Senior Year Is Stressful Time as Students Make Big Decisions

I teach high school seniors, those lucky students who are finally standing at the apex of their long 13 years of schooling. At the beginning of every school year, I watch excited seniors enter my room, declaring this will be their best, most memorable year of school. They soon realize this probably also will be their most stressful.

This year they will carry the proverbial monkey on their back, always whispering into their ear, “What will you do after high school?” And nearly every person they come into contact with will be asking them the same question.

In addition to the regular school routine, these students also must make some grown-up, life-altering decisions. In no time, their beginning-of-the-year excitement is replaced with anxiety as they set about finding answers. The good news is, there are ways to reduce some of this anxiety.

I took to the Twittersphere and conducted a very unscientific poll, asking former grads to tweet me their advice for handling the stress of senior year.

By far, the most common advice was to stay on top of deadlines. Having some system of tracking their numerous assignments and activities can ease the stress. Students can use their phones to enter assignments into their calendars and set alerts or download one of numerous free phone apps to help manage their workload. Senior year, missing class deadlines is just a fraction of their worries; now, they have to be cognizant of meeting deadlines for going to college or joining the military. Keeping all those assignments and deadlines in one place can bring some sanity to the insane senior schedule.

Another way to ease some anxiety is to make frequent visits to the high school’s counseling office. School counselors can help demystify the maze of the entire military and college process, like signing up to take the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery), filling out federal financial aid packets, submitting information for the West Virginia PROMISE scholarship and applying for additional scholarships. The counseling office also plays host to numerous military and college representatives throughout the year, and students can schedule appointments to talk with those representatives.

Marilyn Wehrheim, a John Marshall counselor for the last 34 years, also suggests that parents of seniors attend their high schools’ senior parent meetings. “The meetings inform parents of the tasks their seniors will need to accomplish if they plan to attend college. We will have lots of information to disseminate to parents and give them an opportunity to ask questions,” Wehrheim said.

I also suggest seniors and their parents frequently check the counseling office page on their school’s website and visit cfwv.com, the College Foundation of West Virginia’s website. As a parent of two recent high school grads, I can tell you that my school’s counselors and cfwv.com were indispensable.

Several recent grads said that while applying for scholarships can be stressful, in the long run, it is beneficial. College is very expensive, and getting some scholarship money can ease some of the worry.

Another way to ease some of the worry is to avoid the pitfall of expecting to have the “perfect senior year.” As many grads will attest, there is no such thing, and thinking there is will probably lead to disappointment. Their best advice is to live in the present, which is hard when seniors are expected to be planning for their future. Living in the present, however, appreciating friends and family and the big and little things in life can provide some respite from the stress of planning the future. And while they are living in the present, they need to spend more time appreciating the positives rather than dwelling on the negatives. (That’s very sage advice for all of us.)

With all its stress, the senior year can still be a great year. As a few grads mentioned, seniors need to be kind to themselves throughout the year. They need to find time to give themselves a break from the anxiety created by planning their future. And as they go through this year, those of us who encounter them regularly need to be kind to them as well. They are making some of the biggest decisions they have ever made in their short lives.

Jonna Kuskey is an English teacher at John Marshall High School. She was named the 2017 James Moffett Award winner by the National Council of Teachers of English and the third place winner of the 2017 Penguin Random House Foundation Teacher Awards for Literacy.

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