The general consensus is that junior year is by far the worst part of high school. You try to take the hardest classes, the most APs, get good grades, be involved in extracurriculars, take leadership positions, take overly important standardized tests, and try to get some sleep while you’re at it. But sometimes, it can be given a little too much importance (not that it isn’t very important), and it may not be as bad as it seems.
Not to say that this past year, my junior year, was easy, but I didn’t feel like it was quite as hellish as everyone was warning it to be. It also happened in literally the blink of an eye - this was definitely the fastest year in high school so far. But now that the school year is over and I’ve had time to reflect, here’s what happened in my junior year and how I dealt with everything that came with it, along with some general advice for all you incoming juniors.
*Note: This year went by so fast I probably (definitely) missed something that happened. If I remember anything else, I will make sure to add it.
1. My Course Load
Thankfully, my classes this year were pretty okay. I didn’t have to deal with the stress of taking Pre-calc this year (a notoriously frustrating class in my school) because I took it last year and I ended up taking Stats (thank god I didn’t take AP Calc my junior year - my GPA would be in the drain), and so arguably my hardest class was APUSH . Now, in case you don’t know, I am not the biggest fan of history, to put it lightly. But… APUSH was a required class (tbh, I would’ve taken it anyway) and I had to slave through.
In case you want it, all the classes I took this year: Statistics, Phys Ed, Spanish III, English, Medical Terminology, Medical Innovations, APUSH, and Physics.
In general, I slacked off a lot more this year than in previous years, I think I got a little too complacent and it showed in my grades. I also got severely unlucky several times in terms of doing badly on the only quiz that marking period, but whatever, that’s life. Anyway… I did not do as well as my first two years (full disclosure I’m probably over-dramatizing this wayyyy too much: I still got straight A’s, I just had fewer A+s than usual - but regardless, I knew I could’ve done better).
But, at least in my experience, my course load in junior year (of which I have no choice in which classes I take) was much easier than everyone was making it out to be. I generally did well in my classes without studying much (either that or I just got better at studying) and watched inordinate amounts of YouTube and Netflix instead.
On a lighter note, this was definitely my favorite year in terms of classes. Medical Terminology was amazing: I finally felt like I actually knew something about medicine. (And it was super cool when I could have knowledgeable conversations with nurses I worked with in RWJ Hospital.) Medical Innovations was the class that probably paid off for me the most in the long run - the skills and techniques and exposure I had in that class is the reason I was able to get into the summer programs I applied for, and why I was a qualified applicant for research positions. Stats is definitely my most favorite math (even if it’s barely a math, more of a science) and I also loved that class. Plus it will make my Senior Capstone Thesis sooo much easier. Physics was physics (at least it wasn’t chem) and APUSH was… it’s okay, it’s over now. (And I somehow got a 5 on that test.) But all in all, my classes were not as bad as I thought they would be, and they were definitely some of my most favorite.
As for advice, definitely take difficult classes. Take those honors, take those APs. It pays off in the long run. And even if it might not be great for your unweighted GPA, but because it is a higher level class, it will help your weighted GPA. Plus, it looks great that you are challenging yourself and taking some of the more difficult classes offered. As for studying, this is the year where you need to stop procrastinating. (I know, it’s never going to happen, but at least try.) It depends person to person how much work you’ll have to put into classes, but be prepared to do a lot of work, even if you haven’t had to before. The best way to lighten your workload (or at least, make it seem lighter) is to actually take classes you will enjoy (or that you can trick yourself into enjoying). But make sure you leave time for stuff besides classes in junior year. This is the year where you can begin getting leadership positions and actually being deeply involved in an extracurricular.
2. SATs and APs (and other standardized tests)
Full disclosure: I love taking tests. Like, I just take them for fun. I recently took a practice MCAT for fun. That’s just the type of person I am. Tests also come generally easy to me. So don’t be flabbergasted when I say I didn’t study like crazy for my SATs or APs. Looking back on it, I keep thinking I’ll regret it, but honestly, I had a lot of stuff to do, and I knew I could get through these tests while still being able to focus more on my outside of school/leadership/coursework stuff. And also, I apologize in advance for how I sound when I’m talking about my test scores, but I have a really high standard for myself and easily get upset when I don’t reach it.
