How not to freak out as Junior and crush college prep

Regis University

Second semester Junior year tends to bring on quite the stir of anxiety. Why? Well maybe it’s because you are taking the toughest course load yet and are now in more advanced work demanding academic attention. Or maybe that leadership position you took in your extracurricular is now overloading your schedule. Or maybe you feel like you should really get on that SAT or ACT study bandwagon but don’t even know where to start. Possibly it’s because there’s a quiet (or not so quiet) reminder around campus that college applications will be here before you know it. So ya, I’d say second semester Junior year can be especially daunting.

But here is the catch. The whole college piece does not have to be a MAJOR added time crusher. And guess what? You STILL can get ahead of the process and feel pretty confident. 

There’s also one more catch. The people who walk around talking a big game about college apps? Ya, they don’t have it all together either. Or the ones who are just straight avoiding the college discussion? Well, they will eventually feel the anxiety. It’s safe to assume that a majority of us are in the middle. In the middle of kind of having an idea of what we want, but not really knowing where to start. Here’s the good part…we can really break it down into TWO key ideas.

  1. College Search
  2. College Admission Testing 


The College Search

Before you get caught up in college essays, deadlines, supplemental materials and the nitty gritty of the application process itself, it’s helpful to know WHERE you would like to apply. There are over 3,000 four year universities in the United States alone. That’s not even including international options (which are pretty accessible, affordable and transferable by the way). When you think about how many types of essays, letters of rec, application portals ranging from the Common Application to the Coalition to the University of California online app, it’s MIND BOGGLING.

So cut the unnecessary chatter. Why worry about an essay or online application if you don’t even know you need to complete it yet?? It just doesn’t make sense. So narrow those thousands of colleges into a balanced list of anywhere from 5 to really no more than 10 colleges. What does a balanced college list consist of? Check out a downloadable guide here: Resources for a Well-Balanced College List. A list of universities that you ultimately want to apply to because they have the following qualities:

Academic Fit 

  • If you know what program/major you’d like to explore start your search with that. Don’t just go googling “top 20 computer science program.” Use a search database such as or or the Supermatch College Search tool if you have access to Naviance.
  • If you don’t know what you want to major in, try to think of at least two to three things you know you’re interested in exploring. Find schools that have all of your options. If you decide to switch your major you’re not switching schools.
  • Think of curriculum. How do you want to navigate through your courses at college? Do you want a clear path of general education and major coursework? Or do you want some flexibility and creativity?
  • Think of rigor. A school where you’ll be successful is one that challenges you academically but also supports you. Getting into a med school, law school or post-graduate work will be tough if you’re at the bottom of your class academically and barely getting by. Same goes if you’re trying to compete for an internship or research opportunity. You’ll want to be able to showcase your talents academically and that looks different per student.

Social Fit

  • Consider this. Would you be best friends with EVERY student at your high school? Probably not right? Your friend group is a tight-knit community of like-minded individuals that share similar interests, goals, conversations and activities. College is absolutely a place to meet new students from around the world, but you also want to ensure you’re in a social environment that allows you to flourish with like-minded individuals. That means if you want a small school of all students who value and study art, you might consider a Cal Arts or Otis College of Art & Design. On the flip side if you envision heading to a football game and tailgating after class, but still value academics you may consider the Barrett Honors program at Arizona State University.

Spend your Junior year getting to know and researching colleges so that by summer/entering Senior year you have fairly set and balanced college list. Once you know where to apply you can organize dates/deadlines, application portals, etc. fairly easily. Want some college search resources? Check out How to Begin Your College Search.

College Admission Testing


College Admission Testing in four steps

  1. Decide which exam to take (and if subject exams are in your future)
    • Take your pick, either or, doesn’t matter. Take a practice exam in both. Consider your scores, how you felt, timing of the test, content, etc. and choose. Make this an easy decision for yourself.
  2. Choose an official test date 
    • Ideally at least once officially Spring semester of Junior year. Think of additional commitments, AP testing, Finals, etc.
  3. Work backwards from the test date and create a consistent testing plan
    • Any strong test prep plan includes consistency. If that’s Kahn Academy free SAT online three times a week with some practice exam for three months, that’s consistency.
    • A class, a tutor, free test prep online, a book. Doesn’t matter, just schedule it and write down your schedule so you can see it. When it’s test prep time, shut the phone off. When you’re done with your prep, walk away and be done.
  4. Retake again if necessary 
    • Typically students take the exam 2 no more than 3 times. No problem.

Hint: Check out test-optional universities here: 

Breaking down the college admission process into manageable pieces is the key to not feeling overwhelmed. Also realizing that there isn’t a formula to this process, nor does ANY student who walks around feeling they’ve go it all together really does. So take a breath and get searching for your the school that’s going to give you a platform for success. The unknown is scary. But it’s also kind of amazing. Because you get to choose your future. YOU get to define what it will look like.



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