It’s junior year and you are wrapping up a grueling first semester: a full schedule filled with AP and Honors courses, clubs and sports, friends, family obligations, preparing for the SATs/ ACTs, and oh, all this talk of college. Honestly, there’s barely time to come up for air. All you want to do is get through the year with your grades in top shape so your transcript can be tied with a bow for when you apply to colleges in the fall. So, in the next week or two, when it’s time to head to your counselor’s office to plan your schedule for senior year, you are fully prepared to lighten the load. After all, senior year doesn’t matter, right? Wrong! A major misconception among students is that junior year is the most important year of high school. While it’s true that junior year is often the most challenging and it holds the most updated snapshot of your academic achievements, it’s not necessarily the most important. Every year is important. From the moment you set foot in the building freshman year, (and even a few of your classes in 8th grade) your grades and the classes you take matter greatly. Colleges look at your academic record for all four years that you are in high school. It’s true that when students apply to colleges in the early fall of senior year, they will see the student’s official transcript that includes grades and courses taken from grades 9-11. However, senior year is very much still in play. Here is how: 1. Official transcripts indicate which courses are in progress, meaning that colleges will see which classes you have on your schedule for senior year. If you took advanced classes grades 9-11, colleges will expect that level of rigor to continue in senior year. Additionally, the expectation is that you will continue to take a full course load. Do not fall into the trap of taking less-challenging courses and loading up on study halls. It’s imperative to maintain course rigor in senior year! 2. Colleges will often email your counselor, or you directly, after you have applied and ask for your Quarter 1 grades. Academic consistency is expected. A noticeable drop-off raises red flags, and could be a death knell, if the school is already on the fence as to whether to admit you or not. 3. After the first semester, your high school will automatically generate mid-year reports (an updated transcript) that will be sent to all of the colleges to which you applied. Colleges may use these transcripts to help render decisions on students who have been deferred in the early rounds or whose application they are just getting around to reading. The report is also used to monitor students who have already been accepted. While rare, colleges do reserve the right to rescind an acceptance if a student’s academic record nosedives senior year.
My general philosophy is to push students to take as challenging a course load as they can handle, without compromising their health, happiness, and safety on any level. Assuming those things are in working order, I remind students that grades and course rigor are items 1 and 1A that colleges will look at when reading their application.
And always remember… high school is four years, not three!