Junior year is known as the most difficult year of high school. The class of 2023’s experience is unique because due to high COVID cases in Santa Ana, we experienced a 17 month quarantine that included fully remote classes. Now, we are back in-person for the first time since we were freshmen. Online learning was a struggle for some, while for others, it was their best academic year yet. Regardless, being back has brought new issues.
The class of 2023’s response has been mixed. Some feel like they’re doing great, and others are feeling all of the pressure.
Junior Arturo Ayala said, “Junior year in complete transparency has been difficult. I don’t know if it’s because of the transition from online to in-person, or because junior year is often regarded as one of the more difficult times in high school. Or maybe it’s a mixture of both. I have been able to keep up despite the difficulties, so I’m grateful for that at least.”
The transfer to in-person learning has been a challenge for juniors. That paired with the traditional challenges has amplified the normal challenges juniors face.
Junior Samantha Esparza feels the same. She said, “Junior year has been a challenging year. Transitioning back to in-person after a year and a half of online school has definitely been an adjustment. It has brought me a lot of new opportunities, and it has invited me to step out of my comfort zone, so that’s good, but it has also been a stressful year of trying to maintain a lot of activities at the same time.”
Along with that, many of us are experiencing anxiety. Junior Cecy Rivera has been struggling with academic anxiety.
Rivera said, “I feel like there is always something to do or always something I should be doing. The anxiety never leaves, I’ve just learned how to cope with it. It’s never easy staying on top of things. Oftentimes you have to sacrifice something to achieve even if it’s your mental health. That’s what I’ve had to do anyway.”
Unfortunately, sacrificing our mental health has been the norm for some of us the past few months.
Junior Dani De La Cruz said, “I’ve only started really struggling once the third grading period started. I guess I felt like I had done ‘enough’ despite obviously having 6 weeks to go for the first semester. But when it comes to stuff outside of school and looking at the amount of distractions I have, I should be doing way more homework than I currently do. I have free hours, yet I procrastinate a lot.”
Sometimes academic anxiety can make us procrastinate because we feel like we won’t do well. We even procrastinated writing this article.
Out of all of the challenges, keeping up has proven to be the hardest part.
Junior Fatima Del Carmen said, “So far, I feel that there have been many things that have been going on this year that sometimes can be very overwhelming as the assignments have been piling up like crazy.”
Even with the struggles and looming deadlines, some of us don’t really mind that it’s the hardest year.
Junior Brandon Rubalcava said, “Junior year so far has not been anything special, but definitely much better than last year. Going back to classes in-person and seeing my friends again has been a huge relief.”
Others are even enjoying themselves.
Junior Yancy Vasquez said, “I feel that junior year is going pretty good so far. I’ve had my ups and downs but I wouldn’t change anything. Although at times I do get stressed because of how overwhelming things can be I am still managing to stand on my feet and am pretty proud of myself for doing so.”
Vasquez mentioned that the challenges are like games to her. She said, “I have played them before and although they are like new levels, I know I can win because I am determined to do so.”
Even though Vasquez is enjoying herself, she is still feeling the pressure.
Vasquez said, “I have been struggling a bit because there is a lot of pressure this year especially since we are becoming seniors next year and we have to prepare for that. Not only that, but personal problems are also an issue but I am managing to be okay in the middle of this mayhem.”
Some of us have mixed feelings about the pressure.
Del Carmen said, “I am grateful that I haven’t been struggling too much on the academic side, but when I do, I know that I have the support of my family, friends, and teachers, who are always there whenever I need them. What I have been struggling with the most are my emotions. This takes a big toll on me because it sometimes doesn’t let me perform as well as I would like to in school, which further hurts me emotionally. There is so much stress, pressure, and anxiety that I have to face every day, but personally, I like looking at the bright side of everything. I have a lot of faith in God that He will guide me through success and lift any worry from me.”
The rest of us aren’t really affected.
Junior Aymee Marin said, “I’ve enjoyed junior year even though there have been ups and downs. I’ve enjoyed being back in-person and being able to interact with my teachers better than last year. I’ve been able to keep up with my work for the most part which definitely has reduced the stress I was feeling last year when we were doing remote learning. I also feel that I understand the work much better since I’m able to engage more with teachers. I don’t really have a problem with the way this year has been for me so far so I don’t think I’d want to change anything even if I could.”
Being back in-person has made the more extroverted juniors feel at ease. Now that we’re back, they feel more comfortable than they did online and this is pushing them to do better than last year.
Valerye Zamudio enjoys being a junior. She said, “I think it’s an easy going grade if I’m being honest. It doesn’t feel like an overload as most described it.”
