What should juniors be doing right NOW?

For most students, the second semester of junior year is when the college application process begins in earnest. So this month, we asked our high school counselors: What’s the most important task for juniors to tackle in second semester of junior year? Read on to get a jump start on your to do list!


Mai Lien Nguyen
College and Career Center Coordinator

Mountain View High School
Mountain View, California

This is a tough question because what will be the most important task for one junior may not be the most important task for another.  Whether your parents regularly talked to you about college throughout your childhood, or you had no one in your family to help you with your education, generally speaking, the most important task would be to visit college campuses in your junior year.  Ultimately, you are trying to answer the question, “How would you like to spend the next 4-5 years of your life?”  Creating a vision of what that life might be like is crucial, and visiting colleges makes something abstract like, “the future,” into something more concrete: “So this is what college is like. This is what a small, medium, large, urban, suburban, residential, commuter, etc. campus is like. This is what students do in college, etc.  I can/can’t see myself here.”  While the necessary number of college visits will vary depending on your situation and means, you can learn a lot about college and your preferences from an effective visit to a campus.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a task that, in my mind, comes as a very close second: get organized.  Create a system for yourself to keep track of all the tasks that you need to do from now until the end of senior year.  If you aren’t sure how to do that, ask a trusted adult (parent, counselor, teacher, etc.) who can get you started with a system and with identifying the tasks themselves.

Anna K. Barlow
Associate Director of College Counseling
Western Reserve Academy
Hudson, Ohio

If you find that you are having a hard time believing that the school year is half over, don’t worry – you are not the only one! Yet, before you start feeling overwhelmed by the many tasks ahead of you this second half of the year, take a step back, breathe deeply, and realize that junior year and the college search process is an exciting stage of your life.

As with all processes, it is important to think about priorities and chart a course of action. Continuing to focus on your classes, determining when best to take your standardized tests, and keeping up with your extracurricular pursuits are all incredibly important. Yet, arguably the most significant task to focus on as it relates to the college process is beginning to build your understanding about the many types of colleges/universities that exist in the United States.

We are fortunate to live in a country with over 4400 degree granting institutions of higher education. Within this large assortment of colleges and universities exist many types of educational opportunities and experiences, some of which may fit you and your academic aspirations better than others. As you start to research your options, make sure to build a well-informed perspective on institutional type (big vs. small, urban vs. rural, 2 year vs. 4 year, liberal arts college vs. research university, etc.). Understanding the differences between institutional types will ultimately help guide you in identifying what kind of college or university will fit you best. Once you have made that determination, you can then begin to focus on specific institutions within that type, feeling confident that you have already successfully tackled one of the most important tasks associated with this process. 

Stephanie Maksymiu
Maine South High School
College/Career Counselor (and mom of a junior
Park Ridge, Illinois

Well, it's finally here:  the long awaited second semester of your junior year.  Your high school is holding a college planning program for juniors, and when you registered for your senior year courses, your high school counselor more or less asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up.  It probably sounded something like:  "have you thought about college and what you might be interested in studying?"

You want to be able to say "YES!  I have thought about that!"

Although many factors go into a successful college search, I think the most important task for juniors is to start visiting colleges – go somewhere – go anywhere! Just get started!  Unless you were dragged on college visits with your older brother or sister, wrapping your head around the college experience is difficult!  By visiting, you finally get an idea of what college life can be like – and – most importantly, validation of why you have been working so hard throughout high school!  Many students find that they become excited rather than apprehensive about the college search process.

Think about what is important to you as you create a new home for yourself and enter into this next phase of your life.  Your counselor can give you lists of questions to ask on your tour, but truly, some things will be more important to you than others.

When you are on campus, talk with students (don’t let your parents ask all the questions).  Most college students are delighted to talk to potential students about why they love their school! 

Ask yourself:  can I see myself here?  What do I get excited about learning and studying?  Can I do everything I want here?  

My advice:  take part in setting up college visits, especially when you are asked what you are interested in studying and what you want to see on campus.  Speak up, because if your mom is anything like me, you may find that you’ve expressed an interest in clubs and majors that have never crossed your mind but are perfect for your mom.

And by all means, keep those grades up!  There will be enough to include in a college application without having to explain why you didn't reach your academic potential!

Chat Leonard
Director of College Counseling
Metro Academic & Classical High School
St. Louis, Missouri

Hello Juniors.  As the graduating class of 2014, you are now on the quest to begin and execute the search for your perfect college, correct?  Time out! Please understand that there probably is no perfect college for any one person. However you should understand that choosing a school wisely should be a top priority for you as a prospective student and now is the time to get serious about taking some steps that will lead to the ultimate decision of which college to attend.

I could spend the time writing about the criteria used to narrow down your college selection such as size, location, major programs, admission requirements and cost. However all of that information is fairly easy to research.

My advice to you is that now is the time to be totally selfish (or perhaps self-focused is the better way to put it). Now is the time to do some serious soul searching and self reflection about  the value of a college education and what you want out of it. Needless to say, most of us want the American dream of being financially independent, upwardly mobile, and obtaining a specific lifestyle that financial fortune can offer us.  Hopefully, a college education will be able to offer other intangibles that will be equally as fulfilling.

Some questions you may want to ask yourself are:

1)      How are you going to be a better person because of college?

2)      How will the experience of attending college contribute to you being a better person?

3)      What kind of a person do you want to be when you graduate?

4)      How do you want college to prepare you for the rest of your life?

5)      How do you think attending college will help you meet the expectations parents and significant others have of you, but more importantly the expectations you have of yourself?

The college selection process can be challenging, but it is such a rewarding experience. So obtain the best information possible. Understand that whatever direction you choose in life your college selection will be the first step in that direction. From the friends you make at college to the professors you meet and whose classes you take, these experiences are the springboards to the next phase of your life. Make the most of what you do with what you have at whatever college you choose to attend. Good Luck!


Our experts' responses reflect not only the wisdom of their experience, but also their schools' philosophies and policies. There is a great deal of diversity in American education and some of that will be on display here. Make sure to check with your own school about their policy on any particular subject discussed here.

We would like to extend a special thank you to the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools (ACCIS), who partnered with us on this post, and in particular counselors Marie Bigham of Greenhill School, Jody Sweeney of William Penn Charter School, and Sarah Markhovsky of Severn School.



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