Many people find that junior year is the hardest year of high school, whether it's because of the difficult classes, applying to colleges, or juggling school on top of extracurriculars and time with friends. It is true that your junior year can be busy and stressful, but there are plenty of ways to counter the stress, manage your time, and have an enjoyable year.
Prepare before the school year starts
Louis Pasteur said "Chance favors the prepared mind," and this is true for all aspects of school. Before your first day of school, you should already have your schedule and numerous summer assignments. Spend some time looking through any resources your teachers have provided for your classes, like the syllabus and class expectations.
Also, make sure to see where your classrooms are located. By your junior year, you probably have a good idea of where all the classrooms are located in your school, so you can figure out early where you will need to go. This will take away some stress and confusion of the unknown on the first day, and will also help make sure you bring everything you need.
Most classes assign work for over the summer: do not wait until the last minute, but do not start it too soon either. The purpose of summer work is to be prepared for the class ahead. If you finish the work in June, you probably will not remember it once school starts.
However, if you wait until mid-August, or right before your first day to start, then you will already be setting yourself up for stress and will lose your last bit of summer free time. The best time to start summer work is in July, or about a month before school starts, working on it in small increments. By your starting week, you should have little to no work left, but all the content will still be fresh in your mind.
In short, preparation during the summer is essential to starting the year strong and setting yourself up for a good school year from then on.
Maintain a healthy balance
Junior year is when you will start to think about college, meaning you will want to take difficult classes and line up your extracurriculars. It is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and balance college preparation with leisure and social time. In order to do this, I suggest considering how much you can handle, as well as how much time you are dedicating to what you truly care about.
Many colleges feel a similar way. If you are interested in pursuing engineering in college, is it necessary to take AP Literature on top of AP math and science courses? Or if you want to major in English or History, do you need to be in the robotics and math club?
If you enjoy it, of course. However, it is common for juniors to overload their schedules with extracurriculars that they do not actually care about for the sake of a loaded resume. In fact, colleges tend to prefer students who dedicate their time to one or two passions as opposed to lots of different things. By narrowing down your interests, you could free up your time and eliminate a lot of stress.
Although it is difficult to realize at school, your personal life and mental health are just as important as, if not more important, than school and getting good grades. The best way to be successful at school is to balance everything.
Take one to three advanced courses you really care about and can dedicate time to, and take normal or honors classes for the rest so that you do not get overloaded with homework. Find a couple of activities like sports or clubs that you care about, and then leave yourself time to hang out with friends or do absolutely nothing for a couple of hours if necessary.
Stay focused and diligent
Although it is essential to maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to avoid burnout, it is also necessary to stay focused and organized because there will be a lot going on. Junior year is considered the most important grade-wise, so keep your grades up. Keep a planner, talk to your teachers if any questions arise, and take notes.
If the past two years have been a little rough in terms of grades, junior year is a great time to turn it around. A jump from mostly As and Bs and maybe a couple of Cs to mostly or only As tells colleges a lot about your perseverance. While it can sometimes be difficult to raise your overall GPA, your transcript can still show your ambition to improve.
On the topic of college, this is the time to begin. Talk to your college counselor if your school provides one. If not, there are plenty of helpful articles and videos online.
Research colleges by simply looking up colleges with anything you are interested in. Attend college fairs, reach out to emails provided on college websites, and go visit some schools if you have the means to do so. You certainly do not need to make any decisions in your junior year, but it is important to be aware and have some idea of your preferences.
Junior year also means it's time to take either the SAT or ACT if you choose to. Remember, many colleges are starting to go test-optional, but I recommend at least taking a practice test. If you get a good score or see the opportunity to get a good score, then take the real thing.
If you choose to take the test, then decide whether the ACT or SAT works best for you. They operate differently in terms of timing, section content, and difficulty, so do some research and take a practice test for both. Once you have decided, study.
There are countless tutoring programs out there, but these can be quite expensive. However, there are plenty of ways to study for free or cheap. You can purchase a test book with lots of problem samples, guides, and practice tests for around $30 or less if you buy second hand. There are also online resources like Kahn Academy that provide free practice.
Give yourself grace
Yes, junior year is important and yes, it is stressful, but everything will be okay. If you make a mistake or fail a test, it does not mean you will not get into college. Make mistakes, try new things, and have fun: this is your last normal year of high school before the excitement of senior year! Ask for help, stay organized, and find out a little about yourself; you're only a junior once.