Dear Grade 11s – Take Note!

Grade 11 is challenging. Your academic classes will be harder, your final grades will matter for university admissions, and you may be taking on more responsibility in your extracurricular activities. All this will keep you very busy! I’m going to suggest that you add one more item to your plate: university planning. 

Especially from September to December, pay attention to people you know in Grade 12. You’ll notice that many of them seem more stressed than they were in Grade 11. There’s a good reason for this. Most likely it’s because in addition to the kinds of challenges you’re facing, they’re figuring out where to find time for a whole bunch more: deciding which universities to apply to, filling out applications, and completing supplemental materials. They may even be trying to make last-minute changes to their classes to meet university requirements they just learned about. 

This does not have to be you next year! Read on to find out what you can do during Grade 11 to avoid a super-stressful first semester of Grade 12.

1. Course Plan

Satisfy Requirements. Make sure the courses you take will meet both (1) the requirements to graduate from your high school and (2) the admission requirements of universities and programs that interest you. You can consult your high school’s academic handbook or your counselor to make sure you will meet graduation requirements. To check university requirements, visit the admissions webpages of universities you’re thinking of applying to. If you discover that you need a class that you hadn’t yet planned to take, it’s not too late to fit it in.

Challenge Yourself Appropriately. Admission officers want to see how you’ve challenged yourself. Talk with your teachers and counselors about advanced options, such as Honors, AP, IB, or dual enrollment courses. It’s important to find the right balance between what will challenge you and where you’ll be successful

2. Assess Extracurriculars

Get involved or continue to be involved in your school and community. Challenge yourself to take on more responsibility and leadership roles in your clubs, sports, or other activities. Think of this as a time to explore your interests so that you can head to university with an idea of what you’re interested in, for both academics and outside activities.  Remember to include some fun activities so you don’t get burned out before you start university. Here too it’s important to find the right balance, being involved in activities you like while doing your best in your classes.

3. Research Universities

Start researching universities online or, if you can, visiting them in person. Visit local campuses, even if you don’t intend to apply to them, to help you figure out which characteristics are most important to you. Think about what type of school you would like to attend: large or small, in a rural or urban setting, research-focused or liberal arts. Attend university fairs and events at your school. Create an initial list of universities you may be interested in. Contact schools for more information about their campuses, departments and activities. 

4. Get Organized

Calendar. If you’re not in the habit of using a calendar, now is the time to start. Most students use a digital calendar that syncs with all their devices, but if you prefer the old-school pen and agenda method, that works too. Keep track of dates and deadlines (tests, assignments, and activities). Even if you keep your calendar up-to-date, it’s easy to forget commitments. Learn to use reminders on your phone and computer so you get advance warning about upcoming events. Even if you feel like you’re capable of keeping everything straight in your brain, you’ll be doing yourself a favor learning to support yourself with effective calendar use.

Resume and Portfolio. Collect your awards, achievements, test scores, best writing samples, and art in a portfolio of your best work. If you are an athlete, start collecting videos of your highlights, and create an athletic profile. Create a resume noting your activities, achievements, leadership roles, volunteer and work experience, and awards.

Each of these steps – course planning, assessing extracurriculars, researching universities, and getting organized – is pretty straightforward. The advantage of doing them now, at the start of Grade 11, is that you still have time to adjust and make changes as necessary. This will be especially important if it turns out you need to adjust your Grade 11 and 12 courses to meet requirements. And stepping up your involvement in extracurricular activities can end up making a substantial difference in how you present yourself in your applications.  

Taking these steps now will set you up for a much smoother and less stressful start when you get to Grade 12.