12 Most Salient Ways to Help Your Teen Through Eleventh Grade

12 Most Salient Ways to Help Your Teen Through Eleventh Grade

I am going through junior year in high school, for the fourth time.

First, in the late 1970s, I endured it myself. Then as the mother of three I watched my boys battle through this long tough year, struggling with their academic and athletic schedules while trying to visit colleges, navigate a minefield of standardized tests, have a social life and learn to drive.

It is an exhausting process for both parent and teen, fraught with emotion as our kids prepare for the next stage in their lives. At Grown and Flown, I have explored my journey towards the empty nest and there is no question that 11th grade is the first step on that journey. Here are some suggestions to help them on their way:

1. Study for the SAT in the summer

The time to study for the SAT is during the summer between 10th and 11th grade. While your child will not have reached their ideal intellectual maturity, once school begins, they will never again have this much time to focus on this daunting task. Whatever your preferred method of study, get them started before the chaos of junior year descends.

2. Write the college essay with an English teacher

The single best person to help your child write their college admissions essay is not you, the emotional parent, nor is it a paid consultant. The best person is an experienced high school English teacher, preferably one who has taught your child. A teacher will ask all the right questions and help move the process along (“Is that what you mean to say here, it is not clear to the reader? Do you have more details you can add to bring your story to life?”) but will not write the essay for your child. Find this English teacher during 11th grade so that teacher and student can work together the summer before 12th grade commences.

3. Don’t do a spring sport unless necessary

If your high school junior plays a spring sport seriously, so be it, but if they have signed up for that spring sport for social reasons or as a resume enhancer, suggest that they reconsider. Spring of junior year is the hardest time of the year, truthfully, the most challenging season of all four years of high school. Try to help them keep anything unnecessary off their schedules.

4. Don’t visit colleges until junior year

Much has been written about the pressure on juniors as they enter the college process. The easiest way to reduce the pressure is to ban conversation about college and, particularly, premature college visits until the middle of 11th grade. Most of these early conversations and trips are wasted because teens change so much over their four years. If kids concentrate on their studies, activities and standardized tests, they will have done themselves a favor once the process begins in earnest. Behind the scenes, parents can do some research about which colleges will best suit their family’s budget and their child’s interests, but until the middle of junior year, students should just focus on the job at hand. It is hard enough.

5. Pick one activity and stick with it

High school is about finding yourself and your interests but colleges insist they want to see depth and leadership in a student’s activities. The answer? Before your student begins ninth grade, try to help them select one interest or activity that they will pursue for all four years, with a serious commitment to the highest standard they are able to achieve. It doesn’t matter what it is — music, art, community service or a sport. Urge them to pick something they love and envision sticking with throughout high school. Other activities they can pick up and drop as their interests change, but they should select one interest about which they remain constant.

6. Ask for teachers recommendations early

Teacher recommendations need to be written by a teacher that students have in junior or senior year. With the early college application deadlines in November, this, realistically, means it needs to be a junior year teacher. Students should ask for this recommendation before school ends in 11th grade. Teachers are inundated with requests and students should ask early, politely and give the teacher the entire summer to address the request.

7. Avoid signing up for too many tests in May

Standardized tests introduce an entirely new alphabet soup of terms to first time junior parents. If your child is taking one or more AP classes, she will be required to take the AP test for each class in May on dates specified by the College Board. Don’t forget there will be classroom work and tests to do so avoid a May meltdown by looking to other months for the SAT, ACT, or SAT II tests.

8. Read the fine print

Parents need to be involved in the application process. This is a complicated process with multiple essays, recommendations, supplements and more. One of my kids almost missed an application deadline because the art supplement needed to be submitted in October. Another son almost did not get a recommendation from an employer because he missed a small asterisk describing the circumstance under which additional letters were allowed. They were studying for exams, doing sports and activities… I read the fine print.

