During my freshman year, I took the time to sit down at my family’s desktop computer with my Oyster River High School (ORHS) program of studies planning out the next three years of my life. All of my high school classes laid out, crammed into one organized spreadsheet. After a few conversations with my school counselor and some digging around online, I thought I had everything figured out. Every February since, while my peers stress about not knowing what classes to sign up for, I refer to my handy spreadsheet, with every single class of my high school career laid out in front of me. 

February of my sophomore year, I was excited to finalize and submit my junior year schedule. Crammed full of arguably challenging courses, it consisted of Physics and AP Biology, French 4, Precalculus, and Journalism 2, with no free period in sight. I reassured myself that I’d be okay, and as long as I worked hard I would have an easy senior year. I went in with this mindset at the start of the school year, overjoyed with the thought of getting the hard work done now and confident in my ability to handle a course load that rigorous. 

It wasn’t until I failed one of my first quizzes of the year–actually failed, the big red “56%” at the top of the paper to prove it–that I realized I may be overworking myself and that maybe I couldn’t handle such a rigorous workload. I began to question myself. How could I challenge myself, make myself look good on future applications, and still have time for after school activities, a job, my family, and my friends without the stress completely overwhelming me? 

My point is that we, as students, should not push ourselves too hard during our junior year of high school. This is not to say you should sign up for those infamous “easy A” classes and give yourself a stress-free, easy year. It is important to find some sort of balance, where you can challenge yourself and have a life outside of school. Junior year should be a time for students to keep up their good grades from freshman and sophomore year, or work to improve those grades in preparation for life after ORHS. 

Our current perception of junior year is unhealthy. While some of the pressure to do well and to take on a lot comes from teachers or parents, most of it is from our peers and from ourselves. As students, we need to realize that taking too many challenging classes will likely have a negative effect on us and may not be worth it in the end. 

Emily Shuman (‘20) offers this piece of advice, “find out what you’re interested in and try to get into those classes instead of just taking the easy A classes.” This is huge. With any class you take at ORHS, you’re going to have to put in work. I have taken “easy A” classes that have caused me more stress than any higher level math or science class, only because I had no interest in them.   

Unfortunately, many students, myself included, feel pressure to take challenging classes their junior year. With our future applications in mind, many students opt for more rigorous courses, instead of taking the classes we would really enjoy. 

Carly Anderson (‘21) described the pressure of taking difficult classes for colleges to see and to stand out against other applicants. “I felt without [challenging classes], that might put me in a place where I wasn’t as prepared as some other people and if schools see that, I might not be as eligible,” said Anderson. 

I completely agree with Anderson. There is an enormous pressure to get good grades your junior year. As students, we are told by parents, teachers, and classmates that junior year is the most important year of high school, as that it was colleges look at the most. This idea was something I was aware of early on in high school, but failed to consider how true it was or the toll it would take on me.

ORHS school counselor, Jason Baker agreed that the pressure to do well is there but said, “the biggest challenge is that [the pressure] is built up. Whether it’s kids talking to other kids, kids talking to their parents, reading stuff on the internet, or just hearing things we say unintentionally.”

Lauren Hoppler (‘22) has already heard this idea. “There’s stigma that it’s the hardest year and that colleges look at your junior year so I feel that the pressure is definitely there.”

Anderson agreed saying, “I was also told that junior year is the hardest, but I did set myself up for a really hard year. There are ways to make it not as hard but I do think there was a large increase of stress.”

While junior year is important and it’s the first year many students begin to take more advanced classes, it’s not all or nothing. “If you have a bad quarter one or a first semester of junior year, your life is not ruined. Do your best. Bite off what you can chew. Do not bite off more than that. Just put in the best effort that you can and it will work out,” said Baker. 

Baker explained how a high schooler at ORHS doesn’t necessarily need to have an overloaded schedule to be prepared for college or other future plans. “You could have a meaningful six period day that’s appropriately challenging but also gives you that period off where you don’t have to work. So, I encourage students to really consider having a free period. You can easily have one and take appropriately challenging classes that set you up for a life after high school,” said Baker.  

Baker explained that when you do have an overloaded schedule, you’re going to lose something in the process. “If it’s too big and there’s too much to handle usually something gives. Maybe they keep that schedule all year but they might not get the grades they want. You only have so much attention you can give to classes and so much effort that you can give so if you’re at max capacity and you’re not making the progress you feel comfortable making, something’s going to give,” said Baker. From my experience, this is one hundred percent accurate. While I kept my perhaps crazy schedule, the first thing to give was my grades. 

Since middle school, I had gotten fairly good grades, admittedly without much studying. Junior year changed that for me and I found myself in a position I had never been in before, where I had to build my work ethic from scratch. This happens to many students at some point, whether it’s the start of middle or high school, their freshman year of college, or, in my case, the dreaded junior year. 

Shuman said that junior year she began to think about homework all the time, even during play rehearsal. “While sitting off stage you have to do homework, you have to be studying, you have to do Quizlet on your phone and be quizzing yourself in the car or on the bus or any time you can, because teachers do expect so much from you so you have to manage your time really well.”

Early on in the year, I began to rethink my entire schedule and found myself regretting the number of classes I had signed up for. I quickly discovered that my self made goal of getting straight A’s through my seven-period headache of a schedule was next to impossible, at least for me. 

Going along with that, Shuman explained, “sophomore year you don’t really get to pick what you do, you get assigned to most classes. If they are easy for you, you don’t really have any other options so you could easily get an A. Junior year you really get to start choosing what you want. The classes that you want might be hard, so you can’t go in expecting to get 95s on everything.”

Along with my grades, I also found that I had lost a lot of time for myself. With the new amount of work and expectations I found went hand in hand with junior year, I could no longer get away with going home and watching TV after school or spending time with my friends every weekend. This caused me to think about why I was taking seven rigorous courses and if the amount of stress I put on myself was worth it. 

Baker explained that despite the amount of work you may have, you have to prioritize yourself. “Self care is super important. You may not think you have time in your day for self care, but you do. You have to. Because if you don’t, you’re going to burn out. Whatever it is, it goes back to being selfish, in a good way,” said Baker. 

Another misconception that I had strongly believed is that junior year is a good time to get your credits in to give yourself an easy senior year. However, Baker poses the question, “If you get all your credits done by junior year, what are you going to do senior year?” Unless you’re graduating early, colleges don’t want to see you slacking off your senior year, so it’s important to find a way to balance your required classes throughout your four years at Oyster River. 

So, if you are an underclassman stressing about your junior year, I highly suggest planning out a schedule of classes for your four years of high school. This is helpful because it allows you to make a plan and see an end goal. If you know you want to take a certain class senior year, this allows you to take the prerequisites now before you find it’s too late.

However, I don’t recommend making this your only plan. It is important to be flexible and to take the advice from family, friends, or teachers to heart when they tell you your course load may be too much to handle.

Baker said, “sometimes the path you’ve laid out for yourself or the one you feel that you should follow, sometimes you follow it and it works out and sometimes you take a different path but you can still get to where you want to go.” 

When signing up for your junior year classes, I challenge you to ask yourself “why?” Determine why you’re taking the classes you’re taking and to make sure you’re taking them for the right reasons, meaning the classes that you’re actually interested in. Don’t take the easy A class only for that easy A, but also don’t pack your seven period day full of AP classes if you can’t handle that.  

If there’s one thing I want you to take from this article, it’s something I wish I had heard before my junior year, which Baker said by asking the question, “what good are you to your academics, your friends, your parents, or to the people around you, what good are you to them, and what good are you to yourself if you’re running on empty and stressed out?” 

Artwork by Hannah Jeong