By Guest Bloggers Karen Jarvis and Tammy Darden

I was warned about ‘junior year hell’ when my daughter started high school, but NEVER fully imagined the possible intensity because it couldn’t really be that bad, right?

Well, we are in the midst of junior year, and it’s everything my friend Tammy Darden and others said it would be. Why? Junior year is when everything matters the most to the college admission process.

Students tend to take an overload of challenging courses to boost their GPA, there’s the ACT/SAT, and relentless homework, daily reading and tests. Throw in sports, a job and extracurricular activities ‘required’ to enhance their college applications and you will undoubtedly have stressed out students and parents.

“If you think elementary or middle school was rough, you are in for a surprise with high school,” said Tammy, who’s been through junior year twice and survived. “There are so many classes to choose from, school clubs and sports, plus the social aspect of making more and new friends.  Even though your kid may breeze through their previous years, junior year is likely the first time they will struggle or get overwhelmed. The norm will be late nights of studying that turn into early morning, dreary-eyed sessions resulting in about four hours of sleep.”

While that’s certainly not healthy for kids, (that’s a separate rant post about the pressures of college admissions and overall education these days), for now, Tammy and I want to share some thoughts on minimizing junior year pain, or at least let you know what to expect.

Ask For Advice

First off, listen to your friends or your child’s teachers. Not all students and situations are the same, but getting a good base helps you avoid the shock.

Guidance Counselors

Don’t fully depend on a guidance counselor to help your child make the right class selections. There are 5-6 counselors for nearly 2,000 kids in the larger local public high schools. Chances are they see your student once a year, so don’t expect them to know if your child will be able to handle the pressure simply based on previous class grades. Sit with your child, look at the class schedule catalogs which come out, discuss options, and then research the college he/she is hoping to attend to determine what it requires for entry. You know your child best.

Organizational/Time Management skills

So important! High school teachers won’t take into account what other classes your child is taking. To them, and rightly so, their class is priority. Most put class calendars online and your student will know well in advance the due dates. Perhaps a Saturday night studying for a Tuesday test is a better option than going out with friends. Remind them, it’s just one year!

AP Classes

These are rigorous college level classes and students who score high enough on the end of year test “may” get college credit. Before making selections, have your student research what colleges require since each school decides what they will accept.  Some schools require higher AP test scores than others and you may even need to take the SAT subject tests. Also, your child may have already taken one AP class, so he/she knows what to expect. HOWEVER, in junior year, students often take three, four or more.


Testing doesn’t mean everything. Your child may get high scores on the PLAN or PSAT but that doesn’t guarantee success in the classroom.  These tests are indicators of what they can score and where their interests lie.  It is up to your child to make the commitment to focus on where they want to go. That motivation has to come from them (this applies to college too).


Remind your student that the grade point average does not determine your child’s chances of success after high school. If your child has never made anything lower than an A, junior year could remedy that. Just remember AP classes are rated differently than other classes. That B on the report card….we consider that an A in our house!

Your Dream or Theirs

Ask yourself, are you pushing your child for what you want or what they want. Be honest.

Giving Up

No, not what you think! If your child is involved in multiple many activities outside or inside of school, now is the time to consider letting go of something, at least for the year. For my daughter, it was outside dance studio time. Two nights a week till 9:30 p.m. was not going to cut it. Prioritize!


This is likely the time your child will truly struggle in class and worry about grades. You may feel inclined to hire a tutor and if you haven’t used one before, they can be very expensive. Check your high school first, as some, if not all, offer peer tutors who volunteer their time.   Click HERE to see TMoM’s list of reader suggested local tutors.

Get involved

Yes, there is a PTSA in high school and it needs your help, but you can get a lot from it too. By participating in various ways (a lot or a little) you’ll at least be on the front lines of what’s going on in school and know where to turn when (and before) your child needs help.

Valuable Lessons

Finally, junior year serves many life lessons. Primarily, it cements the fact that things won’t always go as planned, and your child doesn’t know everything, despite all the times they roll their eyes and say ‘I know’ to everything you say. Also, your child may encounter the hardest, seemingly ‘doesn’t care’ teacher ever. They will hate the experience, but allowing them to navigate dealing with that person instills valuable training, preparing them for the real job world!

Just remember it won’t all be bad. Junior year marks more independence (for you, too!) as they gain full driving privileges, attend prom with their friends, visit prospective colleges, and so much more. Find humor where you can as well, and celebrate the little things throughout the year. There is life after AP Chem, or Algebra, or Physics…etc.

Tammy Darden is the mom of two daughters and a son: a college sophomore, high school senior and an 8th grader. She serves numerous hours as PTSA president at Reagan High School in Pfafftown, and as PAC representative and weekly duty free lunch volunteer at Meadowlark Middle School in Winston-Salem.

Karen Jarvis has a daughter who is a junior and son in 7th grade. She is a public relations consultant and writer based in Lewisville, NC.


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