For many of the students I work with, their junior year is the year that things start to get real.
The idea of heading off to college no longer seems like a far-off possibility. Junior students now realize that in less than a year, they’ll be choosing schools and a major and completing applications — and that to be ready to do that, there is a lot of work that needs to be done NOW.
That’s why junior year is such a balancing act. My juniors typically have very demanding schedules, filled with tough courses and lots of activities. Most feel pressure to keep up or improve their grades and class rank. At the same time, there are time-consuming tasks — such as preparing for and taking the SAT and the ACT, starting or continuing to tour college campuses — they really need to do this year.
Add in a social life, family and church responsibilities, and maybe a part-time job to start saving for college tuition or a car, and no wonder juniors can seem pretty stressed out.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula for making this year easier. There’s simply a lot to squeeze in. But by simplifying what they concentrate on, students can better control the chaos and still enjoy junior year.
Improving time management skills. As freshmen and sophomores, most students already figured out how to squeeze more studying and longer hours of sports or band practice into their limited free time. But as juniors they’ll need to be even more disciplined, and they need to be prepared to make tougher choices. For instance, what if SAT prep classes conflict with football or volleyball practice? What if you need to find a few hours each week in a packed schedule to attend tutoring sessions for calculus? You need to strategically plan how to get it all done.
Setting priorities. Developing good time-management skills goes hand-in-hand with knowing what’s most important. Juniors need to take a good clear look at what’s most important not only for this year, but down the road.
Does it take a higher GPA than you currently sport to get into your dream college? Then you need to arrange your day to build in more study time or sign up for extra tutoring. You want a music scholarship? Time to double up on practice time, take up a new instrument, or aim for the all-state band. You know you don’t do well on standardized tests? Then SAT or ACT prep courses are a must.
Developing a focus. Junior year is also the time to narrow your interests so you can pick a college and a major. At Capstone, all our juniors take a highly personalized career, interest and personality inventory, which is designed to help them not just identify their strengths and passions, but match those traits with careers that suit their personality. (For instance, a student may have the skills to excel in medical research, but if she’s an extrovert, she might hate long days alone in the lab.) The 30-page report and debrief that results gives students a roadmap to follow to investigate possible majors and careers, which will help them identify colleges that will be a good fit.
Because really, that’s a big part of the job of junior year: Getting serious about what you want to do and where you want to go — and positioning yourself to be able to get there.
Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college adviser for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, financial aid, and find the college that’s right for them. Have a question for Donna? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You just may see your question answered in a future column.