Resources / Study Break

Senior-year Stress: Here's What Students Say and Do About It

stressed student at desk with hands to temples

What did CollegeData students find most stressful about their senior year of high school and what advice do they have for the high school grads of 2024? Here are the results of CollegeData’s 2023 Senior Stress Survey.

If you’re a high school senior, you’re likely well acquainted with stress. In a Yale University survey of high school students, almost 80 percent said stress was the feeling they experienced most often during a typical school day.


Senior year can be one of the most stressful times in a student’s life, especially for those applying to college. In addition to juggling school work, family responsibilities, social relationships, jobs, and extracurricular activities, many high school seniors are also navigating an unfamiliar and highly competitive college admissions landscape, figuring out how to finance their education, and making big decisions about their future.

In October, we surveyed* registered users of CollegeData who graduated from high school in 2023 — as well as current high school seniors graduating in 2024 — to find out what caused them stress, how stress affected them, and what resources helped them deal with stress.

When we asked students what stressed them out the most during their senior year of high school, their responses fell into the following areas:

  • Applying to college
  • Balancing schoolwork, social life, and college applications
  • Paying for college
  • Class workload/rigor
  • Life after graduation


Below is more detail on how students responded within each category.


The highest percentage of high school seniors we surveyed (58 percent) said that applying to college was the most stressful thing about senior year. These students found many aspects of applying to college stressful, including the usual suspects: writing essays and taking SAT and ACT tests.

  • “I have so much writing to do and so little time to do it. Writing dozens of high-quality essays in a handful of months (while balancing school and work) is stressful, one student said.
  • “Standardized tests are stressful because one test can determine so much about your future options down the road, remarked another student.
  • “I was scared that my score was going to define what institutions I would get into, added another.


The high level of competition to get admitted to college was a major source of stress for 17 percent of the high school seniors we surveyed.  

  • “I know my grades are good, but it’s hard to feel confident in my abilities when I know there are people applying who are better than me,” said one student.
  • Another said, “Admission rates for top colleges have gotten so low... I have trouble with not comparing myself to others and feeling like I’m not a competitive enough applicant.”

In recent years, competition has increased as both the number of students applying to college and the average number of schools to which students are applying has gone up. According to a report by the Common Application, the number of students submitting applications through its platform increased 30 percent from 2019-2020 to 2022-2023, and the number of schools to which students applied (an average of 5.7 applications per applicant) increased by 8 percent.


Some students (6 percent) said this competitive landscape caused them to worry about not getting admitted to their top choice, but even more students (12 percent) feared not getting admitted anywhere.

  • “I felt like I was going to get rejected by everyone,” one student said.
  • “I’m stressed by having to compete against my classmates and other peers for a spot at colleges,” expressed another student, “but I’m most stressed out by the possibility that I might not even be good enough to be considered for the college to begin with.”
  • “I have a deep fear of my efforts going to waste and the idea of having sacrificed my mental health, my physical health and my free time for nothing.”

Even though many colleges have loosened testing and essay requirement by making some requirements optional, some students felt these new options increased their stress levels.

  • “I did not take the SAT which reduces some stress, but I am also worried that not sending scores will lower my chances of getting into schools I want.”


STRESSOR #2: Managing SchoolWork, Social Life, and College Apps

Senior year of high school can be busy enough without applying to college. By senior year, some students have reached top leadership positions in clubs, sports teams, jobs, youth groups, or other activities, and these activities may require a larger time commitment than previous years. As one student explained, There were more expectations placed on me being the oldest in the school -- to get a lead in the musical, to participate in all the music competitions and honor bands I could, etc.

It’s also the last year of high school, and many students want to spend time with their friends and participate in social activities that mark the end of their senior year.


In our survey, about 15 percent of students reported that balancing schoolwork, social life and college apps brought on the most stress.

  • There are many things piled onto you at once during senior year,” said one student. “I’m expected to have a job, help out at home, have extracurriculars, apply to colleges, apply to scholarships, maintain my GPA, do my homework, and more. Sometimes it just gets really overwhelming.”
  • “I have a full course load, including two concurrent enrollment classes, extracurriculars every night of the school week, work, plus managing applications,” added another student. “I feel like I have no free time.”
  • “Focusing on studying and maintaining good grades does not leave much time for enjoyment or spending time with friends,” one student lamented. “Senior year is supposed to be a fun year, but there always seems to be little time to do anything other than school work.”



While applying to college brings on plenty of stress, paying for it can be an additional and constant worry for some students, even long before they’ve made their college lists. As reported by College Board in its 2022-2023 annual survey of colleges, the high total price tag of college  -- averaging $27,940 at in-state public universities and $57,570 at private colleges – can spark anxiety for many students and families.


Of the students we surveyed, 15 percent said the most stressful aspect of applying to college was figuring out how to pay for it. Students mentioned the burden of taking on debt, the high cost of attending college out of state, and concerns about not being able to afford the college of their dreams.

  • “I want to go to a college [that] has everything I’m looking for [...]” explained one student, “but it’s too expensive for my middle-class family, especially with the financial issues of medical and property bills we’re dealing with right now.”
  • Another student commented, “I was (and still am) very worried about not getting enough financial aid to get a bachelor’s degree much less the master’s that I am hoping to achieve, and the FAFSA opening up late and changing its rules about siblings concurrently enrolled in college is not helping my stress levels.”


