I received an email from a young student who said that she is a rising junior. I eventually realized that she means that since she is currently enjoying her summer break, she has not yet begun her third year undergraduate studies, so will be a junior once the summer break ends and she resumes studies, but at this time she is technically still a sophomore.

Is there a better word than rising to describe someone in her situation? One can change the verb tense - I will be a junior or similar, but that solves the issue through changing tense not finding a better word than rising.

One hears an incoming freshman or similar but while words like incoming sound fine when describing freshmen, it doesn't sound right to me to apply a word like that to a returning student.

I also don't like returning junior because then I might think that the person was a junior last year also and didn't accrue enough credits to qualify to be a senior yet so could be a junior again. It therefore is necessary for the word to show that the person is both returning and advancing (but I like advancing junior even less than rising junior - I've already reviewed the obvious synonyms like progressing.

Any takers? Is rising (and its close synonyms) the best that we can do?

EDIT: I'm continuing to research this on my own and I think a root problem is well captured here

Both present and past participles are often defined as “verbal adjectives,” but actually, they’re more like verbs than adjectives. [emphasis added] The “-ing” verb in progressive tenses is a participle. Take a sentence such as “Aardvark was skiing when you called.” You might be wondering, “What’s the problem? ‘Skiing’ looks like an adjective in the verb phrase ‘was skiing’.” It’s true that you could replace “skiing” with a bona fide adjective, such as “happy,” and still have a grammatical sentence. “Aardvark was happy when you called.” But look closer. “Happy” can do things as an adjective that “skiing” can’t. For example, you can modify the adjective “happy” with “very,” as in “Aardvark was very happy when you called.” You can’t do that with “skiing.” You can’t say, “Aardvark was very skiing when you called.” .....
To work through another example, take the phrase “falling snow.” You can’t say “very falling snow,” so it’s probably not an adjective. However, you can modify “falling” with an adverb: “gently falling snow.” So we can conclude that “falling” is a participle. [emphasis added]

Everything that applies to falling similarly applies to rising. Rising even when used as a verbal adjective retains the qualities of being more like a verb than an adjective. So whether rising is used as a verb or an adjective, either way the listener expects that rising will be a continuous action. But, in fact, the attainment of the undergraduate status of junior is a one-time, singular event.

However, I ran across the interesting term oncoming here as in oncoming senior where @Tom Au mentioned that he preferred it to rising. I think it's a credible answer and hope that he adds it to the answers if he happens upon this thread! The clear advantage of oncoming junior over rising junior is that while one is not in a continuous state of rising when waiting for the one-time moment when one officially begins taking courses as a junior, one is in a state of continuous expectation of that moment, therefore the moment of becoming a junior is continuously oncoming.

@Stephen Scott said "Someone who has completed his junior year and will be a Senior in the following year would more accurately be described as a Rising Junior. Or, at best, a senior in incubation." and his suggestion is based on the intuitive idea of rising for someone unfamiliar with the convention.

@Drew here makes his comment because, if you don't know the convention, rising is not a word that makes easy, intuitive sense.

A word like oncoming has the clear advantage over rising that even if one isn't familiar with the convention, the word oncoming has a very intuitive and natural meaning in this situation that anyone can understand.

  • 2
    What's wrong with rising? Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 20:24
  • 2
    Rising is the term I've used all my life, in the U.S. I'm not sure why it needs to be "better."
    – choster
    Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 20:25
  • Why I don't think rising is ideal is because the present continuous usually indicates that something is, well, continuous. The person is not, in fact, a rising junior in my opinion; instead the person is awaiting a discreet moment when their status changes from a sophomore to a junior. If a man is anticipating receiving his US citizenship would he describe himself as a rising citizen? Of course not. This student has a continuous progression in terms of being a student but in terms of becoming a college junior, that is a one-time deal. Rising is therefore not ideal I think.
    – Brillig
    Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 20:32
  • 2
    There are several fallacies I see in the quest You say "she is technically still a sophomore" after completing that year, only no one else sees it that way. She is longer a sophomore, and 'rising' is the standard term. Analyzing such a set use as 'present continuous' when it's used here as adjective is not fruitful. It takes a village to raise a language, not one person who feels a certain way about an ideal form. Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 21:37
  • 2
    The word everybody uses for this is rising junior. You may not like it, but if you use anything else (other than longer phrases like will be a junior starting September), you won't be understood. Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 17:18

3 Answers 3


The term I used in college and high school was oncoming senior. This was in contrast to "outgoing" or "graduating" seniors who are leaving.

  • Thanks Tom. As I mentioned in my edit, I had run across a post in another thread where you mentioned this term and I really like it myself!
    – Brillig
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 13:29

You might consider incipient:

beginning to come into being or to become apparent
from m-w.com

Sample usage:

As an incipient junior, I am looking forward to all the laboratory-based courses that are now available.


If the person is awaiting an outcome (like a final exam) that’s contingent on furthering their progression from one grade to another, you might consider using a form of “anticipation” that denotes their expected result. This is an example of what came to mind:

She applied for the position during her final days of the academic semester, indicating her grade level as currently being an “anticipative senior”.

If the person knows already that they have passed/met all of the required elements for progression then it is perfectly acceptable to simply refer to themselves as already being a member of the next grade level. If uncomfortable in doing so, they could indicate this instead by a simple tense adjustment like, “I will be a senior at the University of Hopes and Dreams this fall”…or something similar. 🙂

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