Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

College Prep for Juniors in High School

Junior year is an important and often busy year for high school students who are preparing for college. There are so many important things to do, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Parents and students can work together to ensure that they are on track in preparation for college. Commit to staying organized and proactive as you make the most of your junior year of high school.

11 Ways to College Prep as a Junior in High School

  1. Carefully select challenging junior year courses
  2. Prepare for the October PSAT NMSQT
  3. Research scholarships and apply to ones for which you are qualified
  4. Determine a “good fit” major/career
  5. Research colleges and organize your information
  6. Visit colleges and universities
  7. Prepare for and take college entrance exams
  8. Meet regularly with your guidance counselor, teachers, and other mentors
  9. Talk regularly with your parents about the future
  10. Pursue and record extracurricular interests
  11. Plan to use your summer wisely

Carefully select challenging junior year courses

An important part of college prep is your academic preparation. The courses you take when you are a junior in high school are typically the last courses to show on your transcript when it’s time to have your guidance counselor send it to your selected colleges and universities. Junior year is a great time to take Honors, AP (Advanced Placement) or other college prep classes. Often your transcript will be evaluated not only for grades but for demonstration of “rigor” -- which describes the level of difficulty of your classes. Rigor demonstrates to colleges and universities that you are willing and able to work hard. The challenging classes can help ensure that you are academically prepared for college classes.

Which challenging classes should you take in your junior year? Consider courses that relate to the college major you are considering. Look for classes that will help you learn and develop your writing and critical thinking skills, as admissions counselors know that these skills are crucial for you to succeed in college. AP courses have the added benefit of allowing you to earn college credit by passing the corresponding AP exam. If your secondary school offers dual enrollment or concurrent classes, this is another option for getting a head start on earning college credit.

Be realistic when you build your schedule. In some instances, it may be better to take an easier course than one that is too challenging. You will have a lot to juggle during your junior year and it’s important to maintain a good GPA. Don’t forget to check with your guidance counselor to learn about required courses and make sure that you are on track for graduation requirements.

Prepare for the October PSAT NMSQT

Your high school will probably offer the PSAT exam in October. Check with your guidance counselor to make sure of the time and details of the exam. The PSAT is a College Board exam, the same organization that offers the SAT, and an important college admissions exam. Taking the PSAT when you are a junior in high school allows you to be considered for the National Merit Scholarship Program. It is one of the first standardized tests you will take that has the possibility of monetary benefit if your score is high enough.

If you typically score well on standardized exams, it is worth your while to spend time preparing for the PSAT, either through prep classes or an on-line PSAT prep program. You can earn up to a full-tuition scholarship at certain universities if you are a National Merit Finalist. The PSAT is also excellent practice for upcoming entrance exams and can help you know how best to study for the SAT.

Research scholarships and apply to ones for which you are qualified

Throughout your junior year, it can pay off to watch for any college scholarships. Some private college scholarships, even competitive full-tuition scholarships, are only open to juniors. Also, research and prepare for any upcoming scholarships that are only available for seniors. Consider academic scholarships, athletic scholarships, music scholarships, leadership scholarships, and departmental scholarships. Learn the necessary qualifications and deadlines so you will be ready when the time comes to apply.

Determine a “good fit” major and career

Hopefully, by the time you are a junior in high school, you are able to identify your interests, passions, and abilities. Now is the time to consider how they point to a particular major and future career. To help you determine a good fit major and career, it is helpful to talk with parents, teachers, mentors, and your school guidance counselor. What have you most enjoyed learning about so far? What activities have been most important to you in high school? Look for opportunities to learn more about a career, such as setting up a job shadow experience or volunteer work. Try to meet with a member of your community who works in your area of interest. Throughout your junior year, take time to ask people you meet about their careers: what they like, what is challenging, and how they started their careers. Continue to narrow down your choice of a career and major but stay open to new ideas.

Research colleges and organize your information

You can learn a lot about colleges and universities by spending time browsing their websites. Create a document so you can keep notes and organize the information you learn about each school. Some of the necessary items to research and record are the school’s application checklist and timeline. This includes helpful important information about the admissions process, admissions deadlines, academic requirements, college essays required, scholarship opportunities, and standardized tests required—including test scores. Add important information to your document, such as details about the curriculum offered in a specific major, opportunities available to pursue activities you enjoy, and ideas for building your community on campus or living in the residence halls.

Visit colleges and universities

Although you can learn much from a college website, the best way to get a true feel for the campus is to plan a college visit. Junior year is the ideal time to visit the schools that interest you. Try to schedule trips around a holiday so you don’t miss too much class time at your high school. While parents can help to plan the visit, it is helpful if the student independently sets up as much as possible, such as contacting the college admissions office and requesting a campus tour. Another important appointment to schedule is with the college’s financial aid office.

Sometimes, schools will allow you to spend a night in the residence halls or sit in on a class lecture. Try to schedule your visit while the college is in session. Hopefully, you can meet students on campus who will share what it is like to attend that school and help you get a feel for the vibe of the campus. Ask yourself, “Can I imagine living and studying here for four years?” Take notes and photos while you are on campus to help you remember the significant parts of your visit.

