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The Senior Year Scaries

High school seniors are faced with many stressful decisions during their transition from high school to college.

Stressed out girl in high school, holding her head in her hands while looking down at homework.
Shutterstock/Antonio Guillem

Everyone remembers the good parts about their senior year of high school. The football games, the dances, graduation. What I’m not so sure everyone remembers is just how stressful senior year can be.

Not only are students balancing homework and extracurriculars, but they’re being faced with one of the most terrifying questions one can ask: what do you want to do with the rest of your life? Do you want to go to college or trade school? If yes, which one? For what? How will you pay for it? This is a lot for a teenager to figure out, and it only skims the surface of what stressors and anxieties seniors in high school face. The transition from high school to college is not an easy one, but having someone to lead you along the way can make it a bit easier.

Here are some of the stressors high school seniors may face, and ways to overcome them, from my own experience:

1. Deciding what you want to do

Starting off strong with the most difficult decision there is, we’re looking at deciding what you want to do. This question is easier for some than others. If you have always known what you’ve wanted to be when you grow up, the question is already answered – do that.

If you’re not so sure, but you have enjoyed experiences related to extracurriculars, volunteer work, et cetera, you may consider pursuing something related to those. Were you heavily involved with student senate? Consider political science. Loved being on the student newspaper? Perhaps journalism is for you. Did you volunteer at an animal shelter and enjoy it? Animal science or veterinary science might be the way to go.

If you have no idea what you want to do at all, consider taking an assessment online. There are numerous tests out there that evaluate your interests and will recommend potential careers that fit them. You’re school may even have a resource for this if you ask.

A line of people dressed up in uniforms of different professions.
There are numerous careers to choose from. Credit: Shutterstock/grinny

These are all good starting points when entering college. If you end up choosing something that doesn’t seem like the right fit, you can always switch your major later. And that’s completely okay! Nearly a third of undergraduate students change their major at least once, according to the National Center of Education Statistics. 

2. Deciding where you want to go

Once you decide what you want to do, the next step is figuring out where you want to do it. There are a few ways to help you decide. You can look into what schools offer the best programs for your chosen field, or you can look at schools that are located where you’d want to be. I knew I didn’t want to be too far from home, so I applied to a handful of universities within my state. It is always a good idea to apply to a good number of schools in case you don’t get into all of them. College Board recommends five to eight schools to ensure the student (in this case, you) is accepted into a suitable institution. 

A zoomed in map with a hand placing numerous push pins.
Applying to multiple colleges is a good option for many students. Credit: Shutterstock/art around me

The application process is a stressful experience in itself. Approximately 58% of high school seniors say that applying to college was the most stressful thing about senior year. The process of applying to schools looks the same for most. You will have to fill out basic information, like your name, date of birth, and high school information. They will want to know what activities you were involved in. Usually there will be one or two admission essays with prompts varying between schools. Some may want you to  include a letter(s) of recommendation, which you can ask for from teachers, job supervisors, and other adults who have a leadership role in your life. There may be an application fee, depending on where you’re applying.

The important part in this process is taking it step-by-step to prevent getting overwhelmed. I created a spreadsheet when I was applying to schools to keep track of where I was at in each application and it helped significantly!

3. Figuring out how to pay for it

Figuring out how to pay for college is probably the most stressful part of the process, in my opinion. Sometimes it will feel unaffordable, and you will question if it’s even worth it. I’m here to tell you there are options!

High school student sitting at a calculator while looking at payment forms.
Financial stress plays a large role in the college application process. Credit: Shutterstock/kitzcorner

Once you start hearing back from the colleges you applied to, you will receive your financial aid offer. This usually is decided based on the FAFSA form you will have to fill out. There are usually workshops through your school or online to help with this. The financial aid offer will vary per school, and it is essentially what the school, and the government, will pay for on your behalf. Whatever the remaining cost is is what you’re responsible for. There are a few ways to cover this cost. 

The first way would be to apply to scholarships. You can find these through local organizations, through the college’s website, and on miscellaneous databases online. The application for these will also vary per scholarship, but will ask for similar information as college applications. If the price is too much up front, you could always consider doing two years at a community college and transferring to a four-year university later. This is a popular option as it helps save thousands of dollars. If you’re wondering if this may be for you, check out this link. You can also look into grants, taking out a student loan if needed, and any savings you may have set aside for college. 

The financial aspect of college will usually play a large role in deciding where you end up going, which is why it is important to have options like I said earlier.

4. Finding Roommates

Once you have committed to a school – meaning you applied, got accepted, and have accepted any financial aid awards – you will have to choose housing. Your options again will differ by school, but try to consider (1) what is cost effective, and (2) how many roommates you want, if you prefer a private bathroom over a communal bathroom, et cetera. 

The thought of moving away from home will probably begin to set in, and it can be scary. Not knowing the area, and thinking about living with a stranger can all feel super overwhelming. It is important to remember that you’re not alone – thousands of people have done this all before. Also, it is easier now than ever to stay connected (thank you internet), so you will still be able to stay in touch with family and friends even though you’re not in the same place.

High school students that became college roommates doing homework in their dorm while smiling.
College provides new opportunities to form connections, like with roommates. Credit: Shutterstock/Dejan Dundjerski

Once you choose your housing, you will have to choose your roommates. Sometimes your school may assign you roommates, but you usually get the option to search on your own first. You can find roommates online through social media, like Facebook groups for your incoming college class. You may also utilize databases like MyCollegeRoomie, if your school participates. The important part when seeking out roommates is to consider what’s important to you. Do you want to live with someone who has a pet? Someone who stays up late at night? The list goes on. Try your best to be transparent when reaching out to people. If you can, try to meet up or video chat with potential roommates ahead of time. Go in thinking about it as making new friends, not as living with strangers. It will make it easier. Everyone else is just as nervous as you are!

5. Deciding what you need to bring

The final step in the transition between high school and college is packing. You will be downsizing space significantly, so you will really have to prioritize what you want to bring. If there is something significant to you that you don’t want to go without, make sure you bring it. Make sure you have all the toiletries you need like shampoo and conditioner (it’s easy to forget about these). For decorations and bigger items, it’s a good idea to reach out to your roommate(s) to see what they’re bringing so you don’t end up with double items. There are numerous lists online, like on Pinterest, that you can refer to for complete packing lists. 

Going Forward

There will be more things to figure out as you go through the process, but nothing to worry about. Thankfully, schools will often send you a checklist with your acceptance letter that explains the next steps to take. If you run into a snag somewhere, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The transition from high school is supposed to be an exciting one, not a stressful one. You’ve got this!

Written By

Multimedia Journalism student at Grand Valley State University. Intern at Trill Mag. Lover of iced tea and desserts.

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