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Last updated October 11, 2023

Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.

Your Junior Year Timeline

Key Takeaway

To put it bluntly: when it comes to applying to college, junior year is the most important year of high school. You'll be keeping your grades up, ramping up your college search, excelling in your extracurriculars, and more. 

This is part of our timeline series to help high school students and their families get the most out of high school while preparing for the college search and application process. This article addresses junior year of high school. You can find the corresponding articles for first-year, sophomore, and senior students at these links.

I’m going to say something that might stress you out.

When it comes to applying to college, junior year is the most important year of high school.

But you already knew that, right?

Junior year grades are the most recent grades admission offices will see when you apply. Most college visits begin or ramp up in junior year. You’re probably studying for or taking the SAT or ACT and maybe some AP or IB tests. By the time you apply to college, your extracurricular engagements junior year and this coming summer will be the most relevant activities you’ll have.

Okay, I’m not here to freak you out. Really. Take a breath. You don’t have to look at this as a negative, but you should be prepared to step up and take college admissions seriously during your junior year.

Junior Year

Here’s what our team of former admission officers sees in the most competitive high school juniors and how you might emulate that. We’ll follow that up with a timeline of what you might want to do and think about during the summer before junior year as well as junior fall and spring.

  1. Know what your goals are after graduating high school. If college is in the cards, what are you looking for? A nearby state school or community college? A smaller liberal arts college? A major university in another state? A highly-selective school? The following advice applies differently depending on what your goals are, so get as clear as possible.

  2. Take a demanding curriculum that makes sense for you. If ever there was a time to challenge yourself in the classroom, this is it. Per number one, you don’t need to take a full AP curriculum if you have never taken one before and plan to attend a school that admits students with a range of coursework and grades. At the same time, if you want to be competitive for an Ivy League school, you essentially must take the most demanding curriculum possible.

  3. Engage in meaningful extracurricular activities. And look for opportunities to do something more interesting, uncommon, or niche. Understand how colleges and universities view and “score” extracurricular engagement. A balanced resume includes some engagement in your school community, in a more independent or creative project, and something that helps other people.

  4. Begin to understand the landscape of colleges and universities. If you haven’t already, junior year is a great time to start visiting schools–maybe during summer, fall, or spring break. Start researching types of universities. Our website has some great articles that will help you get started. Understand the difference between public and private schools, research and liberal arts colleges, and the basics of financial aid.

  5. Develop an understanding of what you want to get out of college. You do not have to decide on a major now. Most college students come in undeclared, change their major, and/or major in something they didn’t take high school classes in. But, you can look at major offerings at schools you’re interested in and research the courses and prerequisites for ones that sound interesting.

  6. Prep for and take the SAT or ACT. While many schools have moved to test-optional policies and you may not submit scores everywhere, you should shoot for a score that reflects your best ability on standardized tests. There are tons of free online resources, books, or paid virtual or in-person programs. Find what works for you! By the way, we don’t recommend taking a standardized test more than three times at max.

  7. Engage in class and develop relationships with teachers. There are a lot of reasons for this. First and foremost, strong teacher relationships facilitate better learning. Ask for help when you need it, and find ways to go above and beyond. And remember, junior teachers will likely write you letters of recommendation when you apply to college, so give them something to work with!

  8. Do well in your classes. Oh yeah, lest we forget. Grades matter! This year more than ever. Enjoy yourself, but this is the time to think about finding a study buddy, getting tutoring, or asking for help after class.

That list should give you a sense of what the best prepared and most competitive juniors are doing.

I’ll quickly break down some of these points in this timeline. Note that there is no perfect one-size-fits-all guide for what every high school junior around the world should do. But this timeline should give you a sense of what we recommend for savvy college-bound juniors.

Summer Before Junior Year

  • Deepen your engagement in extracurricular activities through formal academic, extracurricular, or community engagement.
    • Summer programs on college campuses. There are tons of summer programs for academically inclined high school students like Summer @ Brown, the Harvard Pre-College Program, or the Stanford Summer Session. These programs range in experience and price, so do your research. The three listed are some of the most well known, but you can find that at a large number of schools–including some closer to home. Note that applications for these programs are typically due in February or March.
    • Research. Some high school students engage in research either with a professor on a college campus or with a program specifically geared toward high school students interested in learning about research. Remember, research doesn’t just happen in science labs–there are opportunities in all disciplines.
    • Part-time job. Getting a job is a great way to understand the working world, contribute to your family, make some money, and beef up your resume. If you have a part-time job, it should definitely be listed on your college application activities section.
    • Independent “passion project”. Maybe you’re in a band, run a small business, or created a non-profit tutoring organization. Perhaps you are into coding and develop video games. There are countless outlets students engage with that “count” in college admissions.
  • Consider visiting colleges. While you probably have some free time, summer isn’t the most ideal time for college tours since school isn’t in session so campuses aren’t the same. But, this summer would be a good time to informally (walk around on your own) or formally (information session and tour) visit a local school or one nearby some already planned summer travel. Check out our guide to the college visit for more.

Junior Year Fall

  • Begin creating a college list–and keep it updated! If you haven’t already, this is a great time to start a list of schools you might want to apply to. It’s early, so no need to be too picky, but start researching what it takes to get into the schools on your list. Which brings me to my next point…
  • Have family conversations about types of schools you’re interested in. Keep an open mind, but think about size, majors, location, distance from home, and cost.
  • Start researching schools. Online information sessions with admissions is a great place to start. I highly recommend signing up for at least one of these a week when possible. Why not? These 30-60 minute sessions will tell you a lot about the school, and you can join from the comfort of your own home, bed, couch, whatever. Also consider unofficial tours on YouTube, “day in the life” videos, or other social media content.

Junior Year Spring

  • Consider visiting schools over spring break. I realize you might already have spring break plans, but know that spring break is peak college visit season. This is when colleges often offer open houses and have a lot of availability for tours and information sessions. If you’ve done some planning, it’s a great time to visit schools!
  • Think about demonstrated interest. If your school list is coming together, this is a prime time to consider how you are demonstrating interest at schools that track it. Visit, attend an online information session, do a webinar… check out the link for more.
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