Freshman = 9th grade in high school or year 1 of college
Sophomore = 10th grade in high school or year 2 of college
Junior = 11th grade in high school or year 3 of college
Senior = 12th grade in high school or year 4 of college
High school is typically a 4-year school with grades 9-12. I just wanted to clarify because I don't think these terms are the same everywhere.
Throughout my life, my junior year has always been my best year of school. Whether "best" was defined as the most good or the least bad - junior year was always the best. It was my best year of high school, my least bad year of college, and at my pre-K-8 school, my best years were 5th and 6th grade, which proportionally correspond to junior year. (If you just count grades 1-8 and divide the time into quarters, grades 5 and 6 are the third quarter, which corresponds to junior year).
Even though I loved high school and hated college, they still follow the same basic pattern in terms of how the years felt proportionally to each other: freshman year is new and scary, sophomore year is boring, junior year is fun, and senior year is uneasy and complicated with lots of emotions that I never knew I had until I reached it. My pre-K-8 school basically corresponds the same way: grades pre-K-3rd were like freshman year, where just being in school was still a scary thing, 4th grade was like sophomore year, unexciting and uneventful, but the scariness of school was noticeably gone, 5th and 6th grade were like junior year, lots of fun and the only two years that I can really say I enjoyed at that school, and 7th and 8th grade were like senior year, full of uneasy and complicated feelings.
Freshman year is defined by newness, which can be good or bad. I absolutely loved my freshman year of high school, and freshman year of college was the worst year of my entire life. Whether freshman year is good or bad depends on whether the place I am is good or bad for me, but it's always going to be a year of not having my friend group and my life established yet, which I don't like. I like to feel safe and secure and established, and I don't like changes and transitions. Proportionally, freshman year will always be at least a little more stressful than the middle years.
Sophomore year is defined by boringness because the newness of freshman year has worn off, yet I haven't been at the school long enough to have really established my life there and found my niche. In high school, sophomore year was my least favorite year. Since I loved my school, the new excitement of freshman year was a positive thing, so I felt a bit of a let-down once that newness became routine. Yet, sophomore year was still too early to have my friends group and my niche established. I talked to a lot of people, but didn't feel deep connections yet. I hadn't had enough acting experience to get the bigger parts I wanted in the plays. In college, sophomore year was significantly less bad than freshman year. While it was still one of the worst years of my life, it was nowhere near as bad as my first year, mainly because I was not a first year student anymore. I could choose my roommate and I picked a new major that I liked better, and I knew a lot of people even if we weren't close friends. Even though college was horrible, I would say that of the four years, sophomore year was defined more by the lack of good things happening than by bad things happening.
Junior year is defined by fun. It's the year that I have my friends established and the year that I find my niche. In high school, junior year was when I got the best roles in the plays. It was also the year that I started to feel a stronger sense of belonging with my friends. I knew where I belonged, and I felt a deeper connection with my friends than I had in the earlier years. Junior year of college, while it was still one of the worst four years of my life, was the least bad of my four years. Sophomore year I struggled a lot with trying to get parts in plays and singing groups, and by junior year, I took fiction writing class and decided to pour more of my energy into my writing instead. I also started choreographing dances - dance club was the one performing activity that you didn't have to audition for, and by the end of sophomore year, I had decided to pour more energy into dance since it was the only performing activity that I could join. Junior year I also developed much closer relationships with my friends. Some of the "friends" I had that year didn't stay my friends, but we had some fun together at the time. Proportionally, junior year was the year when I had the most fun with friends.
Senior year is defined by all those complicated feelings about leaving. In high school, I enjoyed my senior year very much, but it was also very stressful applying to college and knowing that our time together was so limited. All of that stress affected what I did that year. At some of my play auditions, I felt like I didn't give my best because I just was so busy and overwhelmed with other things that I wasn't able to focus the way I would have in earlier years. I was in a musical at the very end of the year, and I just didn't get to enjoy it the way I would have normally because my heart was in a million different places rather than being focused on the play. Senior year of college was the second worst year of my life, after freshman year. I went into a very deep depression as my college experience came together and I realized just how horrible it had been. (Everything came together in same way senior year of high school, but that was more of a positive experience). One thing about senior year is that everyone wants to talk about the future and no one is really focused on now. I am very much a "now," kind of person, and I really hate it when everyone just wants to talk about going off to college and getting jobs rather than how the school play is going or what's going on this weekend.
The funny thing about junior year is that I always thought it was just a coincidence that it was always my favorite year. After all, the things that made it that way could have happened any year. 5th grade was great because I had a supernice teacher. 6th grade was great because I was in my first-ever play, which is still one of my favorite memories. Junior year of high school was defined by the plays I was in. Junior year of college was defined by fiction writing class, dance, and fun with friends. And all those things could have happened in any other year, right?
No. They couldn't. I'm realizing now that all of these things were very much defined by the time in which they happened. I had a very nice teacher in 5th grade, but if she had been my teacher when I was younger, I would not have had the guts to talk to her at break time and form a friendship with her. If she had been my teacher in 7th or 8th grade, I would have still had all those complicated feelings and would not have felt like everything was all bright and sunny just because she was my teacher. I would not have been as deeply focused and interested in the books we read together and the journal that we wrote back and forth to each other. I was in my first play in 6th grade, which was awesome. But again, if that play had happened when I was younger, I would have been too afraid to try out. If it had happened when I was in 7th or 8th grade, I would have still had those overwhelming feelings about leaving the school and would not have had my life 100 percent consumed by the play like I did in 6th grade. Junior year of high school I got great parts in the plays, but I would not have gotten those roles if we did the same plays freshman or sophomore year. I needed those two years of acting experience before I could get those roles. And senior year, I just had so much going on that I could not focus on theatre the way that I could junior year, both in terms of doing well at auditions and in terms of enjoying the plays that I was in. Junior year of college was defined by fiction writing class, but I know that I would not have been able to concentrate on my writing during freshman or senior year. Choreographing dances was an idea that my friend came up with at the end of sophomore year as a way that I could be more involved in dance. I would not have been able to handle this during my freshman year. And really, the reason that we came up with this idea was because I had spent two years unsuccessfully trying to get into other groups. It took that time to figure out how I could be very involved in performing at college. Senior year I actually didn't choreograph a dance during my final semester because it was too much to handle emotionally. And in terms of friends, it took 2-3 years to establish those relationships. When I look back on my school years, these patterns are not coincidences at all.
Junior year is always the time when I feel the most established. There's no newness and adjustment of freshman year. There's no boredom of sophomore year because I have an established friend group, niche, and fun things to do. And there's no threat of my established life being ripped out from under me like senior year. What I've realized recently, now that I've been out school for a long time, is that I want to live my life in junior year. I know that some people like to move around and have lots of adventures and changes and new beginnings, but I'm not like that. I don't like new beginnings and changes and transitions. I want to always feel safe, secure, and like my life is established. I want to always live like it's junior year.