Prepare for and take college entrance exams

There are two main college entrance exams, the ACT and the SAT. Most colleges and universities in the United States will accept either test. However, some schools will recommend or require that you also take the optional writing section of the ACT or SAT. If you need to take the writing section, remember to select that option when you register for the test. Registration is done on-line and will require a credit card for payment, as well as a copy of your photo ID.

When you register, there is an option to have your scores sent for free to the colleges of your choice. This is a cost-effective method of sending your scores to schools, but you won’t know what your score is prior to it being sent. The alternative is to send your scores to colleges later, though there is typically a $15 fee per test score submission.

You may also choose to take the SAT Subject Tests, which certain schools may require or recommend. These are best taken immediately after finishing the related course. For example, if you take AP Chemistry your junior year, you should register for the Chemistry SAT Subject Test offered in May or June.

The goal should be to complete your college entrance exams by the summer after your junior year. Since many students find it beneficial to take the ACT or SAT more than once, you should take your first college entrance exam by the spring of your junior year, and perhaps earlier.

Look for ways to prepare for college entrance exams, such as on-line resources, tutoring, classes, or a workbook. Ask your guidance counselor for suggestions and find out whether your school offers a test prep program that can teach students test strategies and review important areas covered by the entrance exam. Some methods of preparation work better for some students than others. If you try something and are not finding it as helpful as you hoped, try something else. Make sure you know what to bring and what to expect prior to showing up for your exam.

Meet regularly with your guidance counselor, teachers, and other mentors

There are many reasons to regularly meet with your guidance counselor, teachers, and mentors. These people can be excellent resources as you choose the right major and career. They may be able to provide unique opportunities for you to explore your areas of interest. Let them know what you are considering pursuing and get their input. They may also be able to recommend colleges and universities that will appeal to your interests.

Another important reason to meet regularly with your guidance counselor, teachers, and other mentors is that you will likely need them to write letters of recommendation for you as part of your college admissions process. They can write a much more compelling letter if they know you well and understand your unique strengths. A strong letter of recommendation can go a long way with college admissions counselors. By the end of your junior year, you should have confirmed who will be writing your letters of recommendation and make sure everyone is aware of this expectation.

Talk regularly with your parents about the future

Your parents can provide excellent advice and guidance regarding opportunities to consider and strengths to develop. After all, they have known you longer than anyone else. Keep your parents involved in the things you are learning, exploring, and the ways you are developing your passions and interests. During your junior year, you can plan college visits with your parents and work together to schedule your college entrance exams.  

Your parents may have definite ideas regarding your future college and career choices—these are important things to talk about. You will also need to discuss plans for paying for college, plans for applying for financial aid, and other issues, such as having a vehicle during your college years.

Pursue and record extracurricular interests

By the time you start your junior school year, you should have an idea of what extracurricular activities are most important to you. Now is the time to make sure you have a detailed record of all your activities, including athletics, leadership roles, community service, and work experience that you have engaged in since the start of high school. You will likely be asked about these activities in college applications and scholarship applications.  

As you look at your extracurricular record, think about the areas that are meaningful to you, and look for opportunities to develop these during your junior year. Can you take on a leadership role in a group or club? Maybe you can assume more responsibility or help to train younger participants. Brainstorm ways that you can make an impact at your school or in your community. Organizing a fundraiser or service project is a wonderful experience and looks great as part of your extracurricular record. Typically, it is better to have a few things in which you have invested deeply rather than a multitude of activities in which you have only participated once or twice. Now is the time to focus and be passionate about the activities that are most important to you.

Plan to use your summer wisely

Colleges begin accepting applications towards the end of the summer following your junior year. You may be able to determine earlier which college essays you will need to write. If you can start working on your essays during the summer, you will have a lot less stress when your senior year begins in the fall.

By the end of the summer, you should know the schools where you are applying. Create an admissions checklist for each school that includes all the necessary components of the admissions process, as well as deadlines. This can include letters of recommendation, essays, portfolios, auditions, test scores, academic transcripts, financial aid and scholarship applications, interviews, and application fees.

Your checklist should include a section where you indicate the current status of each step. It is one thing to ask a teacher to write a letter of recommendation, but it is quite another to ensure the school has received it. Since you will be very busy in the fall of your senior year with college applications, it is important to be as organized as possible by the end of the summer. 

Many universities will offer summer sessions for students who have finished their junior or senior year. Depending on your interests, you may be able to participate in research, take classes, attend lectures, or join a creative writing seminar. Most program applications, which are typically available in the spring of your junior year. If you don’t find an academic program that interests you, consider looking for a job or an internship with a company, individual, or charity. Even an unpaid internship is a great way to invest in your future.

Junior in High School - College Prep

Junior year in high school is an important time for college preparation. Make the most of your opportunities but realize that you can’t do everything. As you prioritize and manage your time, you will be building skills that will help you in college. If you haven’t started using a calendar or scheduling app, practice using one during your junior year so you can depend on it in your senior year. Start thinking about the people that mean the most to you in high school. You have two years left to develop friendships and mentoring relationships before you take off for college.

Remember that you don’t have to face the challenges of junior year alone. Talk to your parents and other people you trust and respect. Enlist support and help with the things that you find difficult. College prep is about more than just passing tests and getting high grades. It is about preparing for your future and developing into a person who is passionate about learning, growing, and contributing to your community.