Sophomores, Don’t Let Junior Year Dread Define You

Photo by Sofia Papageorgiou.

As my fellow sophomore peers and I depart from lengthy practice SAT and ACT exams, I have found myself feeling an entire spectrum of emotions. While I am both relieved to be able to put the rather exhausting three-hour tests behind me and increasingly nervous for the official SAT and ACT exams, I’ve noticed myself thinking more about my future after high school. For me, practice standardized tests have put an unavoidable emphasis on the imminence of the college process I am bound to enter junior year. 

Choosing courses and selecting electives has caused me anticipatory anxiety about the genuine uncertainties junior year has in store. Conversations with peers have been progressively more directed towards the subject of the anxieties of next year’s academic challenges and apprehensions about entering the college process. I have found myself genuinely struggling to figure out the best way to approach such an intimidating year of high school; overall, my recent thoughts on junior year have boiled down to the sentiment that it appears frightening. 

It’s true that eleventh grade is filled with unique challenges: preparing for and potentially taking SAT or ACT exams, thinking about possible colleges to apply to and all the while taking increasingly difficult classes. It’s certainly valid that sophomores, including me, are unsure of what to expect. 

To me, freshman and sophomore year have always seemed somewhat experimental, meant for figuring out how to navigate high school and invest in one’s interests. But junior and senior year seem far more impactful in influencing my academic future. From my peers I am hearing panic, from upperclassmen advice, from my teachers reassurance, all amounting to an overwhelming cacophony when in reality the truth still stands: I haven’t experienced junior year; I haven’t endured its struggles or celebrated its triumphs. 

After multiple group conversations with current and former juniors in my advisory, the conclusion I was able to reach was that while junior year is inevitably harder than sophomore year, what with the added workload of electives and more advanced courses, school continues as usual: the same difficult and yet rewarding struggle. 

My sophomore self views junior year as a foreign, terrifying concept. I see it as different from other years of high school and have trembled at its intimidation. Hearing from others about the nonstop difficulties of junior year has made it hard to detach their experiences from the ones I have yet to have. But perhaps what we sophomores need to remind ourselves is that other people’s insights are an aid, not necessarily a reflection of one’s destination. It’s good to be prepared, but not to be obsessive. And most important, it’s okay to acknowledge that junior year will likely be hard, but not to let the dread it brings predetermine what our experiences will be or what our experiences will offer. 

Rising juniors have persevered the past two years of high school. We have crossed off days on our calendars, entered one after another Zoom call and pushed open the doors of the GDS high school building countless times. We have braved everything a school environment entails: tests, presentations, performances, talks with teachers, arguments with friends, disappointments. And in turn, we have been able to experience the simple joy that comes from persisting through difficulties. Which is all to say that, halfway through high school, we sophomores have every reason to believe we can conquer junior year with confidence.