12 Best Ways to Help Your Teen Through Junior Year

I am going through Junior year for the fourth time.

First, in the late 1970s, I endured it myself. Then as the mother of three I watched my boys battle through this long tough year, struggling with their academic and athletic schedules while trying to visit colleges, navigate a minefield of standardized tests, have a social life and learn to drive.

It is an exhausting process for both parent and teen, fraught with emotion as our kids prepare for the next stage in their lives. At Grown and Flown, I have explored my journey towards the empty nest and there is no question that Junior year is the first step on that journey. Here are some suggestions to help them on their way:

1. Study for the SAT in the summer

The time to study for the SAT is during the summer between 10th and 11th grade. While your child will not have reached their ideal intellectual maturity, once school begins, they will never again have this much time to focus on this daunting task. Whatever your preferred method of study, get them started before the chaos of junior year descends.

2. Write the college essay with an English teacher

The single best person to help your child write their college admissions essay is not you, the emotional parent, nor is it a paid consultant. The best person is an experienced high school English teacher, preferably one who has taught your child. A teacher will ask all the right questions and help move the process along (“Is that what you mean to say here, it is not clear to the reader? Do you have more details you can add to bring your story to life?”) but will not write the essay for your child. Find this English teacher during 11th grade so that teacher and student can work together the summer before 12th grade commences.

high school, eleventh grade, teenage girl, sunset

3. Don’t do a spring sport unless necessary

If your high school junior plays a spring sport seriously, so be it, but if they have signed up for that spring sport for social reasons or as a resume enhancer, suggest that they reconsider. Spring of junior year is the hardest time of the year, truthfully, the most challenging season of all four years of high school. Try to help them keep anything unnecessary off their schedules.

4. Don’t visit colleges until junior year

Much has been written about the pressure on juniors as they enter the college process. The easiest way to reduce the pressure is to ban conversation about college and, particularly, premature college visits until the middle of 11th grade. Most of these early conversations and trips are wasted because teens change so much over their four years. If kids concentrate on their studies, activities and standardized tests, they will have done themselves a favor once the process begins in earnest. Behind the scenes, parents can do some research about which colleges will best suit their family’s budget and their child’s interests, but until the middle of junior year, students should just focus on the job at hand. It is hard enough.  

5. Pick one activity and stick with it

High school is about finding yourself and your interests but colleges insist they want to see depth and leadership in a student’s activities. The answer? Before your student begins ninth grade, try to help them select one interest or activity that they will pursue for all four years, with a serious commitment to the highest standard they are able to achieve. It doesn’t matter what it is — music, art, community service or a sport. Urge them to pick something they love and envision sticking with throughout high school. Other activities they can pick up and drop as their interests change, but they should select one interest about which they remain constant.

6. Ask for teachers recommendations early

Teacher recommendations need to be written by a teacher that students have in junior or senior year. With the early college application deadlines in November, this, realistically, means it needs to be a junior year teacher. Students should ask for this recommendation before school ends in 11th grade. Teachers are inundated with requests and students should ask early, politely and give the teacher the entire summer to address the request.

7. Avoid signing up for too many tests in May

Standardized tests introduce an entirely new alphabet soup of terms to first time junior parents. If your child is taking one or more AP classes, she will be required to take the AP test for each class in May on dates specified by the College Board. Don’t forget there will be classroom work and tests to do so avoid a May meltdown by looking to other months for the SAT, ACT, or SAT II tests.

8. Read the fine print

Parents need to be involved in the application process. This is a complicated process with multiple essays, recommendations, supplements and more. One of my kids almost missed an application deadline because the art supplement needed to be submitted in October. Another son almost did not get a recommendation from an employer because he missed a small asterisk describing the circumstance under which additional letters were allowed. They were studying for exams, doing sports and activities… I read the fine print.

9. Plan out all four years before they start

Sit down with your to-be 9th grader with their high school course catalogue and plan backward from 12th grade. Together, think about what they hope to accomplish academically over the four years. Few schools sit with kids and plan out their four years even though many classes have prerequisites. Help them pick the most challenging classes they hope to take in the subject areas they like best and develop a plan of how to get there. Things may change, interests alter, but kids with a plan have goals for themselves.

10. Learn to drive in the summer

Depending on your child’s birthday, can they do any of the work for driver’s education or training during the summer before junior year? This is not possible for all kids but for those whose birthdays allow for it, summer is the best time to learn to drive, when they have more time and weather is not an issue.

11. Start the year rested

Despite the above points about making time for SAT studying and driving in the summer, the most important thing to accomplish in the summer before this demanding year is to make sure your teen is rested. High school kids have summer jobs and perhaps for the first time, are staying out a bit later. Don’t let this get in the way of sleep. Beginning 11th grade anything other than fully rested will only be a great handicap in the year to come.

12. Parents: be ready with an ear and a shoulder

The most important thing a parent can do for their high school junior is continue to offer support and a listening ear. Even the calmest of teen will hit rough patches when angry rants or tears of exhaustion emerge. Being there to listen, console and offer counsel is the single best thing a parent can offer as help in guiding them through this tough year.

So much I learned about helping my kids through this process came from the wisdom of parents with kids older than mine. I would love to hear how you helped your child navigate the college process.




  1. Jacqueline DeMuro says

    Well said and I agree on all counts, but the college discussion/college “information overload” in particular. I cannot tell you how many people began asking me back in September/October which colleges my 11th grade child had visited yet, which schools she had her eye on, etc. The whole getting an early jump on things just screamed “waste of time and resources” to me. I love my kid, but she changes her sweater/shoe combination a minimum of three times every morning prior to making a final wardrobe decision. She agonizes over essays and exams. She flip-flops about whether or not she wants to continue with her best sport in college. She learned to drive and she acquired a part-time job in addition to everything else she is doing (and doing well, God bless her!).This year is particularly difficult academically, athletically, and socially. I think adding anymore to their already overcrowded workload is unfair to them (and to us!).

    • says

      You are so right. There is no way to get a jump on looking at colleges. Their 15 year old eyes will see something different from their 17 year old eyes and those early visits will be a waste of time. Kids may rejects schools if they go too early that they would have liked later, seems like a mistake.

  2. says

    Great post, Lisa. Surviving junior year often feels like running a marathon. The whole family wants to collapse when it’s done. Your survival tips are excellent. I do think college visits can start earlier, as long as they’re casual. We would stop and simply walk around a campus that happened to be on our way to our summer vacation destination or a day trip. This seemed to make our kids less overwhelmed by the time they began doing official college tours junior year.

    • says

      I think casual is fine but since a 15 year old does not really know what they want yet I would worry about them rejecting schools that their 17 year old selves might have liked. Thanks so much for reading this…your college prep blog is wonderful.

  3. says

    Simple tips but so very helpful! I am scared to think about my little ones growing up sooo much and going to collage.
    Ah, no, I have to erase that thought!

  4. says

    it makes me sad that the process has changed so much that our kids have so much stress to deal with navigating their way. and then there are student loans-harder to comeby now and crippling once they graduate in these difficult times. within six months of graduation they have to be able to pay rent, buy a car, and start paying back the loans. in sweden student loans don’t come due for 10 years and don’t accrue interest in the intermin. needless to say, the repayment rate is almost 100%. while i am grateful that the loans are available, i think something needs to be done to provide a better cushion when jobs are so are to comeby.

    • says

      I agree with you that it is sad that it has become such a painful process. All the more reason to think it through and help your child plan their time wisely.

  5. says

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the SAT. Junior year is the busiest time for students, so it’s best to get SAT prep out of the way over the summer and just make sure they are consistently reviewing up until their actual test date.


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