That being said, I did study somewhat for all the standardized tests I took this year. The year started off with the PSAT in October, and ironically enough, that’s probably the only one I actually spent much time studying for, and I did terribly. (Okay, so maybe a 1470 is not terrible to some people, but I was genuinely upset.) I ended up taking the SAT in November. (I actually bought the Barron’s SAT 1600 book that summer. Not that I opened it then, but I’m sure some osmosis action was going on.) I ended up getting a 1560, which was okay. (In case you haven’t realized, my goal was 1600.) That test was mainly to test the waters, see how much I needed to study for next time. I obviously needed to improve my math (I got a 770) and stupid reading I got 1 question wrong (just one! In reading! Not even writing!) and I got a 790. Smh. People get three wrong and still get an 800. But whatever, I have terrible luck, moving on. (Oh, and I got a 22 on the essay, so I didn’t really care much about that for the next test.) I ended up buying the Barron’s book of 6 SAT Practice Tests - I think I ended up doing one and a half math no-calculator sections. I did go through the Math section in that SAT 1600 book though, and I did most of the drills and stuff. But anyway, I ended up taking it in March and got a 1570: 780 reading, 790 math. One math question. One stupid math question. But anyways, that meant a 1580 superscore and I was already really tired of taking the SAT so that was it for me. (I thought about taking it again, but it’s not worth the stress, and it’s not like I have any time this summer to study.)
After my SATs finished I needed to start studying for my APs. I took 5 APs this year - four were entirely self-studied. (The other was APUSH which was also self-studied, but I feel bad for my APUSH teacher every time I say that.) Now, these I somewhat regret not studying for more. These are not reasoning/critical thinking/aptitude based tests where you can get away with it cause you’re intelligent. You actually have to know the info. But, the plan was to start studying in spring break, and did that happen? No. But, the last few days of spring break I did make a 4 week schedule for studying for my APs - incredibly detailed, color coded, taped on my wall, the whole shebang. Did I follow it? ...Actually, yeah. For the most part. For like a week and a half. But I didn’t even expect it to survive a whole day, so that was great. It was probably the only reason I didn’t drown in my own tears. I had a good testing schedule, with my easier tests first and my harder tests spaced out later. For me, I’m able to learn information at a very quick rate, so usually I can get through the review book in a weekend or a few days and be perfectly fine (what happened for APUSH, Psych, and Physics - and was supposed to happen for Stats but didn’t - I mean, I got a 4, but still). After absorbing the information, those 4 tests were relatively simple; they did not require much above that, and even if they did, I understood the material at a good enough level that I was able to passably answer application questions and essays.
Now, the problem was with my second to last AP - Music Theory. Oh man. Oh man oh man oh man. I bought that book in the summer thinking, “hey I’ve played piano for 6 years, taken theory exams for as long, I can definitely handle AP Music Theory.” And wow was I wrong. Could not have been more wrong. I severely underestimated how difficult the aural part of the test would be. That test requires you to learn and cultivate skills over a period of months, not hours. As much as I tried to teach myself how to completely dictate a 4 part harmony over the course of that Saturday afternoon, I could not do it. And thankfully, I realized this quickly, so I was able to channel my energy into mastering the nonaural sections of the test, which were already easier for me to learn. I learned the theoretical material in a day (half of which I knew) and was good to go for the test the next day. On the test, I only struggled a little with the nonaural parts (and somehow got a 5 as my nonaural subscore), but significantly struggled with the rest of the test (and thus I walked out of there thinking I got a 3. Not lying.) But thank god, somehow, by some grace of god, I got a 4 on that test - with a passing 3 on my aural subscore. I was so surprised I snapchatted it.
