Junior year of high school is critical – here’s what to do

Vanessa Infanzon

Planning to attend college involves several years of preparation and research. The junior year of high school is one of the most important in the college preparation timeline because the bulk of the work is often completed then.

Here are a Carolina counselor’s recommendations for a smooth junior year:

Develop an action plan.

At this stage of the college search process, parents and students need to work together to ensure that what needs to get done gets done.

Andrew Knoblich

Andrew Knoblich, a career development coordinator at Ardrey Kell High School in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, recommends finding a college-planning checklist that outlines what parents and students need to do. This can help alleviate potential problems, decrease stress and ward off potential disagreements.

“With big decisions being made about what comes after high school, it is no surprise that many young people feel overwhelmed during this period in their career development and educational journey,” Knoblich said.

Making a schedule that includes key dates and to-do items like taking a college exam preparation course, signing up for the SAT and ACT, contacting admissions offices and visiting campuses will guide parents’ and students’ efforts throughout the year.

These organizations offer free college planning checklists and tools:

National Association for College Admission Counseling

College Foundation of North Carolina

BigFuture by CollegeBoard

Khan Academy

The Princeton Review

BigFuture from CollegeBoard (specifically for parents)

Get to know yourself better.

Searching for the right college means making decisions as the process moves forward. Those decisions are based on students’ interests, personalities and values. The process can be easier if students know their likes and dislikes.

Knoblich said, “By junior year, most students are acutely aware of their values, passions, interests, hobbies, and preferences. Being intentional about understanding these elements and how they factor into post-secondary planning will help to create a greater sense of confidence when finalizing decisions.”

School counselors, college advisers and career development coordinators often have access to personality inventories that can help students identify their strengths and values, which could in turn relate to choosing the college that supports a particular field of interest.

Be intentional about academics and activities.

Up until now, students may have been haphazard about classes, volunteer work and after-school activities. The junior year is a pivotal point for students to be strategic with their time and talents.

“The junior year is one of the most, if not the most, critical year for a high school student because it really is the last opportunity to demonstrate on a transcript what they are capable of accomplishing academically,” Knoblich said.

Knoblich recommended that students challenge themselves by taking the most rigorous courses they can manage. This doesn’t mean all classes have to be advanced placement (AP). “Find a balance by taking higher level courses that interest you and in which you will do well,” he said.

At the same time, it’s important for students to get involved in a club, sport, volunteer work or internship because it shows commitment and initiative. Schools want students who will add value to their student bodies through their leadership, responsibility and commitment.

Knoblich said, “Intentionality is key to having the most successful college planning during that junior year.”


Vanessa Infanzon is a freelance writer based in Charlotte. In her former life, she worked in Student Life at Davidson College, UNC Charlotte and Queens University of Charlotte. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @morethanVMI