When you’re finally able to see the light at the end of the long, dark, seemingly endless tunnel that is high school, it can be tough to stay focused on the present and finish your high school career on a strong note. As much as we’d all love to give in to senioritis and just get our last year of high school over with, it’s important to remember that the choices we make as high school seniors will have a huge impact on our freshman year of college and beyond.
Here’s how to make the most of your last year of high school—your college freshman-self will thank you!
1. Don’t slack off
This should totally go without saying, but when you’ve already got your acceptance letter to your dream school in hand and graduation day is oh-so-close, the temptation to put off papers, projects and studying becomes all too real. “You may think that colleges don’t look at your grades, but senior year is actually the most important academically!” says Rachel Petty, a junior at James Madison University.
We’ve all heard the horror stories of having our acceptances rescinded because of a drop in grades during senior year—and yeah, if you’re normally an A student who suddenly drops to a D average after acceptance letters roll out, admissions officers are going to notice and think that this speaks to your work ethic. On the flip side, if your average drops from an A to a B+, that’s totally not something to panic about.
It might seem impossible to stay motivated once you know where you’re headed to school next year, but high school isn’t over just yet. You’ve put in too much sweat, tears, and hard work over the last three and a half years to quit now! Remember why your college chose to accept you and why you worked so hard for this long. You can stay on track by writing all of your assignments, practices, and other obligations in a planner. If you’re not usually one to write stuff down, now is the perfect time to start. Perfecting your time management and organizational skills now will pay off during your first semester of college.
Senior year is also important academically because the classes you take and how you choose to approach them can have a huge impact on how you do in your classes during freshman year of college. Many high school teachers use AP-level classes and senior electives as a chance to prepare you for what to expect in your courses next year, which are likely to involve a lot more reading, writing and studying than you’re used to. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress and sleepless nights (and you’ll probably be better prepared than many of your peers) if you take advantage of the academic opportunities presented to you now.
2. Don’t get caught up in silly drama
In high school, it’s easy to give in to the “everyone-sucks-I-hate-it-here-when-can-I-leave” mentality. With prom, graduation, parties and other events coming up, you and your classmates will be spending a lot of time together—make the most of it! You might be sick of high school drama and all its immaturity, but once of the summer passes and you all go your separate ways, you will miss your friends.
Don’t miss out on after prom or other events in order to prove a point or because you were annoyed with someone in your friend group. The end of senior year is a time for you to feel on top of the world and celebrate all that you’ve accomplished before moving onto the next chapter, and you’ll regret it if you let petty drama get in the way of things.
Don’t be afraid to show your true colors during your last year! “I learned to no longer care what my classmates thought of me,” says Alexandra Blessing, a senior at Millersville University. “I was going to be out of high school soon anyway and started to become the person who I love and fully appreciate today, without constantly thinking about what others thought of me!” So, wear that dress to prom, speak up during class and go to that party without worrying what that judgmental girl from chem lab thinks!
3. Do all the things you haven’t done
We’re often told that college is the time in which we really get to explore our interests and try new things. But when you’re still in high school, don’t forget about the opportunities that are right in front of you! “I wish I took more classes I loved because they were free and study halls were so unnecessary,” says Nabila Ismail, a freshman at the University of Buffalo.
Many high schools offer electives in areas like journalism, marketing and accounting, which are a great chance to get a feel for what you might be interested in studying in college and get a head start on understanding what will be expected of you in college courses. If your school doesn’t offer those sorts of classes, consider stepping out of your comfort zone by taking an art or drama class as an elective—a fun class can be a great way to de-stress during the day and maybe find a talent you didn’t know you had! You also might not have time for these sorts of classes next year when your schedule is filled up with core requirements.
Don’t give up on clubs or other opportunities outside of academics. “I wish I took part in high school ambassador programs or things that would lead me to a better position in college,” says Nabila. Don’t underestimate the importance of extracurriculars—they’re great resume builders and give you experience if you might be interested in running for an executive board position in a club on your college’s campus.
“I would definitely say don’t give up sports,” adds Katie Jordan, a senior at Bentley University. The same goes for school plays, orchestra and other extracurriculars. “I know they can be time consuming and huge commitment, but my best memories from senior year were for sure with my teammates!”
“I also wish I traveled or studied abroad while in high school or considered a gap year!” adds Nabila. Many high schools sponsor short summer trips abroad to locations like Europe. If studying abroad is something you’re thinking about doing in college, find out if your school offers a summer program! If not, you can look into outside programs, such as AFS-USA.
4. Keep in touch
Your teachers and guidance counselors played a huge role in getting you into college, but don’t forget that they can also help you in the future. “Always remember to write thank you letters to teachers who gave letters of recommendation and keep in good relations with others,” says Michelle Lu, a junior at Pepperdine University. Don’t underestimate the impact that taking a few minutes to write (not e-mail!) a personalized thank you note to someone who helped you out along the way can have. You also never know when in your college career you might need another letter of recommendation or have your transcripts sent to you.
Many high schools have alumni relations networks that you can join online (such as on LinkedIn). It’s important to maintain a good relationship with your school’s guidance department and anyone involved in alumni relations, because you never know when they might be able to connect you with someone from your high school who currently works in your desired career field. Whether they’re from high school or college, you should always be taking advantage of opportunities to network!
5. Be present
As much as you might be ready for high school to be over, you’re only a senior once. Take the classes you love, be active in clubs and take lots of photos. “Relax and have fun! High school is nothing compared college,” says Lindy Olive, a senior at Auburn University. Before you get bogged down by college-level homework assignments, internships and the prospect of having to enter the real world, take advantage of your last opportunities to really enjoy being surrounded by old friends and being in the familiar surroundings of home.
While it’s easy to daydream about the wonderful friends you’ll make, the incredible parties you’ll go to, the amazing internship you’re sure to land and the all-around fantastic time you’ll have at college, don’t cheat yourself out of the wonderful memories that are just waiting to be had right in front of you. Making the most of your senior year will only further ensure that you’ll have a fantastic first-year college experience!