The lasts tests of the year were my SAT Subject tests. Honestly, I didn’t even need to take them (I already had 800s in Bio and Chem), but thought might as well, it can only help. So I took Math 2 and Physics. I was pretty confident about physics, considering I had taken the AP and thought I did well. So I took a practice test, did some reading, called it a day. Ha! Boy, was I wrong. 750. And the funny part is, if it was freshman year, or even last year, I would be devastated by that score, but this year I was suffering from so much standardized test exhaustion (and was still mildly euphoric that I got a 4 on AP Music Theory) that it didn’t even phase me when scores came out. But the score also didn’t really have that much impact on my testing profile in general, I already had the scores I wanted to submit, so it was all good. (That being said, I was still upset that I didn’t do better.) On the entire other end of the spectrum, I was definitely not confident for the Math 2 test (I suck at math - or at least, I am not inherently talented at math the way I am with science). So I actually did like multiple practice tests for once. I didn’t have time to get through the Barron’s book (procrastination, yay!) but I skimmed over the sections I was having trouble with in the practice tests (probability. It’s always probability.) and did some of those drills. Alas, I got a 790, which is a terrible score for Math 2 (okay, again, maybe not terrible, but so many people get 800s). But again, whatever, if I have to submit it I will, I already have the 800s under my belt. That being said, I have a question for you guys. Should I submit all my subject scores if given an option? Am I being too hard on myself? I really hate not getting an 800, and man, that 750… But anyways, please, comment below, give me advice. I need it as much as anyone else reading does.
As for my advice to you - know how you study. By now, you should have taken enough standardized tests to realize what works best for you. Maybe practicing that much is not really necessary for you. And maybe you feel more confident the more practice tests you take, which is perfectly fine. Do whatever you can to raise your confidence for test day. On information based tests, like APs and SAT Subjects, of course knowing the information is priority number 1. But for the SAT, sometimes people overstudy, because it’s more of a reasoning test, not really something you can study for. But know yourself. Plan out how much time you are going to spend studying for these tests and how much time you have to spare. Don’t mindlessly study, that’s a waste of time. Consider SAT tutoring - it doesn’t work for some people, but if you know it works for you (I’m working on another post about whether or not SAT tutoring is right for you, be on the lookout) and you’re willing to pay for it, go for it. And finally, don’t kill yourself over these tests. Yes, they are important. Yes, they determine a large part of your future. But remember, you control the test, the test does not control you. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed, understand that you can take all of these tests again. Take a deep breath. It will be okay, regardless of how you do on these ridiculously overvalued money-hungry-capitalism tests.
3. In-School Extracurriculars
When I started junior year, I was like, how am I going to manage all of this, I was SHS (Spanish Honor Society) President, I was HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) President, I was in Science League, I was helping lead Smile Train, I wanted to start USABO (USA Biology Olympiad) in my school, I needed to make sure I got into NHS and still had the GPA to be President. Lots of stuff was happening. (I’m writing this now and I’m like - Ha! Senior year is ten times worse.)
Not gonna lie, Spanish Honor Society was my entire life in junior year. We were going to Broadway, goddammit! But yeah. I think I spent more time on SHS than I did sleeping. (And I sleep a lot on the weekends.) I was organizing this, planning that, getting fundraisers, making shirts, delivering quesadillas, you name it. I was carrying that goddamn 5 pound chocolate box with me 24/7. But it was all worth it in the end. The trip was so incredibly amazing, I’m still in shock that we managed to pull that off and that I can stamp my name on it.
HOSA was also amazing this year. We did so many things - the food drive, we went caroling at a nursing home, we held a CPR demo information session, we raised money and awareness for Heart Health Month and the AHA, we donated to Doctors Without Borders, organized a huge Mother’s Day flower sale, and we gave the school free ice cream. XD. I have to give a hugeeeeeee shoutout to HOSA council - they were absolutely amazing this year. They understood that I was splitting my time between SHS and HOSA (probably a little more to SHS), and were able to handle things so wonderfully that I never felt (too) stressed when I chose SHS over HOSA.
Well, those were my two Presidencies in junior year, and they took up most of my time. Science league took up some time too, although not nearly as much. But it was brutal this year. Our school in general is not a math-type school (we’re hardcore bio) so we were already a step behind. Plus, maybe because it was junior year or something, but a lot of the people on the physics sci league team just sort of dropped off and stopped studying and stopped caring. I guess I can understand that - it was a busy year and the tests had terrible timing. But we could’ve placed better than the 9th place in the state we ended up. Hey, at least I managed to get a plaque out of it (for the top 10% individual students in the state). Sigh. I’ll miss science league next year. I was fortunate enough to do it all three years in high school, and it became such a big part of my high school experience.
