The traditional path to college involves four years of high school, culminating with senior year, prom, graduation, and all that comes with it. While many students look forward to the last year of their high school experience, others are eager to start in on the next stage in their life: college. Particularly motivated students may even want to apply to college during junior year and skip senior year all together. But can you apply to college as a junior in high school? And is applying to college as a junior a good idea?
The answer to both questions is … it depends. In this article, we’ll talk about how to determine whether or not you can apply to college as a junior in high school, whether or not you should apply to college during junior year, and what to do if you’re interested in getting an early start on your college career.
Deciding whether or not to apply to college as a junior
If you’re considering applying to college as a junior in high school, there are a few factors that may affect your ability to apply, as well as your candidacy once you do apply.
Why you may not be able to apply to college during junior year
Whether or not you can apply to college as a junior in high school depends largely on the schools you’re planning to apply to. Some colleges do not take applications from high school juniors at all, preferring for their applicants to have completed all four years of high school. This means that if any of the schools you’re interested in only take applications from high school seniors, you will not be able to apply as a junior.
Similarly, some colleges will accept applications from juniors, but only under certain conditions. One of the most common requirements is that a junior will be able to receive their high school diploma before entering college as a freshman. As this entails completing graduation requirements (including classes, tests, capstone projects, etc.) a full year early, this is not always possible. For some students, it is simply too late to finish all of the requirements before the end of junior year, even with a rigorous course load. For others, their school may not be willing to work with them on a plan to earn their diploma early. In any case, you must ensure that you are able to meet your chosen schools’ prerequisites before deciding to apply early.
Why you may not want to apply to college during junior year
Now, once you’ve figured out whether you can apply to college in your junior year, it’s time to figure out whether that’s a good idea for you. In the (slightly adapted) words of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, some students become “so preoccupied with whether or not they could [apply to college as a junior], they [don’t] stop to think if they should [apply to college as a junior]”.
The main reason not to apply to college during junior year is that, in most cases, your application will be less competitive without senior year. For instance, senior year is typically when students take their most rigorous course load — students applying as a junior will often have far fewer impressive courses on their transcript. Similarly, an additional year provides opportunities for students to improve their grades, increasing their GPA and creating the upward trajectory admissions committees weigh heavily in their decisions.
Even outside of school, there are benefits to taking an additional year to apply to college. Juniors applying to college early don’t have the same opportunity to develop their SAT or ACT scores over the course of a year or more, through multiple exam sittings and SAT or ACT classes or tutoring. This often results in lower overall test scores (another major component of the college application). And the list goes on: extracurricular activities show less long-term commitment, admissions essays are rushed, letters of recommendation come from teachers who haven’t spent a full year with you, etc, etc.
In a nutshell, if you are hoping to attend a more competitive school, applying to college as a junior in high school is likely not a good move. Less time in high school = less opportunity to demonstrate your qualifications as an applicant. This also applies to more competitive scholarships — with one fewer year to show yourself deserving of scholarship money, you’ll be more likely to be passed over in favor of a potential recipient with fuller resume.
Alternatives to applying to college as a junior in high school
While starting college full-time a year early might not be the best option for you, there are several other opportunities available to students that give them similar experiences and advancement over their peers, without hurting their chances of admittance at the school of their dreams.
One such option is taking a selection of AP courses. AP classes are taught at the college level, which can often fill the needs of students looking for more academic rigor. Similarly, many American colleges award course credit and placement in higher-level classes to students with qualifying scores on their AP examinations, allowing students to earn college credit while still enrolled in high school. Having more APs on your high school transcript is also looked upon favorably by college admissions committees, so this option allows you to have your cake and eat it too.
Another alternative available at some high schools is enrolling part-time at a local community or technical college while continuing to attend some classes at your high school. Often called “Running Start” programs, these options allow students to get the college experience without deviating from the traditional four-year high school path. Such students apply to their desired colleges as normal in their senior year, just with more experience and college credit under their belts.
How to apply to college as a junior in high school
If you’ve considered all of the above and are still interested in applying to college as a junior, there are several steps you’ll need to take, the earlier the better.
Research the colleges on your list
As mentioned above, it is critical to know exactly what the colleges you’re interested in require of juniors who wish to apply. Take the time to thoroughly research each of the schools you’re interested in as early as possible so you know what you will need to do by what dates for which schools. An important note here: this information is not always readily available on schools websites — after all, the vast majority of college applicants are in their senior year of high school! You’ll likely need to call the admissions office of each school and speak directly to a representative.
Make a detailed plan
Once you know what you need and when you need it by, make a timeline to accomplish each of the necessary tasks by their respective deadlines. This often means working with your school to figure out how to meet graduation requirements and receive your diploma by the end of your junior year. You’ll also need to plan for taking (and possibly retaking) your SAT or ACT, writing your admissions essays, getting your letters of recommendation, putting together your applications, and anything else specifically required by your chosen schools.
Talk to an expert
Even if you’ve done your due diligence with researching and planning, applying to college as a junior is a special circumstance, and you’ll be best served by taking special care to ensure that it goes well. One tip is to enlist the continued help of a high school counselor — they can help out with logistics with regard to both your high school classes and other elements of your application.
In addition, our online college admissions consultants at Veritas Prep have the know-how and resources to assist high school Juniors who want to start their college career early. Our consultants have worked in the admissions offices of the country’s top colleges, so they know the ins and outs of the admissions process.
So can I apply to college as a high school junior?
Maybe! It all depends on your goals and current situation. If you’re still feeling uncertain about applying to college as a junior, Veritas Prep’s college admissions consultants can help you make the right decision for you. And if you need to get your SAT or ACT out of the way a year early, SAT or ACT classes and tutoring at Veritas Prep are a great fit for the ambitious student.
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