Your junior year of high school is just around the corner. You finally get to call yourself an upperclassman, or upperclassperson, or really whatever you prefer. The point is, people will no longer be referring to you when they call stuff “sophomoric.” This is the sweet spot between your first uncertain steps into high school and that final push to graduation. But your junior year isn’t all driver’s ed courses and practice proms. It’s also the year you prepare for the college application process. You may be a grade away from blasting out applications, but there’s a lot you can do this year to make that process go smoothly.
Take these three simple steps while you’re still in 11th grade to maximize your chances of getting into your top-tier schools:
Start Your College Search Now!
Admissions to four-year universities grow more competitive each year. According to U.S. News & World Report, back in 1970, only 25% of 18–24-year-olds were enrolled in college. That number was 40% in 2014. The swelling number of young people seeking higher education means schools must contend with an increased number of applications.
One way colleges deal with this increased volume is to adopt stricter and more complicated admissions criteria. This means your application may depend on more than a decent high school transcript, good test scores, and an extracurricular activity or two. Do yourself a favor now and find out what the schools on your preliminary list prefer.
Do it before you’re buried under a mountain of schoolwork. (Oh yeah, hopefully somebody warned you that 11th grade is the most demanding year of your high school career.) Take time this summer to gather a list of colleges that interest you and review the specific admissions guidelines for each. Find out if your dream school strongly encourages a third year of foreign language, a course in the performing arts, a few hours of community service, or a summer internship. That way, you can adjust now instead of scrambling to beef up your achievements in your senior year.
Check out our college and university rankings to learn more about the requirements and expectations at the best schools in each discipline.
You can also take a look at these lists to get started on your search:
- The 100 Best Universities in the World Today
- The 50 Best Undergraduate Colleges in the United States for 2017–18
- The 50 Best Online Colleges & Universities 2019
Choose a Major … For Now
Got any family reunions this summer? Big backyard barbecues with your parents’ friends? Start practicing your answer to the following questions: “Soooo, what schools are you looking at? What do you plan to major in?” Depending on how you answer the latter question, the next one might be something kind of rude, like “you really think you can get a job with that degree?”
Don’t let your parents’ judgmental friends mess with your head.
On the other hand, now is a good time to start considering your intended major and what kind of career prospects it might open for you. Don’t worry. You’re hardly committed to this major. Insider Higher Ed reports roughly one-third of all students change their major in just three years. You’ll have plenty of time and opportunity to adjust your vision.
But now is a great time to familiarize yourself with a few majors and degree programs that suit your interests. This can help point you in the direction of a college or university with a particularly strong program in your intended field.
Check out our overview of some of the most popular and valuable degree programs to learn more.
Or visit our Savvy Student’s Guide for tips on how to select the right major.
Register for SAT Subject Tests
Perhaps you’ve already taken an AP class or two in your sophomore year. If so, you’re also probably a good candidate for the SAT Subject tests. The hard work that you’ve dedicated to these advanced classes can prepare you very well for these hour-long, largely multiple-choice tests. Each one focuses on a specific subject, including U.S. History, Chemistry, and Math. These exams are generally no more difficult or rigorous than the AP tests you might have already taken. Many universities strongly recommend or outright require a few SAT Subject tests as part of your application. So if you’ve already done the hard work of studying for a subject-specific test, it can be beneficial to double up before junior year coursework takes over your life. Most SAT Subject tests are offered on the same days as the standard SAT, generally in the Fall and Spring semesters. You don’t need to have taken the actual SAT to take the subject-specific tests.
Prep for Your SAT/ACT
That said, it’s smart to prep for and even take your SAT or ACT in your junior year. Almost all universities accept equally both the SAT and the ACT (with optional writing component) as fulfillment of the standardized test portion of their applications. Students should be aware of any specific requirements set out by their universities of choice, but it is usually sufficient to prepare for and take one exam or the other. The SAT and ACT are both offered a few times a year in the fall and spring, with occasional winter or early summer dates.
While the summer before junior year may seem early to start preparing for these tests, you should remember two things. First, you can take the test multiple times. Second, receiving results can take up to two or three months. Taking your test earlier gives you more time to receive and assess your score, and consequently to determine if you’d like to take another shot at it.
Waiting until the spring of your junior year to begin thinking about the SAT or the ACT may leave you with fewer chances to optimize your score. And if you plan on taking AP tests and SAT Subject tests in your senior year, knocking out your SAT/ACT earlier can help lighten the load.
Take a look at our SAT and ACT Prep Source to learn more.
Look for Scholarships
You could be eligible for a wide range of scholarships, both large and small. Factors such as your academic performance, extracurricular interests, intended major, geographical circumstances, or family heritage could qualify you for any number of grants, scholarships, or awards. Some of these awards could be available simply for writing a really awesome essay. Others still are specifically targeted toward students in their junior year of high school.
Do your research now and seize every opportunity you can to reduce the financial burden of your higher education. You have plenty to think about for the moment, but when you’re ready, we can talk about how expensive college is and the steps you can take to pay for it.
In the meantime, see our Savvy Student’s Guide for tips on how to find an awesome scholarship.
Beyond these tips, you can do plenty in your junior year to prepare for college. It couldn’t hurt to pick up another extracurricular activity, register for an additional AP class, or get more involved with your local community. This a chance to put a shine on your high school legacy and prepare yourself for the tricky steps up ahead. Seize it like the upperclassperson you are!