How to optimize your junior year

Your path to college begins in like grade two, when you learn the types of things that pique your curiosity, and the things that you just kind of need to get through. It may begin earlier. Things start to get critical your junior year of high school. This is when you start actively preparing for college. While you probably don’t need to begin writing your college essays until the summer, you can do the following to optimize your junior year:


  • Do your best in difficult classes. 
  • Pay attention to the questions that most inspire your interest. Maybe they’re questions of energy efficiency in physics class. Perhaps they have to do with solving world hunger or providing clean water or fair trade. Perhaps they have to do with narrative structure and character motivation. Don’t think about what you should be interested in; pay attention, instead, to what really interests, confuses, or moves you. This is gathering material for your essays and interviews.
  • What do you want to do? is a too begin a question yet. Just ask “what do I like to do?” and “what do I think about?”


  • Prep for the SAT and/or ACT. Maybe take a prep class. Take several practice exams. Write several practice essays.
  • Prep for your AP test(s)
  • Research and apply for cool summer programs or jobs — do stuff that aligns with your values and dreams. Your summers in high school are precious times. I’m all about balance, and believe you should really enjoy this time, while making it purposeful and missional. If you’re interested in publication or journalism – or think you could be – an internship at a magazine or online publication might be a good use of time. This is still fully exploration time. You may think you want to be a doctor. My wife thought she wanted to be a doctor and spent a summer as a candy striper. She found that she couldn’t take blood. She decided to be a teacher, where she manages a lot of germs, but little blood.  


  • Take SAT and/or ACT for the first time
  • Do well on your AP test(s)
  • Finalize cool summer program or job
  • Research schools and start developing your list of prospective schools
  • This is time for the “dirty dozen.” Start with twelve schools. This is a manageable number to consider. 20 is too many. Three may be too few. You can give a dozen a good shake, and this is a good way to keep yourself from being too limited.
  • Begin brainstorming for your personal statement. Give yourself some time to think about what you do, what you feel, and what you value. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get in touch with your values.


  • Visit 2-3 colleges
  • Do things you love to do, but also think about why you do them.
  • Attend summer program or work summer job
  • Begin your personal statement. This is the golden time. You don’t have other assignments, so make this your primary assignment. Spend a few minutes each day with brainstorming and drafting. You may want to write three drafts and take a poll from family and friends to choose which one “pops.”


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