College Admissions Checklist: 12 Tips for High School Juniors

Written by Eva Goetze
Published on October 13, 2023 · Updated on October 13, 2023

College Admissions Checklist: 12 Tips for High School Juniors

Written by Eva Goetze
Published on October 13, 2023 · Updated on October 13, 2023

The college admissions process is an exciting yet demanding journey that requires careful planning, dedication, and preparation. For high school juniors aspiring toward college, it's crucial to lay the groundwork early to maximize your chances of gaining admission to your dream schools. 

We’re going to dive into 12 tips for high school juniors to successfully guide students in their junior year of high school through the college admissions process.

12 Tips for High School Juniors to Prep for College

  1. Embrace Academic Rigor

One of the cornerstones of a strong college application is a challenging academic record. Here are a few ways to do just that:

  1. Enroll in advanced college prep courses, AP courses

  2. Take advantage of dual enrollment programs where you can take college classes to earn college credits while still in high school. You can find these at local colleges, community colleges, or even online. 

  3. Explore Challenging & Unique Courses. Some examples of this may be more challenging AP courses, like AP Computer Science Principles, AP Psychology, or AP Art History. Some other unique avenues may consist of STEM courses through online resources like Coursera, edX, Udacity, Codecademy, and MIT OpenCourseWare.

Demonstrating your ability to tackle rigorous coursework can impress admissions committees. It shows how you can step out of your comfort zone as well as highlights your commitment to learning.

  1. Strategizing Your Test Preparation Is Essential

Begin early with standardized tests like the ACT or SAT. Build a structured study routine and steady practice to enhance your scores. Aim to finish testing before senior year to ease application stress and plan for retakes. 

Also, be sure to set goals! During the summer before Junior year, set score goals based on college competitiveness, then create a solid study plan, use dependable resources, identify strengths and weaknesses, practice consistently with error analysis, seek assistance when necessary, simulate test environments, monitor progress, strategically schedule test dates, prioritize your well-being, and culminate with a final review. 

As long as you put in the time and effort, you should be well prepared for the first round of test-taking with enough time to retest if needed.

  1. Pursue Relevant Internships

Securing internships related to your intended major can provide invaluable hands-on experience and insight into your chosen field. Not only do internships enhance your resume, but they also demonstrate your proactive approach to learning beyond the classroom.

Ask your parents, guardians, or anyone you know in the working world if they know anyone in your desired field. Or create a LinkedIn to help with making connections that could lead to an online or in-person internship. 

This internship should be in the major or field that you’re interested in pursuing after college - or at least want to try out before you spend thousands of dollars pursuing a degree in it. 

Some examples may include opportunities at companies like Google, NASA, or even a local engineering firm if you’re interested in engineering. Microsoft, Apple, Coca-Cola, Disney, Deloitte, and JP Morgan Chase could all be good big-name options for those interested in pursuing business or marketing. Or for the science-minded students, maybe check out the World Health Organization (WHO) or local research universities. Some less competitive ones may be your local community college or a friend’s parent who is in finance. Or work for a local entrepreneur if you hope to one day work for yourself. 

Make sure you add value and have the aptitude to take a project from start to finish and excel! This could also lead to a strong college essay in the future!

  1. Engage In Meaningful Volunteer Work

Showcase your empathy and community involvement through purposeful volunteer experiences. Participating in initiatives aligned with your interests can demonstrate your commitment to making a positive impact on the world around you.

Think about how your volunteer work can be unique. Since many teens tutor children, can you think of who else in your community needs help? Think outside the box and see where you can take the initiative. Look at what’s trending career wise over the next few years. How can you volunteer in those realms now (ex. AI)?

  1. Seize Leadership Opportunities

Joining clubs and organizations and actively seeking leadership roles within them can display your leadership skills and your ability to collaborate with others. Leadership roles also reflect your commitment to your extracurricular pursuits.

We recommend picking one or two clubs you are the most passionate about at your school - don’t stretch yourself too thin! Then, do your best to attend all their meetings and events. The goal is not to diversify here but to find something you're passionate about and proceed into an elected cabinet position in the club during your senior year! What projects and events can you coordinate, or what difference can you make in the club that you can brag about later?

  1. Conduct Thorough College Research

Begin researching potential colleges early on. Consider factors such as location, size, programs, academics, major, athletic/school spirit and overall campus culture and diversity to find institutions that align with your aspirations and values. Creating a balanced list of reach, match, and safety schools is crucial.

Let’s talk Google sheets! In the rows of a table, write down all the aspects of a college you should consider. The list above should help, but add in any other factors that are important to you. Examples could include tuition or financial aid, graduation rates, class sizes, or religious beliefs.

Then going across the table, write down 15-30 schools in the columns. Fill out each cell with the corresponding school and metric. This exercise will help you understand which factors are most important to you and which to weight more or less heavily when deciding. Once you’re done, you’ll have an excellent understanding of where each of these schools fall and how many of the ones you are considering are reach, match, and safety schools!

  1. Cultivate Relationships

Connect with teachers, mentors, and school counselors who can provide guidance and write compelling letters of recommendation for your college applications. Building strong relationships can make a significant difference in your application's impact.

