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Do's and Don'ts for High School Juniors

Student raising her hand in class

Welcome to your junior year of high school, often cited as the most important year when it comes to college admissions. Why? Because it’s the last full year of high school that colleges will see when reviewing your applications. Here are some do’s and don’ts to remember throughout junior year to help you stay on track for college.

Don’t: Take It Easy

Junior year isn’t a time to kick back. Your GPA is important, obviously, but so is taking challenging courses. Most selective colleges want to see honors and AP courses on your transcript if they are available at your school. To show colleges you are ready for college-level work, it’s important to challenge yourself. Take the most difficult course load that you can handle and do as well as you can.

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Do: Attend College Fairs

College Fairs are one of the easiest ways to learn about many colleges at once, connect with admissions reps, and even get tips on applying to college. The National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) holds several college fairs throughout the year--free of charge. During COVID, these have been virtual. Your high school may also hold college fairs.  

Don’t: Ignore the PSAT, SAT or ACT

The Preliminary SAT (or PSAT) is held in October of junior year. The PSAT not only provides practice for the SAT, it also qualifies students for the National Merit Scholarship.

Although more than 1,600 colleges have adopted test-optional or test-blind admissions, most counselors still recommend that juniors study for and take the ACT or SAT, especially if they are applying to highly selective test-optional schools. A good score – one that is at or above the average for that college’s freshman class -- will likely count in your favor even at a test-optional college. Test scores may also be required for some merit scholarships.

Sign up for a test date early in the fall or winter of junior year, if you can. You also have the option to take the test between the spring of your junior year and the fall of your senior year. However, starting the testing process earlier will give you more time to retake the test if necessary. Getting a head start may also help free up the beginning of your senior year to focus on your applications, particularly if you’re applying Early Decision or Early Action.

Don’t: Avoid Your Counselor and Teachers

Your guidance counselor and one or two of your teachers will be writing your letters of recommendation. Make the effort during your junior year to get to know them and help them get to know you. The better they know you, the stronger recommendation letter they will be able to write. Share with them your dreams about college, your academic interests and your school accomplishments.

At the beginning of your junior year, make an appointment with your counselor to discuss your college goals and make sure you are on track to meet college admission requirements. Your counselor may also be able to help you with your applications, apply for fly-in programs and scholarships, and provide other resources to help you on your college journey.

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Do: Get Involved

How you spend your time outside of class can give colleges an idea of your passions, character, and other personal qualities. If you haven’t been active in clubs, volunteering, or extracurricular activities as a freshman or sophomore, now is the time to get involved. When it comes to your extracurricular resume, many counselors encourage students to focus on quality over quantity. In other words, it’s better to show deep commitment to just one or two activities as opposed to shallow commitment to many. Taking leadership in extracurriculars you care about is also a plus.

Don’t: Wait to Plan Your Summer

Just as junior year is critically important for college admissions, so is the summer between junior and senior years. Most colleges like to see that you’ve been productive over the summer, whether it’s with a job, an internship, a community service or volunteer opportunity, a college class, or a combination of these. It’s important to start researching summer programs early, so you can meet application deadlines in the spring.

Do: Have a “Money Talk” with Your Parents

Before you start your college search, it’s a good idea to talk with your parents or guardians about college and how much your family can contribute financially to your college education. Understanding this will save you from applying to schools that are out of reach financially, and help give you an idea of how much financial aid you may need. Even if your family can pay for all of your college expenses, they may have expectations about where you apply, what type of degree you pursue, and other conditions.

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Do: Start a College Resume

Not all colleges require — or even accept — a resume or portfolio, but it’s a good idea to begin a list of your high school accomplishments and update it throughout the year. Creating a resume can be helpful to you as you write your college and scholarship applications, and it may also be helpful to anyone writing you a letter of recommendation.

Don’t: put off college research

College research can be fun, but it also takes a lot of time, so start early. Look at some college websites, ask people you know about the colleges they attend or attended, and do some virtual tours. If you think you know what you want to major in, find out which schools have the top programs in your major. And, if you can, visit some colleges near you to get an idea of the college qualities that appeal to you. In the spring, you’ll want to get more focused on your college research and visit more campuses, if possible.

You can start exploring colleges today with CollegeData’s College Search and find out your odds of getting in with College Chances.

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