Hmm...what’s next...Smile Train. Well… that sort of fell off the end of the earth this year. The seniors who run the club got understandably busy with college apps and Capstone and classes. But senior year, I’m co-presidenting this, and we are going to knock it out of the park. :)
As for starting USABO… I asked (I practically begged) my principal, and “no” was all I heard. So I was like “What, no. I’m doing this even if I have to pay the 80 bucks myself.” My junior year was the last year I could take the USABO exam and make it count for like college apps and stuff, so I was determined to at least give it a go, and have no regrets. (Btw, USABO is the national Biology Olympiad, where you first take an Open test that anyone can take, and the top 10% in the country become semifinalists and sit for another exam, and the top 20 people of that exam become finalists and go to a camp in May/June to study even more bio, with the hope of being one of the 4 individuals to represent USA in the International Bio Olympiad.) So I emailed the entire program director, who runs CEE (Center for Excellence in Education), the company that organizes USABO. I honestly wasn’t even expecting much of a reply, but she answered me in a few days, and I started a serious correspondence with her. She was incredibly helpful, and more than that, so willing to understand my situation and help me find a way to take this exam. So with her help, I reached out to the assistant director of my local library to proctor the exam. She was so accommodating, especially with the more stringent requirements for the test, and even proctored it herself. So shoutout to my fav librarian, Ms. Pietrobono! Anyway, both she and the director of USABO were amazingly helpful to this random kid who wasn’t allowed to take the test in her own school. I ended up then taking the test at the library, with 4 highly intelligent/capable sophomores I had recruited to take it with me, just to test the waters and to determine if it was worth it to push for it becoming a school wide thing the next year. Sadly, I didn’t make it to semifinalist (I was literally a point away - but I also probably should’ve studied more), but two of my sophomores made it!!! I felt so proud. It was almost as good as if I had gotten it. But anyway, the semifinalist exam is more complicated, so that was a little harder to coordinate, but thankfully everything got done in time, it went (mostly) without a hitch. Sadly, neither of the two met the cutoff for finalists, but they have next year! Literally all my sophomore (now junior) friends are so smart, watch all of them be semifinalists next year. Pulling this off was probably the second hardest thing I did last year (after AP Music Theory). I had no adults pulling the strings behind me, no school to fall back on, no one in person that I could rely on to help me. (I doubt even the sophomores knew how much work went into making that testing opportunity a reality, they just showed up to take the test XD.) But it was such a rewarding experience. To know that I managed to do this all by myself. No parents, no teachers, no principals. I felt like I had really accomplished something, and it gave me the confidence to take more risks and seize the day more often. Plus it made me so happy to see my hard work making a significant difference in the lives (or if not lives, at least resumes) of those sophomores. (And to all the underclassmen of Woodbridge Academy reading this - if you’re interested in being a part of USABO, let me know, I’ll start officially signing people up when school starts, but I’ll be happy to give you some resources before the school year to give you an edge in the competition.)
And the last thing I mentioned in the first paragraph of this insanely long section - NHS. Well, I got in. 1 out 7 people. (I swear, our NHS is maybe a little tooo competitive.) I sort of expected it, but I didn’t really know what to expect, anything can happen in my school. And I got inducted as President too, so got to check that goal off. (I couldn’t even enjoy induction properly though, I was too nervous about something going wrong - because as SHS Pres I had organized the SHS part of induction. As long as nothing caught on fire, I would consider it successful.)
And another thing happened that I hadn’t necessarily expected or planned. I sort of knew I would run for school student council Pres before junior year started, but it was not something I had been meticulously planning since freshman year - in fact, the opposite, I firmly believed I would never run for student government, it was just not my thing. But then the role of SHS Pres was more or less thrown at me, and I loved every second of the stress. So from then, I knew I wanted to run in some capacity. Me being me, if I was going to run, I might as well run for the highest position. So the “I’m with her” STUCO Pres campaign was born. And campaigning and making those posters and convincing freshmen to vote for me was actually a lot of fun. I thoroughly enjoyed the process, and think I would have regardless of the result. But luckily for me, I somehow managed to edge out my (very qualified) opponents, and I actually wasn’t expecting it all. I had convinced myself over the campaign period that the votes would just be too close to call, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear my name get called as next year’s STUCO Pres. (Next year’s gonna be lit guys! Thanks for voting for me :))
But as you can see, my in-school ECs ruled my junior year. And I loved every second.
