“It’s my senior year, and I have no clue what I’m doing!”

You’ve made it; you can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  You probably remember being in kindergarten and thinking you’d never make it out, but here you are.  It’s your senior year.  And now you find yourself faced with a question you never thought you’d have to answer: What happens next?

When you used to have to choose which class to schedule, suddenly you have to choose which school to attend.  It’s like you’ve been upgraded from the kiddie menu to the adult menu, and there are so many choices that it’s just overwhelming.  Except life isn’t like a restaurant, where you can take all the time you need to order.

Maybe you’re reading this and identifying completely with what I’m saying, or maybe you’re reading this not because it’s your senior year, but your child’s.  I’ve learned some things from my senior year that I thought might be worthy of sharing, or at least reminding people.  I am by no means a professional or very wise in any capacity, but these are a few things that are good to keep in mind if you’re planning to go to college the next year.

 

You have an entire year to figure out your next step.  Calm down.  Panicking never solved any problem.  All right, you don’t know what you’re doing, or where you’re going to school next year.  And this is your last year, but it’s still an entire year.  A lot can happen in that time.  What you need to do is focus on breaking the task down into smaller chunks.  What schools are you interested in?  Apply there.  Don’t know your major?  You can always apply as “undecided.”

But then explore.  Yes, stay calm, you have an entire year.  But don’t squander it!  Take advantage of it.  Your senior year is your playground to learn about yourself and what you want to do.  Come up with a list of majors that interest you and then try things in that field so you can get a feel for whether or not you actually want to major in that subject.

For example, I remember thinking I might want to be a chemist right up until I took chemistry.  Turns out I find the basics interesting, but once you get into stoichiometry and in depth titrations I feel like poking my eyes out.  Then I thought about being a lawyer.  I took government my junior year and I pitched that idea.  It wasn’t until I took some college English courses analyzing fiction my senior year that I really decided I wanted to go into English.  Find the major that excites you, and then go for it.  If you applied as “undecided” to your school of choice, you can always change it.

You’re still not going to know what you want to do.  Odds are that even after all your exploration, you still won’t be one hundred percent sure of your findings.  Most people switch majors.  Take me for example.  I’m not planning to switch my major at the moment.  I know I love writing, I love language, and I love English.  But then I’d get a score back from a math test I took in the spring and second guess myself.  I could go into engineering if I wanted to.  Or I could do some sort of communications.  That way I could use both my technology skills and my language skills.  Or alternatively, I could be a software engineer—that’s almost language.  It’s just programming language.  But then I remember my initial dream since I was in about second grade: to be a graphic designer.

See what I mean?  No matter what you do, you’ll have doubts.  Don’t worry about it—that’s normal.  In the coming years, you’re going to learn things about yourself that you never knew.  (E.g. I would have never guessed a few years ago that reading a powerfully written sentence would make me giddy with excitement.)

Do apply for scholarships.  I’ll be honest; I’m terrible about doing this.  Sometimes I tell my mom that I feel like I have about the same chances of winning a scholarship as I would winning the lottery.  But the truth is you have a better chance of winning a scholarship if you actually apply.  I know what you’re thinking, “Ew, more essays?”  Yes, but they’re essays that can win you money that pay for tuition.  Even if it’s two hundred dollars, it’s two hundred you don’t have to pay.  Some scholarships operate like a lottery—you don’t even have to write an essay, you just enter into a drawing.  For some you can take pictures, or draw or even make a video.  There are all sorts of scholarships out there, you just have to dig.   There are even some sites that will compile a list of scholarships you might be eligible for.  I tend to use fastweb.com and cappex.com.

Another quick scholarship tip—keep your essays saved together in a file.  Sometimes you can recycle an essay for another scholarship contest.  Just brush it up a bit, adjust the length so it’s appropriate for the contest, and then submit!  I know scholarships seem like a lot of work, but trust me, you’ll thank yourself when you’re paying what’s left of your tuition your freshman year of college.

“But I don’t want to do anything! I have Senioritis!” Stop.  “Senioritis,” otherwise known as spring fever on steroids, is a real thing and slows you down.  It’s really tempting to just sit back in your classes and let your grades slip a little bit.  You cannot turn your brain off.  Think about it, you’ve been carrying your torch for almost thirteen years now.  Don’t drop it right before you get to the finish line.  Finish with a bang.

 

I’ve been thinking about writing this for a week or two now, and my main point came to me very clearly when I went on a bike ride with my dad one morning.  The road by our house has a giant hill, and it’s just terrible coming back from a bike ride because it feels like the hill is never going to end.  There’s a smaller hill that you ride down just before you have to tackle the big one.

Now if you just coast down the small hill, you have to work pretty hard to get up the big one, and it’s excruciating.  But if you kick your bike into high gear, peddle like a madman, and build your momentum as you go down the small hill, you can coast right up the big hill with little to no problem.

Your senior year is like the small hill.  It seems fun at the time to just coast down the hill and not work very hard.  But there’s a big hill coming, and if you haven’t built enough momentum you’re going to find yourself huffing and puffing to make it up.  But if you do the work as you go, a little at a time, you’ll smooth out that transition, and it won’t be as difficult.