College Preparation in 11th Grade

Junior Year Grades

In terms of college applications, your junior year grades are vitally important. College admissions counselors will pay the most attention to your 11th grade academic performance. This is because it is the most recent data and it will signal if you're grades are trending upwards or downwards.

Many students struggle with the transition to high school, which coincides with volatile early teenage years. In the 9th and 10th grades, you may still be finding your way as a student. If you get some sub-par grades, don't worry. You'll still have time to improve your GPA in the years ahead.

College admissions counselors are looking to see that you've figured this out by your junior year. By now you're a little older and you should have learned some valuable study skills to become a better student. You also have the goal of college to motivate you to excel.

It's important that you use this year to take challenging classes and demonstrate that you're striving for success as a student. Admissions counselors will be looking for an upward trend in your grades, and when you submit your college applications next year, your junior year grades will come under the most scrutiny.


PSAT scores are not included in your college application, so you really have nothing to lose with this practice test. But there are plenty of good reasons to take the PSAT in October of your junior year.

The SAT and ACT are very challenging exams and you will be thankful that you had the practice. Doing so will cut down on the stress of studying for your senior year exams, and stress makes it harder to retain information and perform well on tests.

If you do well on the PSAT, you may want to register for the SAT or ACT in the spring of junior year. This will give you time to retake either exam in your senior year if you feel the need.

You can use your PSAT score to gauge which colleges are in your range and which are not. All colleges post profiles, which list the GPA and test scores of the previous incoming freshman class. Use this to determine if a college will be a “match” for you, meaning your grades and test scores line up with theirs. If you're below the bar, this will be one of your “reach” schools. If you're above the bar, then this school might be a good “safety” for you.

A good score on the PSAT can translate into real dollars. National Merit Scholarships are awarded to students who perform well on the PSAT. This can save you thousands of dollars on tuition and expand the field of schools you can afford.

Take Challenging Classes

Keeping your grades up is important, but don't just go for the easy classes. You also want to demonstrate that you're challenging yourself. Take some honors, AP (Advanced Placement) and other upper-level courses.

These days more and more students are earning college credit while still in high school. A good score on AP exams will translate to college credit. Many schools also have programs with local colleges allowing students to take actual college courses.

If you can take these courses during junior year, you have the bonus of including them on your college application. This is especially valuable if you scored high on the AP exams. It shows that you already have the reading, writing and critical thinking skills required for the college level.

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities are important, but shouldn't come at the expense of grades. It's important to build a balanced schedule that you can handle. Hopefully you've figured out how to strike this balance in your freshman and sophomore years.

Junior year is a great time to expand on your extracurricular involvement and explore leadership opportunities. College admissions will be impressed by leadership roles.

You don't have to be the best at something to be a leader. Maybe you're not good enough to be the captain of the basketball team. There are plenty of other leadership opportunities out there.

Look into student clubs, community volunteering or student government. You may even want to start your own academic, athletic or cultural club, or organize a fundraising project for a local cause. The important thing is to be creative and take the initiative.

Junior year is your best opportunity to show that you've grown from an adolescent student to a young adult leader.

Foreign Language

Foreign language holds a unique position in academics. It is a basic requirement for high school, but in terms of college admissions it can mean so much more. It indicates that you can master a difficult subject and that you have an interest in and understanding of a different culture.

Learning a foreign language can be very frustrating, especially in a classroom setting. But stick with it. You'll be happy you did. Mastery of a language will stand out on a college application and will server you later in life, opening up employment opportunities in a globalized world.

Many high schools and colleges only require 2 or 3 years foreign language. While this is the minimum, it is always a good idea to study more. Students who are really ambitious about college will see this as an easy opportunity to improve your academic record. And you'll have to keep studying a foreign language once you get to college, so you might as well stay practiced.

It's also better to stick with one language and go as deep as possible. Don't jump around from language to language. The experience will likely be frustrating and you won't remember any of it years later. Colleges want to see that you've advanced in your studies on a linear path. Even if the language isn't as popular as Spanish or Mandarin, getting to your third or fourth year will show that you have achieved a level of mastery in that subject.


People often associate the SAT and ACT with senior year, but the truth is that many students take these exams in the spring of junior year. Doing so will give you many advantages.

Just like your PSAT score, knowing how you performed on the exams will give you a better idea of where you stand and what colleges are within your range. As you begin researching schools, you will know how you stack up to the rest of the incoming freshman class.

If you don't score well in your junior year, you can use the spring and summer to study. There is a whole industry surrounding the SAT and ACT, including dozens of preparation books and classes. Some students spend months studying specifically for these exams. Also, if you take the test early you're likely to have less anxiety about the whole process.

Begin Searching for Colleges

It might feel like you have all the time in the world, but searching for the right college is a long and complex process. In order to give yourself ample time, start the search in your junior year, if not sooner.

Do some online research. It's a quick and easy way to learn the basics about each school. If your interest is piqued you can request more literature that the school will happily mail to you.

As you research different schools, focus on developing your own criteria. Do you want to go to a large or small college? What subjects interest you? Even if you really want to travel away from home, check out what's available in your state.

If you've done your research during junior year, you'll be ready to visit some campuses the following summer. A campus visit shouldn't be used to see if you like a school. You should already know that. Do your research so you're prepared to ask detailed questions when you're there on the ground. If the opportunity comes to make the trip earlier, go for it.

Beginning your college search sooner than later will save you an enormous amount of stress down the road. Start a list of schools you like, no more than 25 or 30. Try to keep the list within this range. Eventually you will narrow it down to a dozen, but for now it's okay to keep your search broad.

Guidance Counselors

Sit down with your guidance counselor sometime during the spring semester. First make sure you are fulfilling all the requirements for your high school diploma. If there's anything you're missing, you'll still have time in your senior year.

Your guidance counselor can be an invaluable asset to help you search for the right college. If you've already done some research and started a list of schools, bring this to your meeting. It always helps to have specifics to go over. Your counselor will help you judge the merits of different schools and make sure you're approaching the process in a constructive way.

If you haven't already done so, you may want to ask your counselor about AP and pre-college classes. This can be a great way to earn college credit early and your counselor will have all the necessary information readily available.


Use the summer after junior year wisely. Plan some trips to visit campuses. Maybe get a job or volunteer. Attend a workshop, summer camp or travel somewhere. Whatever it is, think about how it will contribute to your experience as a young, capable student of the world.

You will want to use this time to study for the SAT and/or ACT, as well as continue your research on different colleges. When your senior year starts, you will be inundated with schoolwork and various activities. And by that point the college application process accelerates considerably. By the time senior year starts, you're going to want to be prepared. College is just around the corner!

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