The best advice I can give for you guys is leadership, leadership, leadership. It’s nice to be involved in a lot of things, but it only really makes a difference for you, if you are making a difference for that organization. Taking responsibility and putting an entire organization on your shoulders may seem daunting, but it is also incredibly rewarding. Being a leader in something like school club not only teaches you valuable skills, but shows colleges that you are an upstanding and involved member of the school, and that you have the characteristics that will help you become a successful leader later on in life. The only reason I justified being a part of all of these organizations was that I was a pivotal leader in each one. Also, explore your interests. It might be a little late to join new clubs, but it’s never too late to start them. Be the one to take initiative, don’t wait on others to do it for you. Become involved, become dependable, but remember, with great power comes great responsibility - don’t underestimate the amount of work that goes into extracurriculars, especially if you want it to mean something.
4. Outside of School Extracurriculars
Out of school ECs ruled my life too. Or at least, applying to them did. Of course, piano was still going on, I was (and still am) working on actual competition pieces that I will eventually compete with. I started slacking off piano a little (a lot) - but I was busy, okay! Still, it’s no excuse. I could probably have finished another piece in the time that I didn’t practice. I also severely cut down on my fencing - sadly :( - both because I had no more time and also because ever since they produced an Olympic fencer (ikr, wow), they have ridiculously jacked up their rates and man, I can’t afford that three hours a day, three days a week. So now I just usually go for sparring, where it’s an open floor for cheap, so I don’t completely lose my skills. Maybe I’ll join a cheaper club during college and keep it up (it is still the only sport I can remotely be competitive in).
Besides that, I was volunteering at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital every week. I was teaching piano to several students every week (I stopped asking my parents for money last year because suddenly I was able to actually afford things). I got an actual job with ScholasticTutors. (I am still technically employed by them, but on a sort of contractor basis, I only get paid when I’m needed. But they’re currently undergoing an overhaul of the company, so didn’t really end up doing much with them.) It was an awesome experience though, applying for a job, getting my working papers sorted out, sitting through an interview, getting training, all that stuff.
Most of the rest of my outside ECs were applying to outside ECs for the summer. This included summer research programs, Governor’s School, pre-college programs, and some medicine based programs. I actually wrote an entire other post about this titled “All the Summer Programs I Applied To” so check that out for more info.
And the most important outside EC my junior year… take a guess… like actually, guess… I’m curious what you’ll come up with...but it is… this blog! I started it when I should have been studying for SAT subject tests but wanted to avoid doing so, plus after all the hounding by my sophomore friends to give them a list of summer programs I applied to, I figured I might as well help everyone by making that info public. And I had been wanting to start a blog - I got the idea somewhere around Christmas - but wanted to wait until summer to start. But I got too excited and started anyway. I’m happy I did :)
Much of the same advice for in-school extracurriculars can apply here. Showing diversity by being involved in different outsides activities is always advantageous. But also be able to tell the difference between a hobby and an extracurricular activity. Like for me, piano is a serious activity, but fencing has turned into more of a hobby. Try to devote a large amount of time to a few selective activities, really master that one area. This is also a section where you can explore career interests. For me, I want to become a doctor and go into science. I shadowed doctors, volunteered at a hospital, applied for research positions. It’s often harder to do outside ECs than it is to become involved in school, so make sure you do the work required to find a rewarding outside EC that matters. And just to clarify, it doesn’t really matter whether your ECs are in school or outside of school. Don’t be worried if you are only involved in school ECs, or only have activities outside of school. As long as you can show dedication, leadership, and growth, they are the same.
