Your junior and senior years are crucial for preparing your college application. During this time, you want to take tough courses, get great grades, prep for your standardized tests, choose schools to which you want to apply and demonstrate leadership in your extracurricular activities. So your first job is to manage your time well.
Start by putting key dates in your calendar at the beginning of each school year to help stay on track. (We've included some general guideposts below that will save you a lot of angst with other deadlines and appointments you'll have come up later.)
Standardized test dates — confirm your local dates for each test:
- PSAT (October)
- AP exams (May)
- SAT Subject tests (June)
- SAT (varies)
- ACT (varies)
- Midterms, finals and any other major exam or project deadline dates that your teachers give you at the start of each term
- Local college fairs or dates when representatives from colleges that you are considering are visiting your high school (spring)
- Long weekends when you might want to plan to visit colleges (spring)
Focus on Your Grades
Grades should be your first priority throughout junior year. Even if you faced struggles or missteps in your first two years of high school, buckling down junior year can make a big difference. An upward trend in your grades will show admission officers that you've matured and can overcome challenges. If hard work and dedication aren't earning you the grades you want, ask your teacher to meet with you outside of class to review difficult material, form a study group or find a tutor (your school may offer a free peer-tutoring program, or look online for affordable options). Your teachers and high school counselors want you to succeed, so don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Study for Tests
You'll most likely be taking the PSAT in October of your junior year. Your score report won't be shared with any colleges, but it will give you a clear idea of how your scores compare to everyone else who took the same test and areas where you want to improve. The PSAT is also used to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program, which is a good reason to get some practice in before you officially take the test. National Merit Scholarship Finalist or Semi-finalist status is a great achievement to include on your application, and you may earn some scholarship dough in the process.
Junior spring is the perfect time to begin researching and visiting colleges — just don't lose your focus on your schoolwork while you plan for your future!
Standardized test dates:
- Fall of senior year is your last chance to take or re-take the SAT or ACT.
- Make sure you leave enough time to get your scores back before submitting your applications!
- AP exams (May). While you will most likely have committed to a college by the time these exams roll around, some universities will give college credit for a score of four or five, which can help you fill language requirements, skip prerequisites for more advanced courses and even save a little money if tuition is charged by credit rather than by semester.
- Deadlines for the colleges and universities where you'll be submitting applications — especially if you're applying early!
- Financial aid deadlines. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is available on Oct. 1 each year, and I always recommend getting that in as early as possible.
- Midterms, finals and any other major exam or project deadline dates that your teachers give you at the start of each term; your fall grades will be super important to the admission committee.
- College interviews
By the summer before senior year, you're ready for the last of your remaining nitty-gritty test prep plans. Senior fall is your last chance to nail the SAT or ACT, which makes the summer before an excellent time to take a prep course and seek out extra practice on the sections of the test that you find most difficult.
(Still) Focus on Your Grades, but Have More Fun with It
Grades remain important — most colleges request copies of your final high school transcript, even if you've already been accepted. If your GPA takes a nose dive during senior year, you could enter college on academic probation, or even find your acceptance rescinded. That said, senior spring is a great time to take a lighter course load and really enjoy your electives.
Keep your nose to the grindstone in the fall of your senior year — even if your GPA kicks butt and you can check standardized tests off your to-do list, you'll need time to complete your applications and proofread them thoroughly. But remember, the best advice for applications can't be repeated enough! Start early, do a little bit at a time and proofread, proofread, proofread!