Junior Year: Your Busiest Year
Why it’s important to plan early
If you’ve read our 9th Grade or 10th Grade Checklist, you know that you have only 40 months of high school to accomplish a huge list of to-dos if you’re going to be a competitive candidate for top universities.
Once 10th grade is over, you’re down to 18 months to prepare everything you need for college applications: top grades, top test scores, meaningful extracurricular activities, accolades, letters of recommendation, plus a compelling application essay.
Your junior year is also when most students are taking a ton of tests: AP tests, PSAT, SAT or ACT, and SAT Subject tests.
It’s a lot of work, so it’s very important that you begin as soon as possible and have a set plan.
It’s normal to quickly feel overwhelmed, behind, and unprepared.
But all you need is a plan!
Our 11th grade checklist below details what you should accomplish during your junior year and when you should accomplish it. We’ve also included the MEK Review courses that will best help you accomplish these goals. This will guide you with creating a plan and staying on track.
Remember, this is a checklist for top achievers, students who want to apply to Ivy Leagues and top 10 universities, so always keep in mind your key priorities:
- Your well-being
Grades are the most important factor for college admissions, and your well-being is the most important factor, period. This plan should help eliminate stress by dividing 18 months of work more evenly across your junior and senior year. You don’t want to end up stressed and panicked.
11th Grade Checklist: Summer – 2 months
Remember, we said to start early and divide the work over time.
Preparing early and consistently is the key to not becoming overwhelmed during the fall and spring semester. Start your junior year confident and ready.
With that said, here is your to-do list:
1. Prepare for the August SAT or September ACT
Hopefully, you took our advice and prepared early for the college admission tests throughout 10th grade. Either way though, it’s imperative that the summer of 11th grade is spent in intensive prep for the SAT or ACT.
During the school year, you will have too many other things and other tests to prepare for. But in the summer, you have the freedom to devote yourself to test prep and make huge improvements in just several weeks.
It’s important to put thought into which test you will take and what your target score should be. Check out these free resources to help you make these important decisions:
- Blog Post: “What’s A Good SAT or ACT Score?“
- Test Event: SAT vs ACT: Free Score Report and Teacher Advice – where we show you which test matches your strengths.
2. Prepare for rigorous Math and Science classes.
A huge factor in college admissions is not only grades but also your “strength of curriculum.” That means the difficulty level of your courses. Did you challenge yourself with honors, Advanced Placement (AP), or International Baccalaureate(IB) classes, or stick to regular courses?
The best way to impress admission officers is to take advanced classes and ace them. To do that, you need to familiarize yourself with the content and proper study habits early.
That’s why MEK offers Summer High School Honors courses in subjects such as Pre-Calculus, Calculus, and Physics! These courses introduce you to over half of the curriculum you will encounter in the upcoming school year and teach you crucial study habits for success.
Keep in mind though, your first priority should still be SAT and ACT test prep!
3. Continue Extracurricular Activities
The summer is long! Which means you can prepare for the SAT or ACT and still have time to complete an internship or dive deeper into an extracurricular activities by going to a camp, retreat, or weekly volunteer meeting.
Think about what internships or activities fit with your academic interests and college ambitions and apply early.
11th Grade Checklist: Fall – 5 months
The beginning of your junior year means you’re down to 16 months before your college applications deadline.
You need to highly focus on maintaining top grades, completing college admission tests, and planning your prospective college list.
1. Maintain a high GPA
Your junior year will most likely be the year you are taking the most AP and generally challenging classes. Concentrate on maintaining a strong GPA throughout your junior year. More than test prep, extracurricular activities, or letters of recommendation, your grades is the number one factor for college admissions, so you have to make your GPA your top priority.
If at any point you feel your grades slipping, reach out immediately for help from your teachers, guidance counselors, and MEK Review’s School Support tutoring.
If your GPA is low or average at the beginning of your junior year, it’s even more crucial that you focus the majority of your time and efforts on raising it. Again, let MEK Review help you with our School Support tutoring.
