Rising juniors: here's how you can prepare for the year ahead

“What else should I do this summer?” You’ve already started experimenting with new stress-relief strategies, of course. But if you’re anything like us, you’re wondering how to maximize the remaining days of summer by working towards your goals.

In this post, we’re highlighting specific steps high school juniors can take right now to achieve those goals. Junior year has a reputation for being the most overwhelming and stressful period of high school. Luckily, junior year is a beast that can be conquered with preparation and organization. Let’s dive into some strategies for getting ahead of the game so that you start the upcoming school year feeling calm, prepared, and (of course) zen.

pencil and paper

1. Find your favorite organizational system and stick with it.

Keeping track of your class notes, homework assignments, essay outlines, project deadlines, and summer program applications – just to name a few – has never been more important.

Get in the habit of using a daily planner (paper or digital) right now so that you’ve already built the habit by the first day of school.  Spend some time exploring new methods for organizing your notes. We love free tools like Evernote, which you can use to create separate notebooks for each class, extracurricular activity, and application, and Google Drive, which you can use to automatically back up your schoolwork. 

While you’re at it, may we also recommend downloading some distraction-blocking software like Freedom?  

Make sure your analog life is organized, too. Color code your binders for each class, designate folders for handout-heavy extracurriculars, and recycle unnecessary papers. Take the time to think about what has and hasn’t worked for you in the past so that you can start this year with the ideal system in place.  

2. Schedule a stress-free test prep session.

If you’re feeling stressed about upcoming standardized tests, make a test prep date with a friend. Pick a test section you both want to review, gather your study guides and some good snacks, and work through challenging questions together.

Often, the best way to study with a friend is to explain concepts to each other.  Try working question-by-question, first finding an answer independently, then comparing results and discussing. After a few hours of prep, reward yourselves with a fun outing. 

This method might work wonders for you (study buddies for life!). Or you might write it off as a fun but inefficient way to study. No matter what, remember that the main goal here is to make test prep feel less like a chore. When you’re joking with a friend, those thick test prep books lose some of their power to stress you out. You might just feel a little calmer the next time you sit down to study on your own.

3. Start an application essay idea notebook.

The Common Application essay prompts rarely change much, so it’s worthwhile to take a look at last year’s prompts. (You can also check out the supplemental prompts posted by your top choice schools, but remember these do tend to change each year.)

Now that you have the prompts in mind, get yourself a small notebook and keep it somewhere accessible so that you can write down essay ideas whenever they strike you. Jot down anecdotes, meaningful memories, intriguing connections – anything that might make good fodder for a future reflective essay.  

Don’t worry about writing first drafts (that’s what the summer before senior year is for) but do try to record as many notes as possible. When the time to write does arrive, you’ll be praising this notebook like it’s the holy grail.    

4. Create a long-term calendar for college planning.

You can add standardized test dates and AP/IB exam schedules right away. Then, start thinking about scheduling time for college planning. Can you plan a college visit during one of your academic breaks? Can you drop in to see a friend or relative in college one weekend? Even if the school you visit doesn’t end up on your list, experiencing a college campus on an average day will give you incredible insight into what to expect and what to look for in a school.

Throughout the year, add anything related to your college search to this calendar: meetings with a counselor, college fairs, essay writing workshops, etc. The calendar will help keep you on top of your long-term college plans, of course, but it will also prepare you for senior year, when carefully tracking application deadlines and interview dates will be an essential skill.

5. Update your resume and document your experiences.   

Here at Zen Admissions, we believe in the power of the resume.  You probably already have a working resume, so take an hour or so to review it. Insert information about new activities, update your list of accomplishments, and gather new documentation (photographs, certificates, acceptance letters, etc.) in an easily accessible folder. It will be much easier to keep your resume up-to-date than to try to remember all the details a year from now - get started this summer and your future self will thank you.

We would love to hear from you about how you make the most of your summer - send us an email and let us know what you're up to. Make sure to check back soon for another round of zen tips.