While some people enjoy being juniors, others struggle with the challenges. Sometimes, these challenges have tremendous impacts on students’ mental health. According to data from the California Health Kids Survey, 20% of juniors at Middle College seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months during the 2020-2021 school year.
AVID teacher Kathleen Peterson said, “The full force of the reality of college hits the students somewhere in the first month of school, during AVID. They realize that even though they’ve been talking about college for years, very few of them have narrowed down where they want to go or what they want to study.”
The majority of us are worried about the idea of college.
Esparza described the pressure of researching colleges. She said, “I would say there is a lot of pressure about researching universities, colleges, careers, scholarships, while maintaining good grades at the same time because that is what colleges look at. I appreciate the college planning information, but at times it can be overwhelming thinking about the future while focusing on the present.”
Marin, who is one of the first in her family to be able to attend college said, “I constantly worry about the way certain things will look in my transcript and how my grades/test scores from this year will affect my chances of getting into the university I want to go to. Teachers have definitely made it more clear that this year matters more than previous years but not enough to be too stressed about. Personally, I want to be able to maintain my grades since last year I definitely slacked off. I’m trying to make up for it.”
We are all focused on getting the best grades possible.
Del Carmen said, “There are times where I can excessively worry about how this year will affect my future, especially since this is the year where the colleges start looking at how good we are doing in our classes. Although I am doing and giving my best in all of my classes, I sometimes think that it isn’t enough and I should be doing more than what I can give even though this has a negative effect on me.”
Rubalcava is worried about not getting accepted to schools he wants to attend. He said, “If I don’t hold good grades in both my high school and college classes, and don’t get involved in much extracurriculars, I might not get accepted into the universities that I would like to get accepted to.”
No matter what we’re stressing about, we are all aware the next stage in our life depends on this year.
Ayala said, “I do worry about how this year will affect my future since it’s getting so close to me leaving high school and going to college where my future career and livelihood will start. I do try to not overly stress about it though and simply focus on doing good now, but still prepared for the future of course.”
Vasquez said, “I just know that I have to try my hardest this year and make the most out of it because next year for me is going to be a big chapter in my life and I want to be prepared.”
An anonymous junior said, “I worry that this year will affect my future all the time. I mean you hear that junior year is a year that colleges will look at the most so you have to do really good at it. You gotta get good grades. You have to try to stand out and join all these clubs and different organizations and I just worry that if I can’t do that then how will I be able to achieve the accomplishments I want to achieve in the future. It’s like I’m worried that I will be unsuccessful.”
Some of us are aware of the fact colleges care about this year but don’t really mind.
Zamudio said, “They say colleges look at this year a lot to base their choice on, but at the same time I’m not trying to get into any prestigious colleges anyways.”
We asked the juniors what they wanted to disappear from junior year.
Vasquez said, “If I could make one aspect of junior year go away it would have to be the pressure. I know we are getting close to graduating but I do still feel like at times we need to take things slow in order to process everything that is happening.”
Del Carmen agreed. She said, “There is so much that is expected from juniors, that sometimes people don’t know how it could negatively affect our well-being and our approach to certain things. Personally, I would like to see a change in the workload that is being assigned to us as there are times where we don’t have enough time to do everything in a day and it also doesn’t allow us to take care of ourselves as we should.”
Even before we entered this school year, we were hearing about the importance of junior year. We are constantly being reminded that this is the most important year for us.
Vasquez said, “Many people tell me about the importance of junior year like my teachers, family, and friends stating that it is a lot of pressure to get good grades this year since colleges will be looking at these grades. Knowing this does pressure me to try my best but it also worries me as I want to do my best.”
Del Carmen said, “So far, there have been several people who tell me about the importance of junior year. Mrs. Peterson, my AVID teacher, is the one who constantly reminds us of the importance of junior year, and she starts preparing us for the different colleges and careers. Not only that but I also have my cousin, Jesse Del Carmen (a freshman at UCI), who always tells me to keep up with my work and strive to succeed every time I go and visit him. He tries to give me support, especially when I am at my lowest point because he recently knows how it feels like to be in my shoes, especially since I am taking college classes apart from my high school classes.”
Rubalcava said, “I do get told about the importance of junior year. Mostly from older friends who are already in college. They mostly just remind me to hold good grades and to be involved in extracurriculars.Besides getting As in my high school classes, this year it would be to take as many college classes that I can and get As in every one of them. That and do some community service and join some clubs.”
Tony Vu said, “She (mom) is telling me it is the most important part of high school because after that is college.”
