Resources / The Road to College
6 Senior-Year Fears and How to Fight Them
It’s normal to feel some anxiety about being a senior in high school – there’s a lot to do and experience! Here are some of the most common senior-year fears and tips for dealing with them.
You made it! The last year of high school is finally here. You’re probably looking forward to a rewarding last year, spending time with your friends, taking a leadership role in your clubs, finishing up your AP classes, and generally enjoying the rest of high school.
Unfortunately, senior year can sometimes be more stressful than you may think or be prepared for. This article will give you some tips on how to manage the stress of senior year and emerge successful on the other end.
Fear #1: Balancing school-work, extracurriculars, etc. while applying to college
Senior year can easily get overbooked with school work, extra-curriculars, family responsibilities, maybe a part-time job – all while applying to college, which includes researching and visiting schools, applying for financial aid, taking standardized tests, writing essays, completing applications and maybe even doing interviews. This may seem daunting when you line up these tasks in a list, but with some planning, these activities can be easier to tackle.
- Use Google or another calendar to make a week-by-week plan and sync it with your phone to stay on track and keep your stress levels down. Make sure you keep track of every aspect of your life, including your work and social commitments, school assignments and extracurricular activities, and college application tasks. Try your best to also schedule in free time for yourself, your friends, and your family. Check this calendar daily and set reminders to help you stay organized.
- If you are applying for a part-time job, look for something where your schedule doesn’t change weekly. Often times, jobs with irregular hours make it harder to stay organized and can make you frustrated, especially if you do better with a set schedule.
- Begin your college research and your application essay as early as you can and create a plan and a deadline for completing your applications. Carve out some time each weekend or on certain weekdays, to research schools, work on essays, and attend online admission events. You may also want to take advantage of any three-day weekends or school holidays (Columbus Day, Veterans Day, and even Thanksgiving break,) to make progress on your applications.
Fear #2: Not being able to afford college
Googling the price of colleges, especially prestigious private ones, can shock you to your core. The full cost of attendance at some private colleges is more than $80,000 per year. NYU, for example, reported a COA of $83,230 for the 2022-23 academic year. The cost of some public colleges can be more than $35,000 a year for in-state residents. When you see the full price of college for the first time, don’t feel discouraged. Here are some tips that can ease some of your worries about paying for college:
- The cost of attendance (or “sticker price”) of most colleges includes all colleges costs — tuition, fees, room and board, books and miscellaneous expenses for a single year of college. It’s an estimate and it may not be what you’ll actually have to pay. Financial aid -- loans, grants, work-study, and scholarships -- can make college more affordable. The average financial aid package awarded to undergraduates at NYU in 2020-2021, for example, totaled about $40,000. CollegeData’s college profiles report the the average financial aid packages colleges award students.
- Consider talking to the financial aid office at specific colleges and your high school counselor to see what kinds of financial aid you may be eligible for. Your high school counselor is there to help you, and the admissions teams at colleges will usually respond promptly and patiently to your questions
- Learn as much as you can about college costs and financial aid on your own. You’ll find a lot of information online — including on CollegeData – about financial aid for college, including federal student loans. Start by understanding what goes into a college’s Cost of Attendance and the concept of Net Price (the price you’re likely to pay after receiving financial aid). Use the Net Price Calculators provided on most college websites to get an idea of your financial aid eligibility.
- Make sure that you talk to your parents about how much they are willing to pay for college. Understanding your and your parents’ financial situation – and expectations – can help you select colleges that you can comfortably afford — and this may reduce stress for everyone. Once you’ve had this conversation with your parents, you should be able to set reasonable expectations and prevent future disappointment. See How to Talk to Your Parents about Paying for College for tips on starting this conversation.
Fear #3: Getting rejected from your dream school
No one likes rejection or having their hopes dashed. But rejection is usually part of the college admissions experience, especially for students applying to competitive, highly sought-after schools.
First, remember that many top schools have very low acceptance rates. In 2022, Stanford admitted a little over four percent of applicants. If you are rejected from a top college (or two, or three), you will have many other qualified students to commiserate with.
Although getting denied from your number-one college choice may be hard for you, try not to focus on this outcome too much. If you make and apply to a well-balanced list of safety, target and reach schools (as many college counselors will tell you to do), you are likely to end up at a college where you will be happy. That’s why it’s important to research a variety of schools and visit as many of them as you can, either in person or virtually. Many schools offer virtual tours.
Second, keep in mind that according to the National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC), most colleges accept more than 60 percent of their applicants, so overall, a student has a good chance of getting into college somewhere. If you are not accepted to any schools that you think are the right fit, consider enrolling in your local community college and reapplying to four-year schools in one or two years.
Fear #4: Over-comparing yourself to others
Many students enjoy talking about their achievements. Whether they mention them in passing, blab about them to everyone, or post them on their social media, other people’s achievements may make you feel “less-than.”
During senior year, there are many opportunities for students to compare themselves to others. Students often compare ACT, SAT and AP scores, grades, awards, college acceptances, and even college lists. If talking about these topics makes you uncomfortable, then don’t feel pressured to do so. Oftentimes, if you tell your friends and family that you don’t want to share, they will leave you alone. Maybe they will even learn to appreciate this new dynamic of privacy or subtlety more.
If you hear about someone else’s great accomplishment, remind yourself that you have tried your hardest on everything, and that even if someone is ahead of you right now, it may not always stay that way. Everyone learns and thrives at their own pace. This mindset will also help you when you’re at college, where you are likely to be surrounded by smart, ambitious students like yourself.
Fear #5: Heading down the wrong path
Maybe you worry whether college is even the correct path for you, or if you are applying to college for the wrong reasons. Some people choose to go straight into the workforce after high school, or even enlist in the armed forces. Research what else you might want to do besides college, and if you have the funds to go after it. If you don’t think you’re ready for a four-year university, consider attending a local community college for a semester or two until you know better what it is you want to do.
Many community colleges have transfer agreements with four-year colleges. While you are figuring out what to do next, you can earn some inexpensive college credits while exploring a major, completing general education requirements at a lower cost, or learning a trade that you may use later.
Another option is taking a well-planned gap year. If you choose to take a gap year, make sure that you plan an experience that is focused on your goals and that you or your family has the resources to fund.
Fear #6: Moving away from home
For many, college means leaving home for the first time. Besides missing friends, family and familiar surroundings, you’ll be responsible for many things, including laundry, shopping, and managing your money.
During your senior year, you might want to spend extra time with your family and friends especially if you are likely to be going away to school. Try to focus on the close friends that you may not see for a while instead of friends who are going to the same university as you. If you’re worried about homesickness, focus on the new friendships you’re sure to make and experiences that you’ll have at school, along with your newfound independence.
Your senior year is also a good time to start mastering some of the adulting skills you’ll need in college. Start doing your own laundry, if you don’t already. Learn how to cook and set up a budget. Consider opening a savings account specifically for college, and once you turn 18, apply for a credit card which can be a great way to cover unexpected expenses during college and to help you build credit in your own name.
You're Not Alone
Know that the fears and concerns discussed in this article are common. If you experience any of them, you are likely not alone. Senior year can be challenging for everyone in different ways. Being ready to tackle these fears head on can help you stay focused on what you have to do – and enjoy your senior year at the same time.