Take advantage of your teacher’s office hours! This is where you will stand out like almost no other students do. Here you can simply work on your homework, but also try to ask them questions about the subject they’re teaching and start a conversation that way. Having those conversations outside of regular class time can lead to them writing an outstanding letter of recommendation for you come application time! 

  1. Craft Your Personal Statement

Start brainstorming ideas and drafting your personal statement well before application deadlines. Your personal statement is an opportunity to showcase your unique experiences, values, and aspirations. It's your chance to stand out from the crowd and make a memorable impression.

Experiencing writer’s block? Put grades and GPAs aside and try to think about how you’re different from everyone else. How do other people describe you? What do you do that other people don’t? What hobbies or activities do you enjoy, or excel at, that others do not? This is the time to look at your life as a whole and write from a personal point of view on what makes you unique in this world. It doesn’t need to be tied to class.

  1. Develop An Impressive Resume

Create a comprehensive college resume that highlights your academic achievements, extracurricular activities, internships, volunteer work, and leadership roles. A well-structured resume can succinctly present your accomplishments to admissions committees.

Believe me - you’ve done more than you think! If you’re not sure what to put on your resume, beyond the basics, consider language proficiencies (does your family speak a different language?), hackathons and competitions, skills on specific platforms, and maybe transformative classes you’ve taken that don’t fall under the standard high school curriculum. 

  1. Explore Campuses

Attend college fairs and schedule college tours to get a feel for different institutions. These visits can help you assess whether a college's atmosphere, student body, and environment align with your preferences and personality. Oftentimes, students have a view of what a college is like, but it’s much different once you actually step foot on campus and into lecture halls.

When should you visit?

The best option is to attend these during your sophomore year so you know ahead of time which universities you’re going to apply to. After, visit again in the fall semester of your junior year so you can get more of an understanding of what major exactly you might want to enroll in, what clubs you are interested in joining, and even what building you want to live in your freshmen year!

  1. Uncover Scholarship Opportunities

Begin researching scholarship options early in your junior year. Scholarships can significantly alleviate the financial burden of higher education. Be sure to note the application deadlines and requirements for each scholarship opportunity.

Search several scholarship search platforms, including our scholarship finder tool, to find several that you qualify for. It won’t help if you just apply for one or two. Make a spreadsheet and get those applications in! If you start applying sophomore or junior year, you could apply to just one a week to severely increasing your chances of gaining financial aid before applications. And don’t forget to check out our guide on how to really dominate your scholarship applications.

Also note, this is where you’re going to need letters of recommendation most. Identify three writers and ask if you can use their letter of recommendation for more than one scholarship application. 

  1. Hone Time Management Skills

Develop strong time management skills to juggle your academic commitments, extracurricular involvement, test preparation, and application tasks. Effective time management will help you navigate this demanding process while maintaining your well-being.

Try different time management styles to find out what works best for you. One common technique is the Pomodoro method. This is where you break your study or work sessions into focused intervals, typically 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break. After completing four intervals, take a longer break of about 15-30 minutes. This technique enhances productivity by leveraging focused work and regular breaks. Not feeling it? Time blocking and the Eisenhower Matrix are also great options to try! 

Junior Year FAQ’s 

  • Why is junior year the hardest?
    • Junior year is challenging due to a combination of factors. It's when students often take advanced courses like APs to demonstrate academic rigor, while also preparing for standardized tests like the SAT/ACT. Balancing coursework, test prep, extracurriculars, and college research can be overwhelming. Many students load advanced classes in junior year to show growth and perform well on applications. This intense year sets the stage for college admissions, making time management crucial.
  • How many APs should I take during my junior year?
    • The number of AP courses you should take during junior year depends on your academic strengths, interests, and how well you can manage the workload. It's important not to overwhelm yourself; quality over quantity matters. Consider your ability to balance AP courses with other commitments and ensure you're still able to excel. Some students take 2-4 APs, while others may take more or fewer based on their individual circumstances and academic competitive aspirations. It’s better to take a few and nail them than taking a full load and just doing average.
  • Should I start applying to colleges/scholarships junior year?
    • While most college applications are submitted during senior year, you can certainly start preparing for the process during junior year. Use this time to research colleges, explore different options, and draft your personal statement. As for scholarships, start researching opportunities and their deadlines during junior year. Some scholarships may have early deadlines, so getting a head start can give you an advantage.
  • When should I start visiting colleges?
    • Visiting colleges can provide valuable insights into campus life, facilities, and the overall environment. Sophomore year is a good time to start visiting colleges, especially during school breaks or summer vacation, but you should visit your top choices again in the fall of Junior year if they’re accessible. This gives you ample time to explore a variety of campuses, narrow down your choices, and gather information that will help you make informed decisions when it's time to apply.

In the journey toward college admissions, junior year emerges as a pivotal phase that lays the groundwork for success. Navigating this crucial year requires a multi-faceted approach, encompassing academic excellence, extracurricular engagement, test preparation, and college exploration. By embracing all these different aspects, juniors can craft a compelling narrative for their college applications. With dedication, strategic planning, and a resilient spirit, juniors can confidently navigate this transformative year and embark on a rewarding journey toward their dream colleges and future endeavors.