Does Your College Student Have a Case of the Junior Jitters?

Most students will agree that the junior year of high school is the hardest.  Junior grades are important for college applications.  Students are taking difficult courses this year, perhaps upper level math and science, AP or Honors courses.  Students are also busy considering and visiting colleges, working on admission essays, interviewing, and beginning to get busy on college applications.  It can be exhausting for students – and their families.

But what about the junior year of college? Although junior year of high school may be legend, many students find themselves unprepared for a parallel experience in college.

Much attention is given to the first year of college, the transition, and sometimes the mistakes, that students make. There is growing interest in the second year of college as students settle in and choose a major and/or career path.  But after the year of Freshman Folly and the potential Sophomore Slump, there is less often attention paid to the junior year of college, the year of the potential Junior Jitters.  But this is an important time in your student’s journey through college.

Why Junior Jitters?

This third year of college brings a swirl of confidence and nervousness for many students. It can be an awkward year – deep into the middle work of college – but with the finish line still a long way off.  Runners in the Boston Marathon hit Heartbreak Hill (actually a series of hills) at the twenty-mile mark.  They are elated to have come so far, but the last six miles can seem daunting. It’s time to dig deep to make it to the finish line. For many college students, junior year may be their Heartbreak Hill.

Junior year is can be a mix of the good, the bad, and the scary 

  • Your student now has the confidence that he knows how to navigate and manage college. He is a seasoned veteran of the college experience.
  • Your student may be moving into a leadership role on campus, perhaps becoming an officer of a club, fraternity or sorority, or student government.
  • Your student may find himself working more closely with professors and mentors, perhaps doing independent research or capstone projects.
  • Your student may be experiencing a growing sense of purpose and motivation for his career, especially if he is participating in research or internships.
  • Your student may participate in a study abroad or study away program, increasing his sense of independence and self-confidence.
  • Your student has now passed the half-way point of college. He may begin to recognize how much he still doesn’t know.
  • Your student may be finishing up General Education requirements and settling in to the meat of the material of his major. This is exciting, but courses are harder and more focused. Your student may even be experiencing second thoughts about his field of study and wondering whether it is too late to change his mind. (It may not be.)
  • If your student is considering graduate school, junior year is the time to take admission tests such as the GRE, LSAT, MCAT or others. It is the time to decide where to apply and to gather references.
  • Your student may feel that he is supposed to begin to feel like an adult. This can be exciting, however “adulting” comes with responsibilities that many of today’s generation would prefer to postpone. Your student may feel rushed.
  • Your student may find it difficult to be in the middle of the college pack. He can no longer related to the first and second year students, who are still learning basics and may still be transitioning to college.  But seniors are definitely on a different path – already with one foot out of the door. Your junior student may feel out of touch with many around him.
  • Your student is beginning to sense that the end of school is in sight and with that many of his friends will be heading in different directions. Junior year friendships may be fewer, but more intense. The thought of “losing” these friends may be difficult.
  • This is an important year for career work. Your student will be expected to set some career goals, perhaps participate in one or more internships, polish his resume, perhaps join a professional organization, conduct informational interviews or participate in networking events and Career Fairs. He knows he is beginning to lay the groundwork for his future and it can seem overwhelming.
  • For some students, junior year can be a graduation wake-up call. If your student has shortchanged himself on credits, either because he has failed a class or two, has withdrawn from a number of classes, or has taken a lighter semester along the way; with the end now in sight he realizes how much he still needs to do to complete his required number of credits to graduate.  He may realize that this will mean difficult semesters, summer classes, or a possible additional semester or year.
  • As he focuses more on his career, your student may be trying to imagine his life after college. What will he be doing?  Will he find a job?  Where will he live? Will he have any friends or social life?  What kind of salary might he earn, and what kind of loan payments will he face?  Life suddenly seems very scary.

Whew! Junior year can be a busy, tumultuous year!  There are definitely hills and valleys. But your student may be able to get a glimpse of the finish line.

Those marathon runners who never make it past Heartbreak Hill, or who struggle mightily through the hills, are sometimes those who were not prepared for what was ahead.  Take time to talk to your junior college student about what to expect, how he feels about his experiences, and what he needs to do.  Help him anticipate – and overcome – potential Junior Jitters, and remind him that in another year, he’ll be at the finish line.

Related Articles:

What’s Ahead for Your College Student? The Four Year Journey

The Path to Graduation: Will Your Student Graduate on Time?

The Path to Graduation: The Fast Track

College Parents’ Role in the Job or Internship Hunt

What is “On Time” Graduation? Four Years Is Becoming a Myth


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