Start off the semester strong by thoroughly reading your syllabus, talking to your teachers, and writing down all relevant information in your student planner. You should have a crystal clear idea of the homework, tests, and expectations required for each class.
Be careful to not overdo it on your course schedule. You want to show admission officers that you are willing to challenge yourself, but you also want high grades. Some juniors burn themselves out by taking too many AP, IB, or otherwise advanced courses.
On the other end of the spectrum, make sure you’re not going to easy on yourself. Remember, colleges care about the difficulty level of classes. If you look at your schedule and you have no honors or AP classes, you need to toughen up your course load.
It’s about finding the right balance of easy and hard classes.
2. Take the PSAT in October.
While we advise you take the PSAT in 10th grade as a trial run, your 11th grade year is the year that counts. The results from this PSAT test will determine if you are awarded National Merit Scholar status and ensuing scholarships.
This is another reason why early test prep for the SAT will benefit your chances of receiving this impressive honor and earning scholarship money!
3. Finalize SAT and ACT scores
If you didn’t reach your target SAT or ACT score by August or September, continue your test prep for the October, November, or December tests.
4. Plan Summer Internship or Activity
The summer before your senior year, it’s important to try and participate in internships or other activities that will showcase your passion and skill in a specific academic area. Start researching internship opportunities and apply early.
5. Meet with a College Counselor
11th grade is when you need to start seriously thinking about what colleges you will apply to, which subject, fields, majors, or careers interest you, and how you can best boost your resume.
We suggest you meet with a professional college counselor to help you create a plan guaranteed to result in a strong application.
That’s why we offer our Pre-Roadmap to College Program.
Students in this program will meet with our Head College Counselor 3 times during the first semester of their junior year:
- At the beginning: To design a student roadmap with a full academic timeline. Counselor and student will discuss student’s academic interests, extracurricular and community service activities, with a focus on leadership highlights.
- After the 1st marking period: To review student’s grades at the end of the 1st marking period and create a plan for a successful second marking period. Counselor and student will also discuss strategies and assign research for ideal summer internships and activities, as well as follow up on SAT and ACT scores.
- In December: To solidify student’s summer plans. Also to begin creating a college list that best matches the student’s areas of interest. Counselor will guide student through researching different colleges.
These meetings also prepare you for your upcoming meeting with your high school guidance counselor regarding your college applications.
11th Grade Checklist: Spring – 5 months
1. Maintain a High GPA
Always stay focused on maintaining high grades. Adjust your study routine as needed, to give yourself more time to focus on strengthening areas of struggle. Check out our 3 Secrets to Getting and Keeping a Top GPA for more tips and tricks.
2. Create a College List
You should create a preliminary college list that is a mixture of safety, target, and reach schools. Safety schools are colleges where your chance of admission is high. Target schools are more competitive colleges where your chance of admission is fair, and reach schools are highly competitive colleges where your chance of admission is smaller. For more tips on preparing your college list, check out our College Info Session Recap blog.
Meet with your school guidance counselor to discuss your college list and college applications. Make sure to get plenty of one-on-one time with your guidance counselor, because you will almost definitely need a letter of recommendation, and the better he or she knows you, the stronger the letter will be.
3. Select teachers or mentors for letters of recommendation
Colleges generally want additional letters of recommendation outside of your guidance counselor. Many colleges ask for letters from two teachers. Others may ask for more, and yet other schools provide the option to ask for one from a mentor such as a coach, band director, or employer. Some schools even specify which teachers they want recommendations from, such as one from a humanities teacher (English, history) and another from a math or science teacher.
Ideally, your teacher recommendations come from your 11th grade teachers, as these teachers are usually teaching your most difficult courses. However, a recommendation from a 10th grade teacher is okay, especially if they know you better. Generally stay away from letters from your freshmen teachers.
Again, the strongest letters of recommendation come from teachers who know you well and are invested in your success, so get to know your teachers, especially those teaching subjects that match your academic interests.
Asking your 11th grade teachers early in the second semester of your junior year also gives them plenty of time to write a thoughtful recommendation, rather than waiting until 12th grade, when they will likely have recommendation requests from many other students.
