After months of staring at the mountain of schoolwork covering the surface of my countertop, I decided it was time for my annual cleaning. Each summer, I take a day or two to look through the work I’ve completed over the course of the past school year, and throw out what I deem to be useless. However, while I was rummaging through my old work, the agony and stress of junior year built in me once again. I sat holding my five-pound math binder and my AP Chemistry Princeton Review book, bulging at the seams and unable to just throw them out. Junior year was the beginning of one stressful week, followed by another, and these notebooks, seemingly insignificant pieces of paper, were the only physical proof I had of my hard work, my failures and my successes. As I held on to these papers, I thought back to the months prior to this mountain of work that was now piled up on my desk.

While I was blissfully unaware of it at the time, the summer leading up to my junior year was the last time, for the next two years, in which I was free from the “college twitch,” as I like to call it. Long summer days were all a distant memory after Aug. 28, 2016. Unlike years past, returning to routine early-morning alarm clocks, repetitive school lunches and hours of homework hit me like a dagger.

As the year progressed, it became evident that balancing school work, spending time with friends and family, regularly exercising and watching Netflix was going be harder than I ever imagined.

The harder classes, heavier work load and caffeinated all-nighters came crashing down on me from the very beginning, like anchors pulling down at the bags slowly darkening under my eyes. It seemed as if even Hebrew and Jewish Studies, previously enjoyable classes, started to become difficult and tedious. As the year progressed, it became evident that balancing school work, spending time with friends and family, regularly exercising and watching Netflix was going be harder than I ever imagined. I would often ask myself: how is it possible to catch up with friends, go to basketball practice, have enough time for family dinner and maintain a high enough GPA to get into my top college choice?

For months, I struggled to find a balance between my school work and personal life. There were nights when urgent phone calls from friends superseded any history reading assignment, while other nights left my phone untouched with unread messages and Snapchat notifications just until five minutes before slipping into bed.

But during those summer months, before the dreaded year, I couldn’t imagine how the words used to describe the most important and defining year of high school could live up to their hype. How could it be as awful as everyone says?

For all the reasons your parents, teachers and college counselors have said, 11th grade is academically demanding and an essential year of high school. To balance challenging courses, studying for required standardized tests and taking part in extracurricular activities is more challenging stress-inducing than one might anticipate. But, take it from someone who has just completed this infamous academic year—all you can do is to try your best. It is important to personalize your process and standards because comparing yourself to others is never beneficial. Also, remember to be supportive of your friends and classmates, since you all go through this process simultaneously and at times, they can be your best resource. What most of us tend to overlook is that junior year is the beginning of the end of high school. Junior year presents a last chance to introduce yourself to the stranger you sat next to in freshman biology. It stands as a reminder that there are so many more classes to try, hobbies to explore, classmates to meet, mistakes to be made and so much more to learn.

Junior year is definitely puzzling. It’s exactly what it is made out to be and even more. It’s agonizing, stressful, and life changing all in one, but that’s the beauty of it. Junior year is about the classes you take, and the scores you receive, but it is easy to forget that it is also about the relationships you build, the memories you make, and the mountain of schoolwork you accumulate.