The Senior Year Mindset

The High School Senior Year Mindset

Congrats! You’re a high school senior. This means you have one more lap until you graduate. What’s next is uncertain. Where will you be next year? Where will you live? Who will be your new friends? If this causes you stress and anxiety, please don’t let it. Instead, practice taking on a Senior Year Mindset. This empowering approach to change will calm your nerves, give you a sense of control, and help you be present and enjoy your final year of high school. Here’s how you can take on a Senior Year Mindset:

PRACTICE SAYING: What do I want?

Instead of asking yourself, “How do I get in?” or “Will I get in?”, switch tracks and ask, “What do I want?” and “What school will be lucky enough to have me?”. Make this year less about being wanted and more about discovering what you want. As one high school student shared, “My parents and teachers have been telling me what I should want my entire life. Now I don’t know how to decide what I want. I haven’t had practice.”

Senior year is a turning point. Instead of focusing on how to be desirable, focus on what you want and where you can make that happen. When life is about what you want, your perspective changes. You’ll stop fixating on rankings and judgement and can shift that energy onto what you want to experience in college and how you can get there.

Get in the habit of exploring these questions: What do I want to create, change, or experience in college? Who are the people who can help me? Where can I go to find connection, community, and answers? How long will it take me to get to where I want to go?

PRACTICE SAYING: Wherever I go, I will be OK

In his book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania, Frank Bruni shares data and research revealing the truth about getting into college and the impact of a degree. To sum it up, where you go to college isn’t going to make or break you – the path to a successful and fulfilling career isn’t linear. This isn’t just Bruni’s observation. Denise Pope, co-founder of Challenge Success and lecturer at Stanford University, believes the same: “It’s not where you go to school – it’s what you do there.”

When weighing your options, know that an affordable school that offers a quality education can put you in the same place as a school with higher tuition and similar benefits. Once you start to recognize that you’ll be successful no matter where you go to college, you can shift your focus on finding your best fit.

PRACTICE SAYING: I know I’ll get into a dream school.

Worried about getting into your dream school? Don’t be! Come up with at least five dream schools and you will suddenly become the maker of your dreams. As a best practice, pick at least one dream school that is safe, two that are achievable but challenging, and two others that are farther from reach. Once you can identify what you want to experience next year, you’ll find it easier to pursue schools that will be your best fit.

How do you determine the best fit? Think about what “fit” means in terms of the social, emotional, physical, financial, and academic transition to life in college. Which two of these areas of transition are the most important to you? Identify what you find meaningful, and let this be what guides your college search. Look for people and places that align with what’s most important to you, and use this as your compass to choose your five dream schools.

PRACTICE SAYING: Can you please help me?

Senior year is filled with a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. If you have questions, you can always turn those who’ve experienced this before.

Asking for help is a sign of strength. Connect with your counselors, teachers, recent grads, tour guides, and even current students on campus. Give yourself some grace and learn to be okay with not knowing. Let people help you! What is something currently making you uncomfortable? Who can you turn to for support? Start with these questions.

PRACTICE SAYING: Experience and Experiment (repeat 3x)

It’s normal not to know what you want. Think of senior year as a time to experience and experiment. It’s not too late – step outside of your comfort zone and explore something new. Seek experiences that will inform you. Figure out what you love and don’t love. Get a part-time job that excites you. Join a club or student org that interests you. Take on a leadership role. Try out for a sport you’ve never played. Audition for a role that scares you. You can even use these experiences to write a compelling admissions essay that’ll strengthen your college application and make you stand out.

As a senior, enjoy the freedom of experiencing new things in a place that’s familiar and supportive. Before long, you’ll know what you want, be confident you can get it, and enjoy a senior year that is full of answers and time to be present before you graduate.

Harlan Cohen is a New York Times bestselling author of 7 books, including the #1 book on college life. Visit Harlan on social media @helpmeharlan (TikTok and Facebook) and @harlancohen (Instagram and Twitter). For more information visit:


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