Senior Stress


Alison Kenatson

Art shows worries that many seniors are feeling as their final year of high school begins.

Rhys Holman, Executive Website Editor

As the school year begins, many students are looking towards their futures, thinking about what lies ahead in their lives. But more present concerns can obscure this goal.

“The beginning of the school year has made me feel horrible,” Aubrey Pisarik ‘20 said. “I just don’t want to be here. I have better stuff to do, I feel like.”

This sentiment is one that is shared among many senior students.

“I think a lot of it is the unknown. They’ve never navigated this before, so that’s always scary,” guidance counselor Mary Peterson, a guidance counselor at City High, said. “Some students also have parents who’ve never been through this process so they’re kind of doing it on their own, trying to find other people to help them navigate it.”

However, the stress of the process can be increased further by parents.

“There are parents who [create] super high pressure, so even if the student is laid back, the parent has a clear idea of what they want their child to do, so [the student could be] feeling even extra pressure,” Amy Kahle, one of City High’s student-family advocates, said. “Unknowns produce anxiety. I think once those college applications are in and letters start coming back seniors will take a big breath, but right now they know that in a year they’ll be somewhere, but not knowing where is really hard.”

The college application process has many different steps, opening the opportunity for stress at many junctions.

“A lot of my friends are worried about college stuff. I think it’s mostly the pressure to get into a good school,” William Irvine ‘20 said. “There’s a bunch of stuff like the ACT, the application process, FAFSA, and the college essays especially make it so there’s a lot of stuff to do, and I don’t think a lot of people can handle the workload along with going to school, which is the cause of a lot of stress.”

This breadth of work is further complicated by the differences in deadlines.

“A lot of students don’t know the deadlines and there are so many deadlines even I can’t keep them all straight. They’re all over the place. Early decision deadlines are November 1st. FAFSA has a deadline but opens October 1st,” Peterson said. “Then you have scholarship deadlines, then other application deadlines are January 1st and every school functions differently, so there are lots of deadlines. It just goes on and on and on.”

Furthering the stress is the transition of nearing adulthood.

“It’s stressful because it’s my senior year. It’s my last year of high school, then I have to do adult stuff I don’t want to do,” Pisarik said. “It’s hard to focus on school when I feel like I have a bunch of other stuff going on.”

But this stress can be mitigated by preparing for upcoming deadlines.

“Plan ahead and don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Peterson said. “A lot of people don’t know about the Common Application, which tells you all the deadlines for a school when you select it, so I think that’s very helpful. Just knowing when things are due helps a lot.”

But some students aren’t experiencing the heavy stress many currently feel.

“My mental state has been pretty fine. I’ve been getting 8 hours of sleep, so I’m feeling pretty good.” Irvine said. “I was a lot more stressed in previous years because I had a lot more classes, so this year I have more opens, which makes it easier to manage my work. Once I manage my work, it’s not that big of an issue.”


But, in Kahle’s opinion, it’s important to ensure that students stay up to date with college-related deadlines to make sure all of it is completed the best that it could be.

“It’s really important to give teachers enough time to write good recommendations,” Kahle said. “If you ask a teacher for a recommendation October 28th and it’s due November first, it’s probably not going to be as good as it could be.”

Asking teachers earlier for letters of recommendation will help in improving their quality.

“People always think, ‘Oh I need to get letters of recommendation.’ so asking early is a good idea,” Peterson said. “Also, putting together a brag sheet helps us write the best recommendation we can, but students sometimes forget to ask in time.”

This ‘brag sheet,’ as Peterson referred to it, is the resume of accomplishments that students should give to their guidance counselor so that the counselor knows what to write about when making recommendations to colleges. Looking towards and planning for the future can also relieve stressful situations more immediately.

“From a mental health standpoint, being aware that this is the year that every relative is going to ask you, ‘What are you going to do next year?’ and being prepared with those answers is helpful,” Kahle said. “For people who don’t know what they’re doing next year or aren’t going to college next year, it can be really stressful, so if you have an answer it can help a lot.”

But even with lessening stress, there can still be issues with managing the stress that persists.

“I’ve felt stressed every year but it’s especially bad this year,” Pisarick said. “I feel like I don’t have time to de-stress.”

However, ways to combat the stress of senior year exist.

“We’re never going to completely erase the stress of senior year, that’s just a part of it, but thinking about how to help students manage it,” Kahle said. “So if I’m feeling anxious, what is a way that I can calm my body down? If I have to make decisions or problem-solve something your body can’t do it well or effectively when it’s high stress or high anxiety, so how to calm everything in your body down and reduce those stress levels to be able to make decisions better.”

City High has resources for not only mental health, but as well has resources for preparing for college.

“The school counselors here are…great resources for looking towards college. If I don’t know the answers I ask one of my colleagues and if they don’t know we call to find those things out,” Peterson said. “We also have Russ Johnson, who’s the workplace coordinator, who is very knowledgeable about FAFSA for when that stuff comes around.”

But, in Kahle’s opinion, getting into a top-choice school shouldn’t be the main concern.

“It’s okay if you don’t get into your first, second, or third choice,” Kahle said. “You can still accomplish your goals even if your diploma doesn’t have a certain school’s name on it.”

City High will be holding informational sessions to help inform students of important information to know.

“We are running some advisory informational sessions on FAFSA, scholarships, and the Common App,” Peterson said. “Those have started and are announced in Ms. Hoel’s senior emails which have lots of good information. Emails are sent to every grade so there’s room for planning ahead even as a freshman.”

But, in Kahle’s opinion, if you’re feeling overly stressed in the midst of the beginning of the school year, find solace in the fact that that those feelings may soon come to pass.

“What I’ve noticed in my 5 years is that the stress level is at its peak right now and then as applications are submitted, and as FAFSA gets done, each of those things that you check off your list is a little bit of stress,” Kahle said. “By the time you’re receiving your acceptance letters and you start making more final plans so that when people ask you what you’re going to do you have an answer so that you can focus on enjoying senior year.”