9. Plan out all four years before they start

Sit down with your to-be 9th grader with their high school course catalogue and plan backward from 12th grade. Together, think about what they hope to accomplish academically over the four years. Few schools sit with kids and plan out their four years even though many classes have prerequisites. Help them pick the most challenging classes they hope to take in the subject areas they like best and develop a plan of how to get there. Things may change, interests alter, but kids with a plan have goals for themselves.

10. Learn to drive in the summer

Depending on your child’s birthday, can they do any of the work for driver’s education or training during the summer before junior year? This is not possible for all kids but for those whose birthdays allow for it, summer is the best time to learn to drive, when they have more time and weather is not an issue.

11. Start the year rested

Despite the above points about making time for SAT studying and driving in the summer, the most important thing to accomplish in the summer before this demanding year is to make sure your teen is rested. High school kids have summer jobs and perhaps for the first time, are staying out a bit later. Don’t let this get in the way of sleep. Beginning 11th grade anything other than fully rested will only be a great handicap in the year to come.

12. Parents: be ready with an ear and a shoulder

The most important thing a parent can do for their high school junior is continue to offer support and a listening ear. Even the calmest of teen will hit rough patches when angry rants or tears of exhaustion emerge. Being there to listen, console and offer counsel is the single best thing a parent can offer as help in guiding them through this tough year.

So much I learned about helping my kids through this process came from the wisdom of parents with kids older than mine. I would love to hear how you helped your child navigate the college process.

Featured image courtesy of Nicki Varkevisser licensed via Creative Commons.

Photo illustration work: Paul Biedermann, re:DESIGN

Lisa Heffernan


Lisa Endlich Heffernan is one of the voices behind Grown and Flown: Parenting from the Empty Nest. She has an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management and worked as a Wall Street trader before becoming an author of three books including New York Times Business Bestseller, "Goldman Sachs: The Culture of Success." You can also find Lisa on the Grown and Flown blog or on Twitter.

468 ad

I had a slightly different experience with a professional counselor.  They set expectations for when things needed to be done and monitored my son's progress so it wasn't my husband and me nagging him to get things in on time.  It was pretty expensive but worth the money not to have a stressful junior year with our son.  They were also very good about allowing him to write the essay in his own voice and not so manicured and professional that a college admissions officer could see through the essay to the high school english teacher.   I have a junior this year and we are using the same counselor - Love grown and flown - always makes me think differently.


Hi Lisa. I have a junior in high school so I sincerely appreciate this. The only thing I would possibly disagree with (not for my own teen but others) is that many teens are not encouraged to go to college at all. Sometimes sending them on college trips (which gets them away from home) can allow them to begin to think about their future. When you send teens in ninth and tenth grade on trips to colleges, it affords them the opportunity to see what college may be like, and improve their test scores and high school experience in general because they have something to look forward to. Just a thought. Thanks so much for posting.


Hi Lisa!   I love these, especially numbers 11 and 12.  Unconventional, yet practical advice.


Hi Lisa, Great advice! My daughter is in 11th grade and I'm sharing this with her now. There are so many pressures, it's really down to the wire. Senior year is easier, right?


Even though I am two years away from this, I am already stressing about the junior year for my now freshman-aged son. This post gave such valuable advice...I just sent it to my husband! 


Yes to all, especially number 2. We had a private college  admissions counselor helping our daughter with her essays, and when her HS English teacher (PhD in English) saw them he called me at 9:30 on a Thursday night to inform me that there was no way those essays could be sent. I fired the college counselor and he helped my daughter craft great essays that we believe were a big part of her getting into the school of her choice. 

Grown and Flown
Grown and Flown

@AJourneyToLove I so completely agree with you. I probably should have made a distinction between showing kids what college is and overzealous parents who begin touring and looking at colleges with their kids in 9th grade and lose their interest by 11th. Kids need to look at college thorough their 11th and 12th grade eyes to make any sort of real decision.  But yes you are right about exposure to what college will be, great point. 

Grown and Flown
Grown and Flown

@wonderoftech I do think senior year is a bit easier and really more fun.  The excitement of applications turning into acceptances and the next stage of their life beginning is really thrilling.  Eleventh grade is just the hard work to get to that point.