re drawn to students who commit a significant amount of time to a few meaningful extracurricular activities. This dedication shows that students are pursuing a genuine interest and are willing to explore their potential in specific areas of expertise (which is generally more useful to the world than passively attending a bunch of different activities). Focus on one or two of your strongest interests and see how you can develop them further (be creative!).

5. Start a scholarship search

The earlier you start looking for scholarships, the better chance you’ll have at getting more free money! Some scholarships are need-based (they depend on family income levels) and others are merit-based (they’re based on your academic or other achievements). Check fastweb.com for a current list of scholarships, and ask your counselor and perhaps your parents’ workplaces for other possible free-funds opportunities.

6. Contact recommendation writers

Check the websites of the colleges you are interested in to see if they require teacher and/or counselor recommendation letters. If so, you will want to plan ahead so you can figure out which teachers know you best and then give them ample time to write you a quality letter (especially before they’re barraged with requests from tons of other students).

7. Spend your summers wisely

Taking advantage of summertime to get a job or internship or participate in an academic summer program will help you further explore your interests while boosting your college application. Do an online search or ask your counselor for resources and see what really piques your interest.

You can also take this time to begin drafting your college application essays. Starting on these early will reduce stress and give you more time to reflect on yourself and your life to produce strong responses.

The more you’re out there exploring, enjoying, and learning, the better prepared you will be for the coming years.

So go ahead and write down your plans and to-dos now, and you’ll have yourself a valuable key to less stress and more success. And, as always, don’t overlook or underestimate the power you have to include some enjoyment in it all!


Kiley A. teaches SAT/ACT Writing and leads College Application Workshops at Elite Prep Rowland Heights. As the Elite Community Scholars Coordinator, he also works to spread this college preparation guidance to low-income, first-generation students who may not otherwise have access to such support. Above all, he wants his students to know the far-reaching power of their own self-assurance.