It’s true—junior year of high school is kind of a big deal. It’s a barrage of standardized tests to take, grades to worry about, a whole slew of extracurriculars to juggle, and of course, impending college applications looming overhead.
So, as winter turns to spring and your teen starts eyeing the summer months like a fox at a chicken farm, it’s tempting to hit the brakes with them and enjoy the slower pace as the school year winds down.
We all need a break from the frenzy, and indeed, your teen deserves one. By all means, enjoy this together. Next year, when you’re staring down high school graduation, you’ll wonder where this time went.
But keep in mind that there are a handful of important tasks that your high school junior needs to attend to before he or she graduates to rising-senior status. These things aren’t particularly time-consuming, but they’re important, and they’ll go more smoothly with a little parental insight and nudge along the way.
5 Things Every High School Junior Needs to Do in the Spring
1. Have an honest conversation about life after high school.
It’s often our tendency to think that everyone follows the same prescribed path after that diploma lands in their hand, but it’s important to step back and realize that that’s not always the case. And without an honest conversation about planning and goals, you might find that you and your teen have different paths in mind.
Start with the idea that college isn’t always a given. Ask your teen upfront if it’s something he is considering. Even if you’ve always approached this conversation as obvious, give your kid the chance to articulate it himself. You probably won’t be surprised by his answer, but if you are, it’s best to find out now.
Maybe your son is already planning to apply Early Decision to his top choice. Maybe he’s considering a year of community college before transferring somewhere else. Maybe your daughter has written a list of dream schools that she keeps under her pillow at night. Or maybe she wants to take a gap year before she begins.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these plans, especially if they are actually plans and not just last resorts. If their decisions for life after high school are made with a level head and some forethought, your teen is off to a good start, wherever the path leads.
2. If college is on the horizon, make a college short-list.
Choose eight to 10 schools for your college list. However, students who are less picky can do six and the ultra-ambitious can aim for 12. Encourage your teen to start narrowing his or her list down to about 10 to begin.
There are a number of factors to consider when making this short-list. Although dining hall options and dorm life might factor into your child’s decision, at this point the most important considerations are more likely to be things like college selectivity, geographical region, programs geared towards an intended major, and extracurricular offerings.
These are generally the most important factors to consider at this stage of the game. (Soft serve at the dining hall usually comes much later.)
Remind your teen to take a good hard look at his or her test scores, grades, and extracurriculars to get a realistic idea of the kinds of schools he or she should consider. The shortlist should ideally contain about two or three safety schools, two or three reach schools, and four or five target schools.
3. Create a standardized test schedule.
Unfortunately, your child can’t just show up at school on any given Saturday and take the SATs as the whim strikes them. The schedules for SAT tests and ACT tests are available online and announced well in advance, and the test is administered only a few times over the course of the school year.
One important reason to make sure your teen has finished a college short-list is so that he or she can plan to accommodate the necessary standardized tests. Many colleges or specific programs require certain SAT Subject Tests. Others require these subject tests only of students who take the SAT, but not of students who take the ACT. In any case, your teen needs to know which standardized tests are required for each school on his or her short list.
It’s most likely that your teen has already taken an SAT or ACT by spring of junior year, but if not, now is definitely the time to get started. There are two spring test dates to choose from, and if your child is taking the SAT, it’s likely that one of those dates will be consumed by SAT Subject Tests, leaving only the other free for the SAT.
There are also two fall dates to choose from for both the SAT and the ACT. If your teen is considering an Early Decision application, try to take tests earlier to be sure that you’ll have plenty of time to send the scores to the appropriate school.
Put the registration dates and test dates on the family calendar so that you don’t get hit with unexpected late fees and so that nothing gets double booked. They can be a hassle, but standardized tests are an integral part of most college admissions, so it’s important to make them a priority.
4. Take a critical look at extracurriculars.
To call senior year busy is an understatement. Between classes, standardized tests, social life and all the inevitable milestones, time is at a premium. Before your teen dives headfirst into the frenzy, be sure to have a conversation about commitments.
Review the extracurriculars he or she typically participates in and ask if there are any others your teen is considering. Think about your child’s time management skills and ability to prioritize.
If you’re worried that he or she is going to be overextended, now is the time to say something. If you wait until the school year has begun, it’s likely that grades, test scores, or relationships with friends and family will already be impacted.
Generally, college admissions committees want to see leadership positions and dedication to a few key activities over time. Let your son or daughter mull this over. Encourage your teen to cut back if there are time-consuming activities that don’t show leadership or exemplify dedication.
If there are activities important to your teen in which he or she hasn’t yet shown any particular initiative, it’s not too late. Campaigning for a leadership position or even taking an informal leadership role by spearheading fundraising or planning new activities should be a priority for senior year, and now is the perfect time to start planning.
5. Plan a productive summer.
After all the work of junior year, it’s probably tempting to spend the summer at the beach. But ultimately, this isn’t the best plan. Many college applications explicitly ask about how applicants spend their summer, and colleges that don’t ask directly still ask students to outline their activities and work experiences.
Plan a productive and meaningful summer. This could include a job or internship somehow related to an intended career path, or a summer program dedicated to important academics or extracurriculars. Some students pursue research opportunities or service projects. Others seize the chance to get college visits out of the way.
Whatever the case may be, make sure that there are some plans in place that will ensure that summer is a productive time.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and the tumult of junior year. There is a lot at stake and it comes at a time when most teens are still trying to figure themselves out. You can help your teen to navigate the path towards a successful senior year and a smooth transition out of high school by beginning important conversations now. Keep these five considerations in mind and be sure to discuss them with your teen before the summer months to make sure that you’re working together towards common goals.
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College, where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. She now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons. She writes for CollegeVine, a company dedicated to helping families confidently navigate high school and college admissions.