Esparza said, “I do think this year is very important, but moving on to college or whichever path you choose, the grades you received in high school won’t define who you are as a person or your characteristics.Since the end of sophomore year, a lot of our teachers have mentioned the importance of junior year. Beginning sophomore year, we were told the same thing. We are told to stay on track, stay on top of assignments and grades, and try to not fall behind because it is difficult to catch up.”
Even before high school we are made aware of the importance of this year.
De La Cruz said, “I’ve been told before I was even in high school that junior year is the most important, most crucial, and should be approached as such. The people who have told me are the counselors, Mr. Voight, teachers, people in meetings or events, and even one of my aunts.”
Our hopes and expectations of ourselves have helped us stay on track.
Rivera said, “My expectations of myself are to take advantage of every opportunity that appears, to have good grades, to become an active member of my community, and to be kinder to myself.”
Vasquez said, “I have a lot of expectations for myself because I want to be a successful person in life, but I have recently been learning to not be so hard on myself because if I try and don’t succeed it is not the end. Having these high expectations have had a positive and negative effect on me because it motivates me to try my best to reach these expectations but when I don’t reach them I tend to feel like a failure but with this it has taught me that if we learn from our failures then it isn’t much of a failure is it? Nope, the truth is we only succeed if we learn from them. We can win both ways.”
Del Carmen said, “My expectations about myself have changed throughout the year. I remember back at the beginning of the semester where I would never stop and reflect on the amount of progress that I made. I would always have very high expectations about myself, which blinded me from seeing how much I have grown through all the effort that I put into an assignment or exam. I would always put myself down and never give myself credit for anything. Now, I feel that I have somewhat matured as I get to see the good in every assignment that I have done. I reflect on what I have learned and now, I give myself the credit that I deserve, which further motivates me to try my best every time.”
When we look back on the beginning of the year some of us feel like we were a different person. Now we know part of how this year is supposed to go and because of that, some of us have changed.
Zamudio said, “At the beginning I had that back-to-school mood telling myself I wasn’t gonna procrastinate and was gonna turn in everything on time, but that went downhill so quick. I’ll definitely get through junior year no problem.”
Rubalcava said, “At first, I thought that I was going to struggle in some of my classes, especially chemistry. Now, I am confident that I can finish the semester with As in all of my classes. It is definitely easier than I anticipated.Yes, I am confident that I will achieve all of my goals this year.”
Vasquez said, “My feelings from junior year have changed from the beginning to the end because at the beginning of junior year I thought this year would be like any other where it was just school and nothing really mattered but as I have grown to know this year is very important and it had made me feel like I have to become more mature although at times it is good to have fun.”
Del Carmen said, “The difference between my feelings at the beginning of the school year and now is that I used to have so much motivation to do all of my assignments and stay up past midnight in order to complete them at that time; however, this has slightly changed throughout the year. As the assignments began piling up, I have been feeling very stressed and overwhelmed with everything. I don’t take the time to take care of myself as I probably should, which further pulls me away from my motivation. My motivation has slightly gone away, but now, I am making a come-back to get my motivation back by the encouragement that I receive from my peers and teachers because they believe that I can do wonderous things now and forever.”
Ayala said, “I think that at the beginning of the year I was very overwhelmed. Now while the stress is still there, it’s manageable and I think I’ve gotten to a balance of stress and calmness where I obviously worry about doing everything, but don’t overly stress to the point where it’s unhealthy.”
De La Cruz said, “At the beginning of the school year, I felt really independent and planned to focus on grades so that I can just get through the year easily. I was also very wary about how the school year was going to go and how people around me may have changed completely. Now, I just want to not deal with school and vibe on my own.”
Juniors from other schools are feeling the pressure of this year too.
Andrea Haro, a junior from Godinez Fundamental said, “I feel like there is a huge pressure to instantly go back to how it was before. I am overwhelmed with work while I’m still adjusting to being back with everyone. We were thrown into in-person school so fast we never had time to adjust and now teachers are pushing everything onto us. I am starting to adjust but it still causes this immense anxiety in me. Right now I am stressing about AP tests. I feel like the whole year my teachers have been talking about it non stop and they make it this big thing which scares me. I also always feel like I’m in a rush to do work. I feel like there’s never a time to catch a break. Overall all my teachers just push everything down on me so fast I feel like I’m constantly drowning in work.”