Stressor #4: Class Workload and Rigor

While junior year of high school can be the most rigorous academic year for college-bound students, the academic pressure doesn’t always ease up during senior year. Many high school seniors continue to take demanding Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and honors courses to impress colleges. According to Research.comthree quarters (75 percent) of American high school students and half of middle school students described themselves as “often or always feeling stressed” by schoolwork.


Nine percent of students in our survey cited more demanding courses as their biggest source of stress senior year.

  • “Work gets increasingly harder as the years go by. I feel stressed maintaining my GPA,” one student said.
  • “The classes I was taking [had] higher expectations. And with the newly raised expectations the amount of work increased, which ultimately caused more stress,” another student added.


STRESSOR #5: Life after graduation

High school graduation is generally a time of celebration, but for a very small percentage of the students we surveyed, just 2 percent, life after high school was their biggest source of stress. This could be because college is unknown, or because they find the looming responsibilities of adulthood a little daunting. As one student said, “The thought of living on my own is a stressor.”



Stress can impact students in myriad ways, affecting their academic performance; physical, mental and emotional health and well-being; and social relationships. A large percentage of students we surveyed (68 percent) said their mental state was impacted by the stress of senior year. Far fewer students reported that the stress affected them physically, academically or socially. 
  • “The stress definitely affects me mentally more than ever,” said one student. “I get discouraged and lack the motivation to do anything while many are telling me this is my most important year.”
  • “My mental health for sure is at an all-time low,” another student remarked. “This is the time which can shape the future for my life, and thinking about that, and doing all the ‘right’ things creates unimaginable stress.”
  • “I feel like I have become very depressed, because every week I see the to-do list pile up, and I just get so sad that I'm never making any progress; that life has become an ever-ending cycle of tasks,” one student said.
  • “The stress makes it difficult for me to focus on pretty much everything that requires lots of thinking,” expressed another student, “including some of my hobbies, and that is making me very mentally exhausted.



We asked students to rate several senior-year stress factors on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being “extremely stressful.” The highest percentage of students (28 percent) rated “applying to college” at level 10, with another 28 percent rating “competition to get into college” at the same level. “The thought of not getting into any college” was rated at level 10 for 24 percent of students. Another 20 percent gave the highest stress rating to “figuring out how to pay for college.”


How Do high School Seniors Cope with StresS?

Most of our survey respondents reported that they reached out to other people in their lives to help them cope with senior-year stress. Almost 56 percent said they reached out to their friends; 55 percent to their parents or guardians; and 18 percent to teachers. However, almost 17 percent of survey respondents said they did not talk to anyone about the stress they experienced senior year.


Yet, when asked what specific things they did to alleviate stress, 90 percent of respondents mentioned seeking the advice and support of adults or peers. Students also reported using other stress-busting methods, including listening to music (46 percent), sleeping more (19 percent), and going online to watch YouTube, check social media or play games (32 percent). A smaller percentage of students said they tried to alleviate stress by exercising more, improving their diet, or meditating.



Here is some of the advice our respondents wanted to share with high school students on dealing with stress.

  • “Don't compare yourself to others, everyone's going down their own unique path and that's not for anyone else to judge.”
  • “You’ll make it in the end. Until then, push through; you can do it. Take some time every day to do something nice for yourself so you don’t get consumed by work.”
  • “Do not be afraid to drop classes that cause you too much stress.”
  • “Stay in communication with family and teachers. Get your sleep and eat a balanced diet. Exercise helps me reduce stress.”
  • “Make a to-do list sorted by order of importance and focus on one task at a time.”
  • “If you create a schedule and keep yourself disciplined, you will reach your deadlines and goals. I started my essays, applications, and preparing for competitions really late, but with discipline, I was able to get them done.”
  • “Divide your college applications into smaller chunks and find time over the weekend or during free periods to complete them. Trust me, it works.”
  • “Tell your parents and friends what you are worried about. It feels so much better when you don’t feel alone.”
  • “Don’t be afraid to seek out professional help. Being able to work through problems with somebody who is completely unrelated to them is very beneficial.”
  • “Focus on your future and how your hard work will pay off.”

We hope you’ll keep these survey results, student experiences, and advice in mind as you progress through your senior year of high school. If you are feeling stressed, consider reaching out to friends, family or other adults you know. Remember that stress is a normal human reaction. As these survey results show, if you are feeling stressed out senior year, you are not alone.

*Methodology: Survey results presented in this article were generated from an email survey of CollegeData registered users. The survey was sent to students who were high school seniors in 2022-23, and to high school seniors graduating in 2024. A total of 144 CollegeData registrants completed the survey. Responses were provided anonymously.

We try to make content available to you on that you may find helpful. The content may include articles, opinions and other information provided by third parties. If we can reasonably fact check articles provided by third parties and information used in those articles, we will. However, opinions of third parties are their own, and no fact checking is possible. The content on may not apply to you or your situation. We recommend that you refrain from acting or not acting on the basis of any content contained on without consulting with your parents, high school counselors, admissions representatives or other college counseling professionals. We will not be liable for the content on or your actions based on any content on