Junior year is a great time to start thinking about college admissions. Instead of stressing about the process during the fall of your senior year, get ahead of the game and start planning now.

Here are ten things you can do now as a junior in high school that can help your case as a college applicant next year.

1. Finish strong

Many counselors will argue junior year grades are the most important in college admissions. When you are applying to colleges in the fall, the second semester of junior year will be the final grades you will report at the time of the application submission. Therefore, it is very important to finish the year strong.

Push yourself to get the best grades you can in your classes. Even if you had lower grades the previous semesters, upward grade trends can work in your favor.

2. Choose challenging classes for senior year

Photograph of calculus book, symbolizes students taking challenging courses their senior year.

Source: Flickr user photophonic

As you are selecting your classes, take challenging academic classes, even if you are not required to take them.

For example, many high schools only require three years of math. Instead of skipping out on math your final year, take that fourth year. College admissions officers want to see students challenge themselves in their academic choices, rather than taking the easy way out. This also means if honors or Advanced Placement courses are available, take them if you feel up to the challenge.

The rigor of your coursework is one of the key things that college admissions counselors will look at to judge how well you will fit in their institution. If they see you’ve pushed yourself–in many cases, even if it meant getting a B instead of getting an A in an easier course–it will be a good indication that you’re willing to work hard.

3. Get to know your counselor

If you haven’t spent much time with your school counselor, check in with them this semester and get to know them. Also, let them get to know you.

Many colleges want to see a counselor recommendation letter and the recommendation letters that can speak personally about an applicant is always better than a generic letter listing off your accomplishments and extracurricular activities. Your school counselor will also be a great resource for questions about colleges and college admissions strategies.

4. Connect with teachers too

Get to know your teachers and let them get to know you on a personal level. Colleges will need a teacher recommendation letter, and just like counselor letters, it is always best to have a letter that can speak highly about a student.

This is especially important if you know which majors you might be interested in or if you are planning to apply to a selective college program. Show your teachers in these areas that you are passionate about the subject so that when you ask them for that recommendation letter, they can give you honest and fair praise, which will help your chances of being admitted.

5. Continue preparing for the SAT or ACT

There are a few SAT and ACT test dates available before you submit your college applications. If you haven’t taken one or both of these tests yet, then schedule a time to do it and begin studying.

If you’ve already taken one or both tests and think you can improve your score (or think that you might be able to do better on the other test, if you’ve only taken one), then continue to study to schedule a time to take it again.

Standardized tests are not like the tests you take in school, and preperation can make a huge difference (how well do you remember every subject that you’ve studied throughout your high school career? Getting a quick refresher certainly can’t hurt!)

If colleges require the SAT or ACT, those test scores will play a role in the college admissions decisions. In addition, many colleges use your test scores (in addition to grades and your EFC) to determine financial aid. So, not only does a better score give you a boost in admissions odds, but it can pay off big time in the form of financial aid that could dramatically reduce your cost of college.

6. Start or update your resume, activities list, or brag sheet

This will allow you to include all of your extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and other accomplishments in one place. It is also a way to inventory all of your activities and help you determine if you need to do more as you head into senior year.

You will also provide a copy of your resume to your recommendation writers when requesting recommendations. Lastly, it will be your “cheat sheet” as you are preparing your college applications.

Don’t be afraid to “brag” about your accomplishments if they are true!

7. Attend college nights or college fairs

If there is a college fair happening in your area this spring, get ahead in the college search process and attend. These are great opportunity to learn about colleges and talk to college representatives. You’ll start to get a feel for which colleges are most interesting to you and what you’re looking for in a college.

Instead of waiting until the fall when you should be focusing your attention on your college applications, get a lot of your questions answered now. Many of the college nights also include workshops on college admissions strategies and financial aid information.

8. Connect with colleges

In addition to attending college fairs, connect with colleges. Learn everything you can about the colleges you are considering. Join their mailing lists to get up-to-date information about the colleges.

Joining their mailing list will also show the colleges you are interested, and sometimes, demonstrated interest can play a role in college admissions decisions. In addition, follow colleges on social media. Colleges use their social media accounts to share updates and information on cool things happening on campus.

9. Visit colleges

MIT campus tour

Source: Flickr user il.irenelee

If you’re very interested in a college and have not visited yet, make plans to visit.

The college visit is probably the most important part of the college search because it is the only way you will know for sure if the college feels right for you. College mailings and websites will give you the facts; the college visit will let you experience the community.

10. Start planning your summer activities

For many students, they see summer as a time to relax and not think about college. While it is important to do some relaxing, it is also the perfect time to do things that could help with the college admissions process.

Learn more about summer programs, internship opportunities, or volunteer work. These are great activities to include on your college application. Grades and test scores play a big part in the college admissions decision, but your activities could be the thing that can set you apart from students with similar academic profiles.