Mariana Juarez, a junior from Samueli Academy said, “I am experiencing time management pressure from school. It can be overwhelming to maintain an organized schedule. The main things stressing me out are meeting all deadlines. Junior year comes with many deadlines such as completing our resumes. The hardest part of the academic year has been being able to maintain a balance. When dealing with time management pressure it is difficult to fit my social life into my schedule. As of right now I feel like I am capable of anything that I propose to myself. I believe that with hard work and dedication I could have a better future. Before becoming a junior I would always hear from others that junior year was going to be the most difficult and stressful year. I was told that it would be the hardest year. Since junior year started I haven’t been able to have a sufficient amount of self care like previous years. However, when I do have time I spend time with family or friends. The only thing I would like to add is that even though junior year can be stressful, we are all capable of overcoming anything.”
Ruby Nuno, a junior from Dos Palos High School said, “Many people told me it was going to be the hardest year of my high school experience.”
Taking time for herself has been difficult. Nuno said, “The only time I really have to myself is when I sleep.”
Ruby Perez-Ortega, 15, sophomore, class of 2024 said she heard classes get tougher junior year.
She said, “I’ve also heard juniors have a more flexible schedule and our classes are more focused towards our future careers.”
The schedule seems the most exciting to her. When asked if she is excited for junior year, Perez-Ortega said, “Yes actually! I’m excited for the college classes I’ll be taking, and to be able to set a different type of schedule.”
In terms of the workload Perez-Ortega said, “I think my upcoming workload will challenge me in a good way, I think the more time that passes the more advanced studies get, but at the same time I am also advancing my skills in time management and organization.”
Senior Anahi Ruelas said, “I would say that senior year is so much easier compared to junior year. The only thing I find stressful so far is the idea of applying to college and life after high school.”
She went on to say, “Life instantly got better after junior year overall, I think the main reason is due to being in-person.”
Ruelas shared some advice. She said, “My advice to current juniors though it may be basic would be to turn in all the assignments you can and don’t procrastinate. It makes the biggest difference once inputting your high school transcripts into college apps.”
Alumnus Giovanni Santana described the hardest part of his junior year. He said, “The most challenging part of junior year was staying motivated. Students are pressured to have good grades and present a competitive portfolio for colleges. Around that time my grades weren’t that good and I felt unmotivated. Students also had to prepare for the SAT and ACT tests.”
Like the majority of juniors his mental health was not great.
Santana said, “Junior year was probably the year where my mental health was at its worst. I had no idea what I wanted to pursue academically. I was also dealing with personal matters apart from school.”
Santana did provide some light at the end of the tunnel.
He said, “Senior year is a little easier than junior year because you’re pretty much done with your G-E requirements and you don’t have to worry about testing. But you also have to apply to different schools and have a general understanding of what you want to do after high school.”
Santana ended with, “Something I would like to add is that everybody moves at their own (different) pace. Regardless of whatever school you attend, try your best. It’s okay to take a gap year if you need more time to figure yourself out or even if you don’t plan on attending college (maybe trade school or something else like military). Also, I would say to enjoy the high school experience , participate in sports, clubs, dances, school activities because it’ll go on quickly. Lastly, develop good friendships and stay in contact – it could get lonely the first year or two after high school.”
Christopher Chavez from the Class of 2019 said, “In my opinion, senior year was easier than junior year. After you send in your applications to your schools, you feel a huge weight come off your back. Your workload for your classes are still the same, but for college, all you needed to do was wait. Senior year was definitely less stressful.”
He shared his experience. He said, “Since junior year was the hardest year for me in terms of academics, it’s fair to say that my mental health was not okay. There was just a lot to worry about regarding school, like keeping your grades up, figuring out your future school, and the standardized tests. However, one thing that kept my mental health afloat were my friends, since I knew they were going through the same, which made me feel not alone.”
Chavez said the difference between junior and senior year were the stress levels. He said, “Junior year is the year where you feel like you can’t slip up, given that it’s the most important year.”
“As for senior year, it is less stressful. It is stressful in the beginning, when applying for FAFSA and applying to different colleges. However, once you submit your college application, you will get this sense of relief. So for a good 3-4 months, you can sit back and enjoy senior year. The stress will only come back when acceptance letters come in, which then you’ll have to decide which school you’re going to attend. Junior year is stressful all year, when senior year is only stressful in the beginning and a little bit towards the end,” said Chavez.
Chavez also said that life got easier after junior year.
He ended with, “My advice for current juniors is to not give up. Junior year is definitely the hardest year, but it’s not forever. It is just one year of your life. When you put your all into that one year, you will be happy you did later on. I remember the sleepless nights from my junior year with all the studying and completing assignments. However, I’m glad I had those nights, because they taught me discipline , and that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Reach out to your teachers if you feel lost during junior year. Yes, it will be stressful, and yes, it is a lot to take in, but you’re not alone.”