Hey Junior,

How’s it going? Junior year is definitely the most important year in your high school career, so don’t give up yet! Your schedule’s full, you’re overwhelmed with homework and you’re on your way to earning the title of upperclassman. This year is all about priorities. It’s hard to focus on school when there’s so much going on. But if you stay on track, it’ll pay off. As soon as you can, start looking for a part-time job. It’s great to have a little money for yourself and some to put away in your savings. Also, start looking for colleges that really appeal to you. Pick schools where you’ll be happy in the classroom and on campus. You’ll be there for four years, so every little detail matters. What clubs can you join where you’ll meet new people? How big are the classes? How’s the food on campus?

In the fall, visit as many schools as possible. Take tours, meet with professors, and if you’re an athlete – talk to coaches. Make a good impression on everyone you meet because you never know who can help you down the road. Find out if there are local college fairs going on. Ideally, a college fair is a great way to get fast facts on your choice colleges but they can actually be pretty overwhelming. If you attend one, make a list of the colleges you want to investigate. Otherwise, you’ll be wandering around like a lost child.

The SAT is the mother of all tests you’ve ever taken. A test wrapping up everything you’ve learned in high school. Don’t panic, you’ll get through it. To prepare, take a few practice tests online but don’t drill yourself with information overload. Get a good night’s sleep before the test and have a big breakfast in the morning. Leave your cellphone at home; your social life can wait a few hours while you focus on your future. It’s insanely long and multiple times during the test, you’ll want to throw in the towel and just go home. But this test has everything to do with getting into college, so do your best.

When you start applying for college, don’t overdo it. Limit yourself to a top three or four. Pick what’s best for you. Follow your bliss and realize what will prosper for you in the long run.

Next, start thinking about money. Price things you’ll need for your college dorm and things you know you’ll be purchasing weekly. Living on your own is a little terrifying and very expensive! How’s that job search coming along? Look and see if the college you plan on going to has a work-study program, where you can earn money while you’re enrolled.

Independence is a great part of growing up. It’s liberating to be trusted and to make your decisions. With power comes responsibility, so it’s vital to keep your priorities straight. I’ve learned how fast high school flies by. Yesterday, I was walking into high school the first day of freshman year. I was a naïve, shaken freshman with no idea what lay ahead. Today, I’m a graduating senior with college acceptance letters to show for it. Throughout these four years, I’ve nearly given up. I’ve sacrificed a social life for school work and dedicating myself. High school is four years of your life you’ll never get back. It’s stressful now but you’ll someday realize how much it’s done for you. So buckle up and make the most of your senior year as it flies by.

Mariah Niemiec is a senior at Charter School for Applied Technologies. She plans to attend Genesee Community College in the fall.