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Big/Little Junior Year and Tips to Find Your Balance

It's really not a secret: Junior year is no different than any other school year - you want to do your best. Doing that will be individualized, specific, and based on your strengths and interests, and no one else's. 

So, why is there so much talk and emphasis about the junior year and how busy is it? First, you are officially an upperclassman and may now be taking classes that are specific to your interests beyond graduation requirements. This is also the time when deepening or broadening your academic experience  (by taking honors or AP classes, joining clubs, extending your interests outside of school, etc.) often takes place, which may require additional time. That can mean more to juggle.

You probably have also heard "junior year matters" and 'junior year is so hard." In one sense, each year you progress in high school will be a little more challenging than the year before. That means assessing how many challenging courses you can handle so that you're not drowning in homework or, conversely, coasting through easy classes and missing opportunities to excel. A good goal for junior year is to aim for your sweet spot.

Recognizing what you love and what you can handle both in and out of school is something you can work on now, and a skill that you can apply to all aspects of your life. The bonus? Working on balance now will help you once you're in college.

Junior year is also an academic year when colleges look at your class choices and how well you do in them. Colleges will be looking at the rigor in your courses and whether your grades are "trending up," which means demonstrating mastery and improvement throughout high school. At times it may feel like colleges will be sizing you up. Looking at what classes you take and how you do is part of how colleges determine if you will be successful. Colleges want you to succeed and be able to handle the workload. Grades are one indicator of how a student will do as a college student, but colleges applicants are not evaluated solely on one data point, so approaching junior year with a positive attitude and embracing the idea of doing your best is part of the healthy equation of being an upperclassman.

So what are a few strategies to help you manage junior year?

Tip One: Focus on your goals, your game plan, and do things in a way that work best for you. Play your game, and try not to pay attention to what everyone else is doing.

Tip Two: Strike a healthy balance that will include enough sleep, good food, exercise, and time with friends and family.

Tip Three: Get a calendar and use it. I’ll say it again: Get a calendar and use it. Do you like visual reminders? Get a whiteboard and hang it someplace where you can see it every day. Pick a day to add events and deadlines for the upcoming week. Set your smartphone reminders or use an app that will help you meet your deadlines.

Tip Four: Strike the right balance in your class load and find your sweet spot. Make a list of all of your classes and figure out which ones will need more time and which will be easier. Knowing how much time you will need in a week to study in addition to your other commitments and sleeping (8-10 hrs./night) will help you see if you are achieving balance and if you need to make tweaks.

Tip Five: Develop self-assessment skills for knowing what is the right balance for you in and out of school.

Tip SixWhile junior year will be busy, staying organized and focused on what's in front of you, being engaged in your classes, and pursuing activities you love will help you manage the right mix of challenges and fun. 

Tip Seven: Build in the time you need to think about what you want in your college experience. Determine what resources are available to identify priorities, goals, and strengths. Make a plan. That may include time to visit colleges to learn about the differences between private and public schools, urban, rural and suburban settings, liberal arts and research universities, and the scale of small, medium and large schools.

Even though it may feel like the spotlight is on you during junior year, you can turn your spotlight on finding colleges where you will be successful. The college search is a two-way street. Carving out time to research schools during junior year is one way to set a manageable pace, so you will know what options are possible. The college journey is not a race, and just like planning an adventure or trip requires time and thought, you want to allocate time for your college search, so it has a natural place in your life and doesn't overtake and drive every conversation and activity.

Have more questions or looking for more support? Email me at


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