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If you’re reading this, you’re probably in, or about to enter, your third year of high school. It’s the year everyone says is the most important. Socially, athletically, musically, or academically, you’re supposed to be killing it on all fronts. Whoa. Take a deep breath. While it’s true that colleges tend to focus on your junior year performance, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish with a little bit of planning and a lot of self-managing, including your infamous third year of high school.

Speaking personally, I began my junior year as “the new girl.” I had just transferred from a boarding school to a more academically challenging and demanding day school in my town. Although there had been a few other additions to the grade, I was the only new girl. I had no one to share my nerves with, and no one who could understand my situation. I had never been so unsure about something in my life. Would I do well? Would I like my new friends? Would I even make them? I was entering the most intimidating year of my high school career without any friends or any clue who my teachers were, and I had no idea how to get around from class to class, let alone find the dining hall or bathroom.

As you can probably imagine, I felt like the world was going to end, but to my surprise, it didn’t. In fact, the world got a lot better. Below are some tips and tricks I found helpful to me along the way.

Manage your time, stay organized.

One of the most vital practices that helped me have a successful year was learning how to manage my time and stay as organized as possible. At this point in your high school career, you know to take good notes, have an organization system for each class, and keep your documents labeled on your computer. Teachers spend a lot of time during freshman and sophomore year guiding students through the first two years of high school to ensure good habits. However, junior year is a time when teachers and administrators take somewhat of a step back. It is the first year in high school where you’re given the opportunity to choose classes you actually want to take. While you’re still required to take certain math and language classes, English and history options open up, so you’re able to take part in something you find particularly interesting. This is both a blessing and a curse.

On one hand, you’re left to feel more independent and in charge of yourself. On the other hand, there are no more structured study halls or allotted time to complete homework. How will you know when to get your work done? Listen up people, use your free periods! Free periods are your time to do what you want. While you may need to use if for a nap every once in a while (trust me, we’ve all been there), I sometimes completed one, if not two assignments during this hour. Often, I would also use half of my lunch period to get work done, too. An added bonus to getting homework done at school is that questions can be answered on the spot and you may find you can actually do more diligent work while surrounded by other students and teachers.

If you’re confused, schedule a meeting with your teacher, they are there to help you and you should use them to your benefit. Keep in mind that they’re the ones writing your college recommendations, so it’s important to form strong relationships with them and show them you care. Yes, work sucks and there’s no way of getting around it, but people are always willing to lessen their to-do list, so grab a group of friends and grind together! They will surely be thanking you later.

While homework is inevitable, using my spare time to get some of it done decreased my load for the night, left me feeling less stressed, and allowed me to go to bed earlier. And who doesn’t want that?

Allow yourself to be social.

Finding the right balance between schoolwork and fun was something I struggled with throughout my junior year. On one hand, I felt like I had to always be grinding away on homework and studying for upcoming tests. On the other hand, I am a social person and I longed for weekend sleepovers and nights out with my friends on the weekends. During the beginning of the year, when I was still a new student, it felt like nothing was very fun. School was challenging and stressful, and I wasn’t making any time to invest in some much needed social activities.

Slowly, but surely, I began to realize I wasn’t going to make it through junior year happily if I didn’t make time for the things in my life that weren’t related to schoolwork, the things that made me genuinely smile. I started accepting invites to various hangouts: cookie swaps, sleepovers, house parties, etc. Being new, I’d get extremely nervous beforehand, almost to the point where I’d convince myself it wasn’t worth going. Of course, I’d drag myself out the door and end up having a great time, so take that as a lesson that you should never let nerves stop you from doing something that scares you! Allowing myself to go out one night a week made me feel less trapped in the endless cycle of schoolwork and I found I was actually more productive after taking a well-deserved break.

At one point, I felt like I was doing something every weekend and wasn’t giving myself enough time to rest and catch up on sleep. Like most things in life, there’s a balance in everything you do. All you have to do is find it. For me, I learned it’s okay to say you’re not available and instead focus on yourself. It’s also okay to go out and have fun. Laughing and spending time with friends is a stress reliever in itself. For me, I found I actually had more energy after I took a night off from doing work. Yes, school is important, but you shouldn’t sacrifice your mental and emotional health for it. If it’s important to you, you can and should make time for both.

Take care of yourself.

As we all know, self-care is a crucial part of feeling like your best self. At many points during high school, I believe it’s one of the major reasons I was able to have the stamina to keep going. Especially during junior year, there’s no way you won’t feel somewhat depleted if you don’t invest in some much-needed care of yourself. At least for me, I know I always feel better and more able to take on the day with freshly painted nails. As someone once said, there’s nothing a good spa day can’t fix!

Performing well in your academic life and extracurricular activities is a big part of junior year, and you can’t be expected to do anything well if you’re not feeling comfortable and happy in your own skin. But seriously, you should never put yourself to the side for anyone or anything. You should always be your biggest priority. Go do that workout, put on that face mask, take that extra-long bath, get those brows done, paint those nails, and get that haircut you’ve been thinking about.

Self-care also includes sleep (and lots of it). Trying to fit in sleep when I could, I sometimes came home from school and took a thirty-minute nap. Similarly, I made sure to shower every night and do a facemask every other night while finishing up homework. It may not always have been the most extravagant routine, but I am living proof that you can practice self-care amidst all the craziness. Life is too short to not take care of yourself and have fun doing it. Do what makes you feel your best and I promise it will reflect in other aspects of your life.

Don’t be too hard on yourself.

If anyone is guilty of being overly critical, it’s me. I am the type of girl who always thinks she can be doing more, no matter how packed my schedule already is. In the fall of my junior year, I was signed up for five clubs. By the spring, I was signed up for two. Overextending yourself may make you look great on paper, but trying to fit it all in will make you go crazy.

Yes, colleges want to see you are involving yourself in various activities and becoming a well-rounded student with a lot to contribute at the university level. However, you should only sign up for extracurricular activities that are genuinely interesting to you, and ones that best showcase your many talents. Not only will this feel more sustainable for an entire academic year, but it will be easier for you to speak candidly about your experiences when filling out your college application. If you are making a conscious effort to be engaged in your school community, colleges will see that, whether you’re a member of ten clubs or one.

So, how do you survive junior year? It’s simple. Use your time wisely. Make time for the people in your life who bring you joy. Take part in some self care. Be kind to yourself. Take each day one day at a time. You got this

Those who know me will tell you I am constantly thinking about something. In all honesty, I am not sure how everyone is not like this; I find it challenging to turn my brain off sometimes. I believe this to be one of my best traits as I learn and grow the most when I am able to reflect. Keeping a diary since a young age, I have always had a passion for words and stories. While it began as a hobby, it is now my main passion and I have begun to develop my story telling skills through creative writing, in particular. I usually write about something I have seen, heard, or experienced, and most of the time I try to convey how my experiences made me feel. I also enjoy contributing to my school newspaper, the Edge. I find creative environments to be extremely exciting and stimulating and it is my desire to someday work in such an environment.
Raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Michala is currently studying Integrated Public Relations and Advertising at the University of South Florida. Michala is passionate about her faith, coffee shop hopping, and the world of beauty. To see more of Michala's work, check out https://instagram.com/stepstoglow and https://stepstoglow.com