Your junior year of high school is a vital time for college prep. This guide will help you make the most of junior year, so that you can be as prepared as possible for college application season!
Enroll in advanced coursework that aligns with your interests.
As you plan your junior year curriculum, remember that many colleges look at the classes you'll take during this year when making their admissions decisions.
The courses you choose should demonstrate not only that you can handle rigorous work but also align with your interests and future ambitions. For example, if one of your goals is to attend medical school after college, then taking AP Biology and/or AP Chemistry would be a good choice because both are rigorous and they demonstrate an interest in science (which is often required for pre-med applicants). Or if you plan to be an engineering major, then taking AP Physics and/or AP Calculus would be a good idea to knock out classes you would otherwise have to take in college. But remember to create a balanced course load that you will be able to manage along with your other commitments. You don't want to burn yourself out before you even get to college!
Taking advanced classes gives you a chance to earn college credit while still in high school, however, you can also do this through a dual enrollment program where you can take classes at local colleges or universities!
If you're still not sure what to take, it's best to talk with your guidance counselor at your school. They can help you determine what classes will be most useful for your future career goals and will help guide you through the process of selecting courses.
Pursue impactful extracurricular activities.
Extracurricular activities are an important part of your college application. Many students mistakenly think that the more activities they have, the better. But it's not just about quantity– it's more so about quality. Don't just join every club or volunteer opportunity your school has to offer. Instead, commit long-term to a few activities that are meaningful to you and demonstrate that you can be a leader in those organizations.
If you want to stand out in the admissions process, you should pursue extracurriculars that work to solve real-world problems and align with your passions and goals.
Don't just do an activity because "it will look good on college applications"—that's not what admissions officers want to see. Admissions officers want to see how you've been able to use your skills and talents to impact others in a positive way.
If your interests lie in politics or social justice, you could volunteer on a campaign or join an organization that works on political issues.
If you're interested in biology, you could look for opportunities to work at a local university lab.
If you want to pursue a major in medicine, you could volunteer at local hospitals or senior centers.
If you're interested in computer science, you could work with a startup that uses technology for social impact.
It's also important to note that extracurricular activities can help you build relationships with faculty members, professionals, or mentors who can write you letters of recommendation.
Start a passion project.
A passion project is a self-directed, creative endeavor that you pursue outside of school. It can be anything from publishing a novel, to starting an organization, to building a mobile app. Passion projects are a great way to create real-world impact and showcase your leadership skills and interests beyond the classroom. This is how you can really stand out in the college admissions process. Plus, pursuing your own project can also help you develop important skills for future endeavors, like project management or communication.
Need help brainstorming ideas for a possible passion project?
Ask yourself: Are there any issues that need to be addressed in your community or school? What is a problem you care deeply about solving? An area of interest where you want to make an impact? Also, if the problem you set out to solve ties to your personal experience, this can make a stand-out story for your college essays!
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Begin researching colleges.
As you start to narrow down your list of potential colleges, make sure to research each school and its programs. Start by checking out their websites in-depth and using the college search tools provided by organizations such as College Board. Search for schools that have the types of programs you’re interested in and the classes that are offered. It's also important to search for opportunities they offer outside of the classroom (such as study abroad, research opportunities, hackathons, performance opportunities) to ensure that these schools will be able to fully support your college goals.
To get a better sense of the schools' vibe, try reaching out to current students who attend these universities or researching online for their honest opinions. It's also a good idea to visit schools in person. You can do this by attending an information session, signing up for their free campus tours, or talking with your school's guidance counselor about opportunities to visit these campuses. These visits will help you get a sense of the campus culture and talk directly with students to learn more about what opportunities are available for students like you.
Learn about the college application process.
The earlier you familiarize yourself with how the college application process works, the more time you'll have to strengthen your own applications.
Get organized: Make a list of all the colleges to where you want to apply, along with their deadlines and requirements (e.g., supplemental essays, portfolio requirements, testing policy, interview policy).
Know how much each application will cost: Applications to different schools come with different fee amounts. It's important to be aware of these costs when building your college list so you can plan accordingly. To check if you qualify for fee waivers, talk to your school's guidance counselor.
Strategy matters: For highly-competitive universities, you can't just wing it. There are very specific ways to write a stand-out college admissions essay that goes beyond the cliché essays most students write.
When choosing advanced classes, make sure they align with your interests and future career ambitions. For example, if you plan to attend medical school, take AP Biology and/or AP Chemistry. Talk with your guidance counselor for personalized recommendations.
Focus on quality over quantity. Choose activities that align with your passions and goals and demonstrate your leadership skills. Pursue extracurriculars that solve real-world problems, such as volunteering on a political campaign or working with a startup for social impact.
A passion project is a self-directed, creative endeavor pursued outside of school that showcases your leadership skills and interests beyond the classroom. Pursuing a passion project can also help you develop important skills for future endeavors.
Use college search tools and visit college websites to research their programs and opportunities outside of the classroom. Reach out to current students and attend information sessions or campus tours to get a better sense of the campus culture.
Make a list of all the colleges you’re interested in, along with their deadlines and requirements. Familiarize yourself with the costs associated with applying to each school, and consider attending a masterclass to learn how to write a standout college admissions essay.