Senior Year: The Five Stages of Acceptance

Scene: Senior year opens. You tilt your head to the side and look forward, measuring and calibrating just how deep (or shallow) you have to dive into your senior year. I’ve got this—I’ll just slide right in, hover above for the first few months, and phone-in my final year of high school. I have worked so hard to get to this point – I’ve earned a break!

College is on the horizon. Sure, you have to get through applications, essays, and one more round of courses. But it’s so close.

You are jazzed, ready, and confident that your junior year, the most difficult year, is behind you, and now you’ve got this senior year thing in the bag! After all, isn’t senior year primarily for bonding and cultivating friendships? The first day of school feels like the first day of the rest of your real life! You are crafting this story (in your head) and enjoying thoughts of the fond memories you’ll build with your classmates as you head out the door. Great.

First thing in the morning: you listen to your friends’ tales from a pre-college experience at Brown, lifeguarding at the community pool, a marketing internship in London, staying with a host family in Japan, a lab job at the NIH, and much more. Life after graduation beckons.

Morning classes are checked off one-by-one, your collection of textbooks growing. Time flies through lunch. OK, your afternoon classes are slightly more subdued. Slowly, a faint memory begins to surface, and it isn’t long before the school day passes into a full-blown realization: You are back and this is going to be work.

Adjusting to last year of high school demands a reality check. Often, senior year is not a breeze, and although you are taking classes you love, the demands of managing and completing your work are challenging.

However, if you understand the five stages of facing and embracing senior year, you can reduce stress and enjoy your success.


The first stage: I can’t believe it—this can’t be. I worked diligently so my junior year would be the right polish for my college applications. Senior year was supposed to be a slide into home. I am overwhelmed.


The second stage of this new year comes when one awakes from disbelief. This is the action phase of not accepting senior year for the significant growth year that it is. Action items come in the form of student petitions. Rallying all of the senior class and demanding: the curriculum must be changed. This stage is centered in engaging the blame game. The system must change, not me. I will not take responsibility for my work.  It is unreasonable to expect school and college applications to happen in the same year.

Making Deals

The third stage is marked by let’s make a deal. For example: a senior moving through the third stage looks for economy and efficiency: I take BC Calc. It is hard and I spend a lot of time studying for the tests. Can I receive extra points on the exam for hour spent? For example, can ten extra points given on the test be deposited into my community service hours tally? I will give you 10 for 10. Alas, the bartering system rarely works.


Next up is the fog of beginning to move in the right direction. I feel stuck and I am not sure how to swim out of this sticky soup of homework, but I know forward and through is the right direction. College applications are looming, and the first unit tests are on the horizon. Definitive deadlines begin to draw a clear picture of reality. Focus begins to be a daily practice and school is on.


Toward the end of September, a deep sigh falls over the hallway as students dig deep and find their flow. I got this becomes the mantra to daily life. Working hard to learn and do well is back on the calendar, you are back into it—all is OK. In the back of your mind remains the thought: Yes, I will nail this because… it is my last year of high school!