It’s true—junior year of high school is kind of a big deal. It’s a barrage of standardized tests to take, grades to worry about, a whole slew of extracurriculars to juggle, and of course, impending college applications looming overhead.
So, as winter turns to spring and you start eyeing the summer months like a fox at a chicken farm, it’s tempting to hit the brakes with them and enjoy the slower pace as the school year winds down. Keep in mind that there are a handful of important tasks that you needs to attend to before you reach senior status. These things aren’t particularly time-consuming, but they’re important, and they’ll go more smoothly with a little parental insight and nudge along the way.
1. Have an honest conversation with your parents about life after high school.
It’s often our tendency to think that everyone follows the same prescribed path after that diploma lands in their hand, but it’s important to step back and realize that that’s not always the case. And without an honest conversation about planning and goals, you might find that you and your parents have different paths in mind.
Start with the idea that college isn’t always a given and even if you do choose to go to college, there are options whether that is applying early decision to the college of your top choice, taking a gap year before you head out.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these plans, especially if they are actually plans and not just last resorts. If your decisions for life after high school are made with a level head and some forethought, you're off to a good start, wherever the path leads.
2. If college is on the horizon, make a college short-list.
Choose eight to 10 schools for your college list. However, students who are less picky can do six and the ultra-ambitious can aim for 12. There are a number of factors to consider when making this short-list. Although dining hall options and dorm life might factor into your decision, at this point the most important considerations are more likely to be things like college selectivity, geographical region, programs geared towards an intended major, and extracurricular offerings.
These are generally the most important factors to consider at this stage of the game. (Soft serve at the dining hall usually comes much later.)
Remember to take a good hard look at your test scores, grades, and extracurriculars to get a realistic idea of the kinds of schools he or she should consider. The shortlist should ideally contain about two or three safety schools, two or three reach schools, and four or five target schools.
3. Create a standardized test schedule.
Unfortunately, you can’t just show up at school on any given Saturday and take the SATs as the whim strikes them. The schedules for SAT tests and ACT tests are available online and announced well in advance, and the test is administered only a few times over the course of the school year.
One important reason to make sure you have finished a college short-list is so that you can plan to accommodate the necessary standardized tests. Many colleges or specific programs require certain SAT Subject Tests. Others require these subject tests only of students who take the SAT, but not of students who take the ACT. In any case, you need to know which standardized tests are required for each school on your short list.
It’s most likely that your teen has already taken an SAT or ACT by spring of junior year, but if not, now is definitely the time to get started. There are two spring test dates to choose from, and if your child is taking the SAT, it’s likely that one of those dates will be consumed by SAT Subject Tests, leaving only the other free for the SAT.
There are also two fall dates to choose from for both the SAT and the ACT. If you are considering an Early Decision application, try to take tests earlier to be sure that you’ll have plenty of time to send the scores to the appropriate school.
4. Take a critical look at extracurriculars.
To call senior year busy is an understatement. Between classes, standardized tests, social life and all the inevitable milestones, time is at a premium. Review the extracurriculars you anticipate as you enter senior year.
If you are worried that you might being overextending, now is the time recalibrate. If you wait until the school year has begun, it’s likely that grades, test scores, or relationships with friends and family will already be impacted.
Generally, college admissions committees want to see leadership positions and dedication to a few key activities over time therefore cut activities that are time consuming and have no leadership positions.
5. Plan a productive summer.
After all the work of junior year, it’s probably tempting to spend the summer at the beach. But ultimately, this isn’t the best plan. Many college applications explicitly ask about how applicants spend their summer, and colleges that don’t ask directly still ask students to outline their activities and work experiences.
Plan a productive and meaningful summer. This could include a job or internship somehow related to an intended career path, or a summer program dedicated to important academics or extracurriculars. Some students pursue research opportunities or service projects. Others seize the chance to get college visits out of the way.
Whatever the case may be, make sure that there are some plans in place that will ensure that summer is a productive time.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and the tumult of junior year. There is a lot at stake and it comes at a time when most teens are still trying to figure themselves out. Keep these five considerations in mind and be sure to go through them before the summer months to make sure that you’re working towards future goals.