Road Map for September: Juniors

Junior year has a reputation for being challenging and this year is certainly no exception.  The challenges are different, however, in this COVID environment. Students often find that a heavy workload is the hardest part of 11th grade. While this depends on your course selection, your year may be a bit less jam-packed if some of your activities are canceled.

Standardized testing may also be less intense this year. With so many high schools closed, the College Board and ACT are having a hard time keeping their test sites open. As a result, hundreds of colleges have established new test optional policies for the Class of ’21 since the pandemic began and many have already announced that they will maintain these policies for your class.  This does not necessarily mean you don’t have to take the SAT or ACT but I expect there will be a bit less emphasis on test scores in general. For now, if your School is offering the PSAT in October as usual and you are able to take it safely, go ahead. If it’s not offered or you don’t feel safe, ask your school about the new January option (although I’m not sure how much better January will be from a public health perspective.) Remember also that unless your PSAT scores are very high and you expect to be in the running for the National Merit Scholarship competition, this test is strictly diagnostic. I normally encourage students to take a first SAT or ACT between February and April, but that may shift depending on the availability of test sites. So we’ll see how things shake out and revisit later in the year.

Normally I also encourage juniors to start visiting colleges in the fall so they can spread visits out over the year rather than try to pack them all into a few weeks in the spring.  While there are colleges offering socially distanced campus tours, your family may not be comfortable with traveling and being in group settings yet.  Almost all colleges are offering virtual tours and information sessions, and many are only offering remote options to keep the number of people on campus to a minimum. These virtual events, including virtual college fairs that include multiple schools, are a great alternative that allow you to explore the schools’ academic and extracurricular offerings and get a sense of campus life.  This can help you start a list of criteria for your search and plan more targeted in-person visits for next year when the public health situation improves.  I will repeat my usual advice, however, to block out time now for visits later, ideally days that colleges are in session but your school is not, such as professional development days.

Other than that, your top priorities should be to do your best in your classes, be proactive with your teachers so they can get to know you and keep up to the extent you can with the activities that are most important to you. You are not expected to continue to do everything you were doing before the pandemic, so pick the things that you can continue to do within the current restrictions and that are that are most important to you and focus on doing them in whatever way you can that you enjoy and find meaningful.