Of everything you do in high school, the activities you undertake during your junior year will have the among most significant impact on your competitiveness for college admissions and scholarships. As a rising junior, how can you set yourself up for success? In this post, we’ll walk through a checklist for rising juniors to review before school starts. Specifically, we’ll show you how to tackle each of the following five priorities with free tools and resources developed specifically for Alaska students:
- Determine whether you should prepare for the PSAT—something you should do before or during August)
- Craft your SAT/ACT strategy to maximize your scores and efficiency
- Get serious about your GPA: Depending on when you submit applications, the next two semesters will comprise the final grades colleges see.
- Start developing your college list—the single most important factor upon which nearly all of your other decisions over the next 12-18 months will depend
- Determine whether and when you will need to take SAT Subject Tests
Let’s get to work!
Determine Whether You Should Prepare for the PSAT
As a rising junior, you will be offered the opportunity to take the PSAT at school this October. The PSAT helps preview your expected SAT score and, when taken in your junior year, enters you into the National Merit Scholarship Competition. Awards for National Merit Winners—and even Semifinalists and Finalists, in some cases—can include full tuition at nearby popular colleges such as Washington State, as well as annual stipend scholarships at top-ranked institutions like Northwestern University, University of Chicago, and University of Oregon.
You must score in the top (approximately) 1% of Alaska students to achieve Semifinalist status. For rising juniors (Class of 2021), we estimate this score will be at least 1400 (with an Evidence-Based Reading & Writing score of at least 700).
Could you qualify for National Merit recognition? Should you study for the PSAT?
To answer that question, take a free practice SAT this month. The practice SAT will approximate your performance on the PSAT. If your practice SAT score is at least a 1250, consider studying for the PSAT since you may be able to improve your score to become competitive with the National Merit Semifinalist qualifying range. Our SAT Prep Class starting August 25, 2019 will also prepare you for the October 2019 PSAT.
Learn more about the PSAT and National Merit by reading our PSAT & National Merit Scholarship Guide for Alaska Students.
Junior year is when you should start making your SAT/ACT plans in earnest. Here's a summary of the 3 Steps to SAT & ACT Success:
Step 1: Determine whether to focus on the SAT or ACT
All four-year colleges accept either the SAT or ACT for admissions purposes. That means you should determine which test better suits your strengths, then focus exclusively on preparing for that test. How do you do that? Take a free practice SAT/ACT this summer or fall to establish your baseline and learn which test better suits your strengths.
Step 2: Set your target score
Determine the score you would like to reach based on your college admissions and scholarship goals. View average SAT/ACT scores of admitted students at a sample of nationwide colleges by downloading The Frontier 49 College Admissions Factbook.
Step 3: Select your study strategy
Evaluate your baseline score and target score in the context of your strengths and learning style preferences. Determine whether you should go pro with an expert test prep program, study on your own, or try both.
For a complete orientation on everything you need to know about the SAT and ACT, check out free e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Designing Your SAT & ACT Prep Strategy
No matter what, Step 1 is to take a practice SAT and ACT. Your first priority is to determine your baseline performance on the SAT and ACT. Taking a free practice SAT and ACT with Frontier Tutoring is the fastest, easiest way to see where you stand. After taking a full-length practice exam released by the test maker, you’ll get a custom score report with a roadmap to score improvement and expert guidance on choosing the right test for you. We’ll then discuss your goals to help you determine your target SAT/ACT score and the best way to prepare.
Want to know what you're aiming for? Download The Frontier 49 College Admissions Factbook to learn the average GPA and SAT/ACT score of admitted applicants at the 49 most popular colleges where Alaska students apply.
If you submit applications before December of your senior year, fall and spring of your junior year are the final two semesters colleges will see. Colleges also tend to place the most weight on your junior year grades. If you have achieved strong grades during freshmen and sophomore years, it’s important to keep up the momentum through the end of your junior year. Conversely, if your grades haven't reflected your potential so far, junior year is when you should demonstrate your true talent—even in the face of unflattering prior performance, colleges respect a definitive trend of improvement.
While your junior year grades are critical on their own, your cumulative GPA (through the end of senior year) is also still important. Many merit-based scholarships (including the Alaska Performance Scholarship and the many out-of-state scholarships highlighted in The Frontier 49) evaluate your GPA all the way through senior year. With that in mind, remember that it’s also much easier to maintain or improve your cumulative GPA during junior year than it is to recover during senior year. As a rising junior, you have not yet accumulated as many credits as a rising senior, so every grade you earn will have a more significant impact on your overall GPA. Here's an illustrative example:
Our expert Tutoring Specialists are ready to help you maintain the strongest possible junior year GPA. Check out our one-on-one academic tutoring programs to gain a competitive edge in your regular, honors, or AP math, science, or English classes.
