What is the hardest year of high school?


Written by:

Ask four recent graduates which year of high school was hardest for them, and chances are you’ll get four different answers. Each year of high school brings its own set of unique challenges that students have to prepare for.

On top of those challenges comes external stressors and expectations. Add in the pressure from parents to get good grades, college applications, and heaps of extracurriculars, and it’s no wonder 70% of teens say anxiety is a major problem among peers.

While each year of high school will have its own stressors, many will say junior year is the most challenging. Junior year can be the hardest for several reasons, but with the right prep and expectations, high school students can make the hardest year just a little easier.

Image Credit: Yobro10/istock.

Why Every Year Matters

People might say junior year is the hardest year of high school, but that’s not an excuse to cruise through the other three years.

Freshman and sophomore year are building opportunities. In these two years, many students will take prerequisite courses and join extracurriculars they’ll carry out the rest of their high school career.

During freshman year especially, students will have to adjust to high school and its academic rigor. Getting good grades and getting involved in activities during the first two years of high school can help set the pattern for the next two years.

Image Credit: Deposit Photos.

Senior Year Slump

Lots of students may claim that senior year is the time to sit back and take it easy. So common is this assumption that lots of seniors claim their final year of high school is the “senior slump.”

But, letting grades slide in a senior year can spell trouble for plans post-graduation. Admission to college, even if already granted, could be rescinded if a senior underperform in their senior year. Grades senior year still matter.

Image Credit: monkeybusinessimages.

Why Junior Year Can Be the Most Challenging

Every year of high school is important, but a student’s junior year has its own set of unique challenges and hardships. Here’s what can make junior year tougher than the rest:

Image Credit: Sladic/iStock.

1. Course Load

Junior year is the time to shine before students apply to college. It’s the last full academic year of grades a university will receive before deciding to accept or reject a student. Students may elect to take their most challenging course load during their junior year to show colleges that they’re capable of academic rigor.

Some students may be enrolled in advanced placement (AP) courses. AP classes give college students the chance to tackle college-level material, while still in high school. At the end of an AP course, students can choose to take the AP exams. Scores from those tests may grant students college credits, so they can skip out of basic courses in their first years on campus.

Junior year can be an academic step-up for high school students if they decide to take advanced classes. In addition to harder classes, there’s a pressure to get good grades in them, because it can be an indicator of performance for colleges.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

2. Tests

On top of AP tests, juniors have more key tests to prepare for. Each test comes with its own strategies and approaches, meaning specialized study and prep. A junior might prepare for and take these tests during the year:

  • AP Tests. As mentioned above, if a student decides to take an AP course, they can choose to take the corresponding AP tests as well.
  • PSAT/NMSQT. Students can take the Preliminary SAT or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test as early as their sophomore year of school, but many take it their junior year. The PSAT/NMSQT has two sections; math, and reading/writing. Scores fall between 160 and 760.
  • Offered in October each year, the PSAT doesn’t impact college admissions like the SAT, but it can help students qualify for National Merit Scholarships if they receive a certain score. Students are not required to take the PSAT test, but it can be one way to prepare for the SATs and potentially qualify for scholarships.
  • SAT/ACT. Scores from either the SAT or ACT test are required by many colleges for admission. But, even if they’re not required by a college, a strong SAT or ACT score can give a student a leg up in the application process.
  • Most high school students choose to take the SAT or ACT tests in the spring of their junior year or the fall of senior year. Both tests have certain quirks and strategies associated with them, so the key to getting a great score may mean lots of preparation.
  • Some juniors choose to take rigorous in-person prep courses or take several practice tests before sitting for the exam.
  • SAT Subject Tests. Different from the standard SAT, subject tests can help students showcase strength in one particular subject on their college application. There are 20 different subject tests offered over five areas of study. Tacking on a subject test to a college application may help bolster a student’s resume.

Subject tests are shorter than the SATs and are offered several times a year. Prepping for a subject test isn’t the same as standard SAT prep. Prep is different depending on the topic.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

3. College prep

Juniors not only have more academic pressure on them and tests to prepare for, but many will add college prep to their extracurriculars. Whether that means spending weekends touring campuses or researching schools at night, finding a school that’s the right fit can take up a considerable amount of time.

There’s no one way to ensure the right fit for all students. Some may choose a campus-based on their desired degree, others for proximity to home or budget. No matter the motivator, finding the right school can take time.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

Testing Your Habits

There’s no doubt junior year has a lot going on. The challenge comes not only from the rigor but also the pressure associated with making some big life choices.

Freshman and sophomore year have their fair share of challenges, but junior year will test the habits of students—pushing them to work harder academically and personally.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

Making the Harder Stuff Easier

Junior year may present a variety of challenges, but figuring out a way to pay for college shouldn’t have to be one of them. As early as junior year, students can start considering the cost of college and the ways to pay for it.

Image Credit: Melpomenem.

Learn About Student Loans

Taking time to learn about student loans during college prep can help give juniors a better sense of what lies ahead of them. After applying for federal loans and aid, they might need to evaluate additional options to pay for their tuition.

That could mean picking up a part-time or summer job or researching scholarships or grants that can help pay tuition. It’s important a student knows their full menu of options to pay for school before committing to anyone strategy.

Image Credit: Youngoldman / iStock.

Private Loans for College

Another option available are private student loans. It’s worth noting that students generally exhaust all other options before borrowing a private student loan.

Junior year may be the hardest year of high school, but student loans don’t have to be another hurdle.

Learn More:

This article originally appeared on SoFi.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

SoFi Private Student Loans

Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change. SoFi Lending Corp. and its lending products are not endorsed by or directly affiliated with any college or university unless otherwise disclosed.

SoFi Loan Products

SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636  . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.