Capstone College and Career Advising

Staying on track during second semester junior year

February 10th, 2015 by

Now that the second semester is underway, many high school seniors are finished with the college application process. There’s still work to do—finishing scholarship applications, choosing which admission offer to accept—but for most seniors, it’s time to enjoy the last few months of high school.

But for younger high school students, the application process is starting to take on a new importance—especially for juniors. I find that second semester of junior year is when the rubber really hits the road for most students, at precisely the time when many students are taking some of their most difficult courses and are most involved in their extracurricular activities.

So it’s important for juniors to prioritize to make sure they’re on track for application season while still keeping up with their activities and, especially, keeping up their grades. (College applications will ask for your cumulative GPA and class rank at the end of the second semester of junior year.)

First, most juniors should be developing a solid list of colleges they’re interested in attending by now. This list can be fairly long; just because a school is on your list doesn’t mean you’re going to go there or even apply there. But if you think it might be a good fit, put it on your list to explore further. If you haven’t visited some of your top contenders, make plans for a spring break or an early summer visit now.

Next, check out the academic programs available for each of the schools on your list to make sure that they have a strong program in your intended major. (You may not have known what you wanted to major in when you became interested in this school a year or two ago, or your intended major may have changed.)

Then review the admissions requirements for each school you’re still considering. This can help you set goals—for instance, you might decide to retake the ACT to try to raise your score a point or two. It can also help you recognize which schools will be the best fit. Universities don’t set rigorous admission standards to keep students out, but rather to find the students who will do well in their programs. You don’t want to just survive in your chosen school, but to thrive, so it’s better to find out now whether a school might be a stretch for you. (And if you really love a given school, of course you can still apply there! Many factors weigh into admissions decisions, so don’t just write off a school if your scores don’t quite measure up to their averages.)

You should have a fairly good list of target schools after this process. Now you can begin mapping out what you’ll need to be ready for applications in a few months and start ticking off the things you can accomplish right away. For instance, you might want to start your essays, buff up your resume, and even begin asking for letters of recommendation from your favorite teachers and mentors. Remember, the more you get done now, the less stress you’ll be under next fall.