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Attention, juniors: How to survive the most important year of high school

The dreaded year is here. Sure, you’re an upperclassman now, but with great power comes great responsibility (or so the saying goes).

Junior year is almost certainly the most important year of high school, and the one colleges tend to look to most come application time. Whether it’s SATs, APs, or ACTs, junior year might seem like a year chock-full of high-stress tests, and, to some degree, it is.

But just because the rumors are true, junior year doesn’t have to be a year of gloom and doom.

Let’s be clear: will there be stressful times? Yes, most definitely (and if you don’t get stressed out at all during the year, you’re either non-human or not trying).

However, follow these steps and take a deep breath (or two, or three…), and it will be June before you know it.

Take the SAT/ACT as soon as possible.

Get the fun stuff over with early. OK, so maybe they’re not that fun, but what is fun is getting them over with. And don’t just take them halfheartedly, either. Putting some work in and properly preparing for these standardized college tests can save you time, money and more stress in the future. A bonus if you take the tests early? You have more than enough time to study and take them again if you want to improve your score.

Stay organized.

Basic, yes. Easy to execute, no. In a year with difficult courses and a lot of dates to remember, staying organized is essential to success. Make sure to actually use your agenda – no, that’s not a joke – and use three-ring binders in paper-heavy classes (we’re looking at you, U.S. History).

Get help when you’re stuck.

Junior year hits hard, but that’s to be expected. If you don’t understand something, the worst thing you can do is pretend it’s not happening. Most teachers are more than willing to assist you if you’re confused, especially if you take initiative and ask.

Keep your priorities straight.

There are a lot of great opportunities for juniors to become involved, and while it is certainly great to be involved, the line between being involved and being too involved becomes razor-thin junior year.

School obviously comes first, but after that it is up to you to decide which activities take priority. Don’t be afraid to say no; as tough as may be, your sanity will thank you.

Think about college (a little).

Keep college in mind throughout junior year. Begin to narrow your list of potential schools and plan to visit your favorites. You don’t need to begin the heavy-lifting of the Common Application until the summer between junior and senior year, but by thinning the list of schools you’re interested in you can make your life easier. Remember to keep college or whichever type of postgraduate work you aim to pursue in the back of your mind when you’re questioning why you’re putting in so much work. Though it may seem repetitive, putting in the work and struggle now can save you time (failing is even worse when you have to retake classes in a sweltering classroom in July) and money.

Keep things in perspective.

The opposite of not trying enough is trying too hard, and it can wreak just as much havoc as being lackadaisical. There are certainly a lot of big tests occurring during junior year, but do not let them overtake your life. That’s not to say you should blow your work off – again, extremism is bad in any form – but don’t get consumed by your studies, either. Research has shown time and again that, with studying and preparation in the weeks leading up to a test, and not studying the night before a big exam, can actually be much more beneficial than a cram session. Can’t argue with science, right?

Learn from failure.

Failure is almost inevitable in a year many dub the hardest in high school. Whether it’s a literal failing grade or a case of simply not meeting your own expectations, it’s bound to happen. After venting your anger and accepting the fact that this just wasn’t your day, the best thing you can do is learn from it. Failure feels terrible, but few successful people have not failed at some point in their lives; in fact, many people credit failure as being the catalyst for their success.

Surround yourself with good people.

This is really crucial. If you surround yourself with like-minded people who are as driven as you are, they will push you to do better and help you get to where you want to be. Don’t be afraid to distance yourself from those who either aren’t as driven as you or who could hold you back from reaching your full potential. It’s not easy, but surrounding yourself with people who are supportive and driven will only help you endure more success.

Keep your eye on the prize.

As you become a junior, new opportunities abound, of both the good and bad variety. If you’re ever in a difficult situation where you’re unsure what to do, keep your eye on the prize: Remember what you’re working so hard for, what it is you want to achieve. Don’t let one little, seemingly inconsequential decision cause a bright future to go awry.

Have a little fun.

On the other hand, don’t forget to have fun. It’s admittedly cliché, but you’re a high school junior once, so embrace it. Study hard, but don’t forget to play hard once in a while, too. You’re supposed to have fun in high school, so attempt to do that. Try new things, meet new people, and, if all else fails, do something that will make junior year memorable for more than a few big tests.

Jack Watson is a senior at Orchard Park High School.


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