By Deb Coco
Parents – do you remember your junior year of high school? My recollections revolve around a pack of girlfriends, Friday night football games, dances and the dreaded curfew. I have to think hard to recall SAT prep (I’m not even sure I did any, and the ACT was virtually unknown in Boston). AP courses were in their infancy and college essays were penned and mailed, not agonized over. I’m sure this reads like an episode of the Walton’s for students, but I’m not that old. However, every year as I watch my students journey through junior year, I’m struck by just how much has changed in a relatively short period of time.
Most parents would agree with me when I write that I’m glad I’m not a kid in 2017. The technology is great; who would have dreamed of iPhones in the 80s? As college admission becomes more and more competitive, the weight on our high school students gets heavier. Test prep is now all but mandatory, AP courses are also critical if your student has designs on a selective school, and being VERY involved with numerous extracurricular activities is a must if you want to stay in line with the competition. Add to this the fact that you “should” be out visiting colleges every chance you get. Tired yet?
At this time of year I begin to see my juniors glaze over because fatigue is setting in. I see it as I reach out for feedback on February break visits; the bloom of being so close to college is “off the rose.” Often trying to get that feedback is like pulling teeth because kids are overwhelmed with the expectations of this year.
Just how important is junior year? Of the four years of high school, it is unequivocally the most weighted in college admissions. It is the year that will be scrutinized because colleges expect students to stretch themselves and rise to the occasion. It reminds me of a phrase psychologist Karen Horney coined many years ago: “The tyranny of the shoulds.” The list of what should be done this year is long: students should challenge themselves academically by taking tough courses; they should excel on standardized tests; they should be busy outside the classroom, they should be visiting colleges . . . and the list goes on. This is where I’d like to make the case for contacting an experienced, college advisor at the end of a student’s sophomore year. In doing so you will be “up and running” with a structured program as junior year rolls around and you understand what is expected of you and when. Not to mention, we help roadmap the process for parents and students alike and there is comfort in knowing what is headed your way and that you have a plan in place. Students will have their school lists in hand when vacations roll around, they will know which tests they should take and when, and they’ll already be brainstorming their college essay before they depart school as a “rising senior.” Add to this that their parents will already know what schools they can afford and how, and you are already leaps and bounds ahead of your competition.
So, this is how to survive junior year; start planning with a college consultant early. Gone are the “good old days” when it was safe to apply to just a few schools, leave your application until the last-minute and hope for the best. That is a recipe for disaster. Working with an advisor gives you a sounding board for stress and streamlines a very difficult process. But, parents hear me now: Please don’t think that the intensity of junior year is too much for your child or give in and think they shouldn’t have to deal with all these factors. These kids are just a year away from independence . . . from having expectations placed on them by professors who won’t send reminders, and administrators who will expect them to behave as adults. This IS the path to adulthood and it’s important to stand back, and let them find their way. At times it is hard to watch them struggle, but it builds the necessary foundation for a successful college career and lifelong skills. Being prepared is the very best survival strategy not just for junior year, but for collegiate success.