Want to know what grades you need to earn during junior year to meet your GPA goals by the time you submit college applications? Our free GPA Scenario Calculators will give you exact answers. The calculators are built specifically for Anchorage School District students and take AP/IP weighting into account.
Where you would like to apply to college impacts many of the important decisions you will need to make as a junior and senior. As a junior, the colleges on your preliminary list will help inform:
- The target score you should aim for the on the SAT/ACT based on college norms and scholarship requirements (and whether you will need to take the SAT/ACT essay)
- The GPA—or trend of grade improvement—you should aim to achieve or maintain
- Whether you need to take SAT Subject Tests
A year from now, as you prepare to enter your senior year, the colleges on your final list will determine what kind of and how many essays you will need to write, which scholarship opportunities may be available, whether you will need to prepare for interviews, application/testing/scholarship deadlines, and more.
How should you develop your college list? Check out our post for all the details: Building Your College List: A Five-Step Process, Plus Tips from a Successful Dimond High School Grad. In short, you will need to:
- Start defining which criteria are most important to you in a college—factors like location, size, academic programs, campus environment, extracurriculars, and more.
- Begin researching institutions to add to your list of potential colleges.
- By spring of your junior year, finalize your list of 6 – 10 colleges, making sure that your list includes a balanced mix of “reach,” “match,” and “likely” schools (determined by comparing your GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and coursework rigor compare against the norms for a given college).
Developing your college list is one of the most important processes you will complete on your college admissions journey. Get professional guidance in developing your college list and determining majors by signing up for a premium college admissions consulting program: Start by signing up for a 1-hour consultant with our college counselor.
If you’re interested in applying to certain competitive colleges, you will need to submit scores from (usually) two SAT Subject Tests in addition to the SAT/ACT. Popular colleges where Alaska students apply that require SAT Subject Tests include CalTech and MIT. Colleges that recommend or “strongly recommend” SAT Subject Tests include or recommend SAT Subject Tests include Brown, Dartmouth, Duke, Emory, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale.
The most optimal time to take a given SAT Subject Test is near the end of the corresponding high school class (i.e. the May or June SAT test date) since the material will be fresh and you will have recently finished studying for the in-class final exam or AP®/IB® exam. Determine whether SAT Subject Tests relevant to your intended major are available for any of the classes you are taking this year. If so, plan to register for the May or June SAT Subject Test date.
Step 1 is to determine whether any of the colleges on your preliminary college list require or recommend SAT Subject Tests. If they do, read our more comprehensive guidance: Six Things to Know About SAT Subject Tests.
During the spring semester of your junior year, we can help you prepare for these tests—check out our SAT Subject Test Prep programs
What About the Rest of Junior Year?
Above we discussed five priorities for rising juniors to think about before junior year starts, as well as the early part of junior year. What should 11th grade families be thinking about during the remainder of the year? Download our Junior Year College Admissions Timeline for a month-by-month overview of your college admissions priorities.
Getting to Work
Between developing your testing strategies (for the PSAT, SAT/ACT, and SAT Subject Tests), building your college list, and maintaining the strongest possible GPA, there’s a lot to think about going into 11th grade—but by starting now, you can minimize stress and lay the foundation for a highly successful junior year.
The college admissions experts at Frontier Tutoring are here to help.
After you take your practice SAT and ACT, we will advise you of which test better suits your strengths. We will also invite you to sign up for a North to My Future meeting, your free, individualized college admissions strategy session for students in Anchorage. We’ll sit down with you and a parent for 45 minutes and discuss how your GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and entire profile compare relative to the norms for the colleges and scholarships you’re considering. In addition, we'll develop an action plan of specific priorities for you between now and when it’s time to apply. If our SAT/ACT prep, college admissions consulting, or academic tutoring programs are appropriate, we will also provide recommendations on how you can best use these professional resources.
We look forward to working with you to maximize your junior year potential.
Summary of Resources in This Article
North to My Future - Free College Admissions Strategy Session
TestItOut - Test Drive Tutoring by Getting Your First Math Tutoring Session Free
Frontier 49: SAT/ACT/GPA Norms for 49 Popular Colleges
Paid Professional Programs
Academic Tutoring Programs for Math, Science, and English Classes