This year is the year you’re supposed to get serious about colleges. That means doing proper research, talking to your guidance counselor, going on those college visits, and prepping your application by taking advanced classes, loads of extracurriculars, and finding the cure for cancer (if you wanna go to Princeton). Kidding (but no, like seriously). I think I can confidently say I did this part of junior year pretty well. Aside from visiting colleges. (I only have been to Princeton so far. Multiple times.) But I started making a serious college list, I started to think about what I was going to write about, I applied to worthwhile summer programs and got serious about doing more in school, EC wise. And research. I did sooo much college research. And research does not mean just browsing through the pages of the college’s website, maybe looking at some College Confidential. It means making a spreadsheet. And putting in everything that might in some way have an impact on your decision to attend. It means perusing through graduation requirements (and even better, major requirements if you’ve decided on a major) and seeing what type of curriculum the college offers and whether there are general education classes you are required to take. Seeing which colleges will accept APs, if that’s important to you. Seeing which ones have the least amount of grad students, if you want to do a lot of undergrad research. Talking to current students, alumni. Looking through Cappex and Prepscholar and CollegeData. Everything is important at this stage. I started my hardcore research about mid-way through junior year, and it took me a few hours to knock off one college in terms of getting all the information I was searching for. I ended up having like 17 topics of comparison (that might’ve been a little extra) that I could look at to see which college on my list fit best for me. I also initially had like 30 colleges on my list (in fact I’m going to make a whole other post about how I did my college research, be on the lookout for that) and I pared them down to about the 12ish I have now.
The best advice I can give you is to start early. Like, early early. This might be oversaid, but that’s for a reason. You might not think it’s much work, looking through colleges, but it ends up taking so much more time than anticipated. And be serious when you start. Don’t start offhandedly - first take time to reflect and look at yourself. You should figure out which type of college works for you. For example, I knew I didn’t want to go to a large school or be in a strictly urban environment. Know the benefits and drawbacks of private vs. public, liberal arts vs research. Find out all of that stuff, and then make up your list. Also, definitely try to go visiting during junior year instead of leaving it for the summer - you get to see the students in action, plus you will find you have no time in summer (which is the situation I’m in). Go forth young padawan, explore your future.
6. My Barely Salvageable Sleep Schedule
I did not sleep this year. At least, nowhere near what I slept in freshman and sophomore year. But I’m unwilling to put all the blame for that on the fact that it was junior year - I also really upped my TV watching and daily reading capabilities (I have to read for at least 30 mins before I can fall asleep - it only becomes a problem when I can’t stop reading and suddenly realize the sun is coming up and I’m nearly finished with the book). Occasionally, it was because of school work or SHS/HOSA things I had to get done.
But sleep is important guys. Don’t take it for granted. I know you’ve probably heard this from countless people, but they only say it cause it’s true. Find a sleep schedule that works for you. Drink less caffeine. No phones after like 10 pm (I say that, but even I don’t have enough self-control to do it). Your brain is in one of its optimal stages of development. The following points are from a HuffPo article from 2015 about teen sleep deprivation: 1. Each hour of lost sleep is associated with a 38 percent increased risk of feeling sad or hopeless and a 58 percent increase in suicide attempts. 2. One in four teens goes to bed after 11:30 p.m. on weeknights, and those who do tend to perform worse at school and experience greater emotional distress. 3. Every 10 minutes later that a teenager went to bed, there was a 6 percent increase in the chance they’d used alcohol or marijuana in the past month (I’m not sure how I feel about this stat) 4. High school students who skimp on sleep may be at a higher risk of diabetes and obesity.
If you can’t listen to your parents, at least listen to science.
7. My Somewhat Existing Social Life
Umm…yeah. I had one, but the extent as to which it qualifies as a social life is sketchy. I’m in general a person who’s not too crazy about prolonged human interaction, so dragging myself to sweet sixteens is already a battle. But even when you factor in my past history of social endeavors, I definitely didn’t hang out with friends as much this year. (Part of this could have been helped on my part, but a large portion of it was the fact that everyone else in junior year was busy too.) I did make a lot of new friends/acquaintances this year though, especially with underclassmen, which I’m happy I did :)
But my advice to you is don’t forget people exist. I know it’s easy to when you get caught in the vortex of SATs and APs and all that good stuff, but schedule times to meet with friends. Even a 10 minute facetime (or Google Hangout if you are an Android user like meee) where you complain about your day can have significant positive effects, not just on your well-being, but on your relationships as a whole. And I know I’m probably too young and introverted to be giving this advice, but make it a mission to talk to at least two new people a week. Once I decided I was running for student council in the beginning of junior year, I started doing this, and at one point I was up to 1 new person a day (and then I slowly began to run out of people, because you know, my school is incredibly small). Basically, hang out with people besides yourself sometimes. It does you good.
Moral of the story: Work hard, get good grades, don’t let anything get you down, and don’t forget to live life.
Thanks for reading!