5 Things To Know Before Your Senior Year
1. Start the college application process over the summer.
Trust me, you have no idea how busy you’re going to be at the start of your senior year. Not only will you have to continue with all of your ordinary obligations — classwork, clubs, sports, drama, music — but you will also need to decide where to apply, write multiple essays, complete the common app, request letters of recommendation, and fill out financial aid forms. These new obligations will take time and it’s up to you to find that time amidst the insanity of teenage life.
If I was to do the whole process over again, I would write my college essay and knock out the common app requirements before the school year even began. If there is anything not worth procrastinating on, it is this. Once senior year begins, all sorts of responsibilities will demand your attention — if you’re not careful with your priorities, you may find yourself suddenly mainlining coffee late into the wee hours of the morning as you scramble to meet a deadline.
I recommend reading a few solid examples of college essays to get a feel for what they are generally expected to look like.
As you begin this college application process, make sure you aren’t deciding on college mindlessly. If you want to go to college, then go there deliberately and not because you think that you have to. Don’t go because you believe you are trapped on a conveyor belt designed to take you from high school to college to a lackluster job to retirement. You aren’t — the world is changing.
“Procrastination is the thief of time.” — Edward Young
2. Only do the clubs and activities that you want to do.
While this may seem like pretty intuitive advice — advice that I hope you are following already — it is worth stating plainly now. The way you spend your free time during your senior year can be devoted almost entirely to activities that you actually want to do: you don’t have to participate in anything for the sake of the college application.
You are free to pursue your interests. You are free to join a club that sounds less prestigious on an application but is the best fit for you. You are free to take a break from an extreme extracurricular workload.
With senior year comes the power to structure your time as you see fit.
Use your time wisely.
Begin doing what you want to do now. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand, and melting like a snowflake. — Marie Ray
3. Expect disappointment and develop a plan on how to face it.
I expected my senior year to be essentially like any other year of high school. In fact, in many ways it was… each day I woke up, went to school, participated in some extracurricular activity, worked on homework until I was too exhausted to keep working and then passed out. The routine of school is, rather boringly, the same as any other year.
The only major difference that characterized senior year was in the pressure that comes from having an ambiguous future. At the back of my mind there was always a question that haunted me:
Was it all worth it?
As the days tick by and April 1st grows ever closer, this question will intensify for you as it did for me. You will wonder if the nights spent perfecting a lab report was worth the effort. You will wonder if the extracurricular you joined simply for its appearance was worth it. You will wonder if deprioritizing certain “teen experiences” was worth it. Essentially, you will wonder if the way in which you spent your time would actually result in any real world pay off.
Some level of disappointment is nearly unavoidable. You may not get into your dream school, receive the financial aid package you needed, or finish high school with the legacy you wanted. Even if you do everything you could have possibly done for “Plan A” to work, you are guaranteed nothing. The universe is indifferent.
If I, dear reader, was in your shoes now — if I was on the cusp of my senior year — I would spend some time seriously thinking about the possibility of failure. I would think about what would happen if I didn’t get the military scholarship I wanted, acceptance into my first choice school, or even my second choice school. I would ask myself if I really had the willpower or time to maintain all of the responsibilities I had taken on — how long could I continue juggling chainsaws? I would consider how I might react to the first true failure of my entire life so that, if it were to occur, it wouldn’t unnerve me so deeply.
I implore you to do what I did not: craft a “Plan B” that is just as detailed and comprehensive as your “Plan A.”
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
4. Be a role model.
When I was a freshman, I had two main role models. The person I am now is the direct result of emulating the best aspects of these two individuals. Just think — you can be that person for someone else.
The two students I looked up to — the valedictorian and the Commanding Officer of NJROTC — had their lives together. You could tell by the respect that everyone willingly gave them and by their overall high level of competence that they were clearly destined to succeed. Both of them were leaders within the school at a level that few students could ever meet. Simply put, they had it all.
Striving to be a role model will put a sort of positive internal pressure on you to become someone worthy of the influence you have as a senior. This sort of pressure kept me going when I wanted to fall into an apathetic mindset. I had a vision of myself that I had to uphold not just for myself, but for the future of my high school.
“Everyone in society should be a role model, not only for their own self-respect, but for respect from others.” — Barry Bonds
5. Senioritis isn’t necessarily bad.
This is the most counterintuitive advice I’m going to give you and it, therefore, requires careful explanation. Senioritis, defined broadly, is the disengagement in student life that occurs once the effects of extrinsic motivation is reduced. In other words, once the senior has already secured admittance into the university of his choice (or passed some other threshold), then he will begin to score lower grades in his classes, show up to classes later, or even skip classes entirely. This type of behavior may even extend outside of the classroom; some may stop caring about extracurricular activities and other responsibilities, too. There will come a point in which high school will feel completely and utterly pointless.
But, why? Why is our day to day life suddenly pointless? Why do we suddenly now decide to disregard the carrot and stick motivators that once ruled our lives? Most importantly, how do we redefine meaning?
I think that we fall into a pit of apathy because we aren’t sure what to do with ourselves once grades are nearly meaningless. Whatever tolerance for busy work that we’ve built up through years of schooling collapses when “the stick” — negative extrinsic reinforcement — is removed. Senioritis hit me as the ultimate form of burnout: I was exhausted from having to keep up the impossible ideal of perfection in every facet of my life. I, and others like me, are much better off once external pressures are removed.
Senioritis isn’t bad when you choose to think about the opportunity cost of all of your actions:
For example, whenever you are about to do something that has no intrinsic value, think about the next best thing that you could be doing instead. Instead of meticulously perfecting a school assignment, maybe it’s better to spend your time developing a hobby, reading, creating something, exercising — or really anything else that will benefit your life. Sometimes it really is better to take the “B” or “C” grade now that extrinsic motivators have lost their power.
At its best senioritis is freedom to pursue whatever is most valuable to you in your life now; it is the freedom to craft meaning for your life on your own terms. However, recognize that at its worst senioritis is the manifestation of apathy in every major element of your life.
When you arrive at the moment when school loses purpose, step in and build your own purpose.
“Life takes on meaning when you become motivated, set goals and charge after them in an unstoppable manner.” — Les Brown
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