3 Tasks to Help High School Juniors Boost College Success

Get insights from real students on how to use this year wisely.

Teacher Helping Male Pupil Studying At Desk In Classroom

Junior year is a perfect time for students to delve into electives and other specialized courses.

​For many students, junior year of high school is also the most difficult year. Students must prepare for their upcoming ACT or SAT test dates, evaluate potential colleges and function beneath an immense amount of pressure to achieve high grades to impress these colleges.

In addition to this academic stress, students must also begin asking themselves important questions about their ideal college experience in order to find schools that are a great fit. Much of this process is new and unfamiliar to students and there are some specific actions that juniors can take to navigate it successfully.

Three college students who have been through this process shared insights from their own junior year experiences, and here are their tips:

1. Sign up for AP or specialized classes: Your freshman and sophomore years of high school are typically filled with general education courses and other mainstream subjects that students are required to study – but what about classes that go beyond that? Junior year is a perfect time for students to delve into electives and other specialized courses. It can even help students prepare for college in a number of ways.

Sarah Turecamo, a junior ​at Washington University in St. Louis majoring in biology and anthropology, suggested this route for students.

“It would be helpful to take some specialized classes, such as AP classes or upper-level electives, to explore what you would like to major in,” she says. “Of course, you don’t have to know exactly what you want to study in college, but it would be helpful to explore a few options before entering college.”

Turecamo feels this action benefited her, but she also wishes she had pursued it even further.

“I did take AP Chemistry, which helped to explore my interest in the sciences,” she says. “However, I regret not taking a computer science or engineering elective because I never really got to see if I was interested in pursuing an engineering career path.”

2. Talk to current college students: As mentioned before, students may struggle to reflect on what they want in a college. This upcoming chapter in their lives encompasses a great deal of unfamiliar territory, and it can be hard to know where they possibly begin.

From campus size, to dining options, to available academic programs, there are many factors to consider in a college experience, so it might be worth going straight to those who are currently experiencing it – the college students.

“Talk to current students about life there and what classes are like,” says Andrew Hu, a senior​ at the University of Georgia. ​​”The current students at each specific university know what’s best needed to succeed.”

Needless to say, one of the first steps in getting connected with those students is to visit campuses. Hu noted that he regrets not having done this himself, saying he felt he would have had a better idea of what he wanted to get out of college if he had visited schools during his junior year.

3. Begin touring colleges: Hu is not alone in wishing he had taken this step at the appropriate time. Cala Fils, a Montclair State University senior, ​says she strongly thinks high school juniors should start visiting schools.

Fils also wishes that she herself had done so as a high school junior. She notes that students should begin preparing themselves mentally for this significant transition now.

“Senior year goes by fast and time will not be on their side,” she says. “I started to do those things during the spring of my senior year and I felt overwhelmed.”

Turecamo says she did take this action during her junior year and that it helped her identify what she was really looking for in a college.

“After touring a few schools of different sizes and in various locations, I decided I wanted a medium college with a research reputation near a city,” says Turecamo. “Just knowing these basic requirements helped me expedite the application process my senior year.”

One common theme that all of these actions have in common is exploring new ideas. Academics, lifestyle and the school itself will be different in college than what students are used to in high school. Both Hu and Turecamo advised keeping an open mind.

“In terms of a social transition, approach everything with an open mind,” Hu says. “Everyone is there for the same reasons you are.”

Turecamo emphasized the importance of this action as well.

“When you enter college, you will meet people from all different backgrounds, and a key part of the college experience is being pushed outside of your comfort zone to explore different perspectives and cultures.”

Cathryn Sloane is a marketing coordinator for Varsity Tutors. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Iowa.

Varsity Tutors is a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. The company’s end-to-end offerings also include mobile learning apps, online learning environments and other tutoring and test prep-focused technologies. Got a question? Email admissionsplaybook@usnews.com.

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