Junior year: Two words that can strike fear in the hearts of high school students and their parents. Yes, junior year is serious business from a college-prep standpoint. This is the time for your teen to take stock of their grades, class schedule, extracurriculars, and test scores.
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But is it really as bad as legend would have it? It doesn’t have to be if you do a little advance planning with your teen.
1. Be Ready for Rigor
One of the best ways to prepare for the pressures of junior year is to start planning at the beginning of freshman year. The start of high school is a good time to begin thinking about grades and an appropriately challenging curriculum. Colleges like to see students continue to challenge themselves each year.
“Students should pay attention to their GPA throughout high school, not just during junior year,” advises Andrea Spoon, director of admissions at Bowling Green State University.
2. Take Missteps in Stride
Many students begin piling on honors and/or Advanced Placement classes in their sophomore and junior years. Some students will be fine juggling the load, while others may struggle. Not to worry, says Spoon.
“It can be discouraging for students, but in many cases, a less-than-stellar junior year won’t affect getting admitted to college, though it might impact scholarship offers,” she says.
Keep in mind that grades and test scores are not the only criteria schools use to judge an applicant. Other activities—like sports, clubs, meaningful volunteering, and teacher recommendations—are also factors.
3. Reduce the Squeeze
Other ways to avoid feeling the junior year crush? “Take online courses during the summer, or take classes at a local community college,” says Cyndy McDonald, a college counselor/instructor with GuidedPath.com. “The classes often count as college credit. Having an open period in your day (if your school allows it) will make a big difference to you during the school year.”
Rather than piling on new activities, says McDonald, students should concentrate on the ones they’re already involved in. “This is the year to move your level of involvement up a notch to be a leader in a club, sport, community organization, or in the classroom.”
4. Plan Ahead for Campus Visits
With so much going on, it can feel stressful fitting in college tours during the school year. But Sarah Zachrich, assistant director of admissions for BGSU, says, “Don’t wait until your senior year to take a college tour.” Plan to use holiday breaks or summer vacation time to explore schools and learn what your teen likes and doesn’t like. “Don’t be afraid to ask the admissions personnel for a personalized visit to really get to know a school,” she says.
If you’re not able to visit the school in person, don’t fret. Many offer great virtual tours online.
5. Just Love Them
What can parents do? “My approach was to just be supportive,” says Lisa Kendall Packer, whose daughter Kelly just completed her junior year. “I encouraged her to get enough sleep and eat healthy meals. I listened when she needed to vent and never got after her about her grades. She already knew the stakes were high; she didn’t need me reminding her of that.”
Junior year can be the best of times and the worst of times, all rolled into one year. Remember, this too shall pass—and with a little preparation, junior year doesn’t have to be the pits.