4. Take AP and SAT Subject Tests
May and June of your junior year is the time to take the rest of your AP tests and corresponding SAT Subject tests.
If you want to be a truly competitive candidate for top colleges or Ivy Leagues, you will need to take several tests and ace them. That means you need to try for a 5 in all your AP tests and at least a 750+ on your Subject tests.
Because you will likely be taking several tests, you need to stretch out your preparation over the entire Spring semester. Otherwise, you will be sleep-deprived, cramming, and stressed out come May. In our experience, the biggest mistakes 11th graders make in Spring is not starting preparation early enough, and having the workload sneak up on them later in the semester.
We recommend starting preparation in January and overlapping preparation when you can. For example, our SAT Subject tests offer 20 sessions over Spring to prepare you for earning an 800, and we offer AP Prep classes as well. Even if you’re not taking P classes or AP tests in May, you can still prepare for SAT Subject tests.
If you’ve read our 9th grade checklist and 10th grade checklist, you may recall that we recommended taking SAT Biology in the Spring/Summer of your 9th grade year, and taking SAT Chemistry and SAT Math 2 in the Spring/Summer of your 10th grade year to avoid creating an overwhelming burden on yourself in 11th grade.
If you took our advice, you can spend the spring of 11th grade focused on AP preparation classes such as AP Calculus, AP Chemistry, and AP U.S. History and other SAT Subject test prep classes, such as SAT Literature, SAT Physics, and SAT U.S. History/AP U.S. History Dual Prep.
Remember, SAT Subject are optional tests that showcase your interest and skill in a subject. They look fantastic on a college application, especially to competitive colleges. You don’t need to take all the Subject tests. Rather, focus on those that reflect your interests and in which you will score high.
If you’re having trouble deciding which Subject tests you should take, check out our blog “4 Tips for Preparing for SAT Subject Tests” just to get you started. You can also talk to your school guidance counselor or an MEK Review academic counselor.
Warning: Don’t overdo it on the tests!
It won’t matter how many AP or SAT Subject test you take if you don’t score high. If you’re already taking a heavy number of SAT Subject tests and AP tests in the Spring, consider preparing for some SAT Subject tests over the summer such as SAT Literature or SAT Physics, which are especially tricky tests. It’s more important to earn a perfect or near perfect score than it is to just take a lot of tests.
5. Finalize your summer plans
Finish all applications for internships in late Fall or early Spring, so you can finalize your summer plans by the end of Spring. Summer is also a good time to plan for school visits.
6. Last attempt at SAT or ACT
If you didn’t reach your target score after summer or fall test prep, continue into spring with test prep for the March, May, or June SAT or test prep for the February, April, June, or July ACT. If you feel stuck in a specific score range, reach out for help or even consider switching tests. Sometimes you may be stuck at a 1450 on the SAT and go on to earn a perfect 36 on the ACT. It depends upon your individual areas of weaknesses and strengths.
If you need help deciding which test to take, check out our SAT vs ACT test event this June. You can take a free practice SAT and/or ACT test, meet our exam prep teachers, and receive their personalized, expert advice on which test best matches your strengths!
7. Meet with a College Counselor
For our Pre-Roadmap to College students, we help them stay organized and on track by meeting with our Head College Counselor 3 more times during their spring semester:
- In February: Review the 1st semester and create a strategy for meeting between student and his or her school guidance counselor. Counselor and student will also finalize senior course plan and review summer plans.
- Before Spring Break: Revise college list and prepare student for college visits. Also counselor and student plan senior year activities, with a special focus on leadership opportunities.
- End of 11th grade: Review academic transcripts for 9-11th grade and standardized test scores. Counselor and student will also finalize college list and discuss any additional schools before beginning applications.
Next Steps for Success
As you can see. there is a lot to do your junior year! But if you complete these items, then you’ve set yourself up for success for your upcoming senior year! If you’re struggling in a certain area – grades, test prep, study habits – MEK Review is here to guide you every step of the way.
We can’t wait to hear from you!