Ahh, senior year of high school. When you see it on any screen, from your TV to your Instagram feed, you’re guaranteed to see packs of ecstatic students, usually in tie-dyed t-shirts that say something like “Dream B19” and chanting “Seniors!” while running down a hallway. When anyone talks about it, they usually discuss it as being the grand finale of the best four years of your life. However, is this image really true? 

Last year, around this time, I was getting ready for the show-stopping finale known as senior year, and while I was prepared for all the magical memories I was about to make, I also knew that every moment wouldn’t be straight out of the High School Musical franchise. If you’re expecting a year of straight fun and games, you’ll be taken aback quickly. No one ever talks about this side of the year, and rightfully so. It’s the “dark” side of high school, and it’s not all that fun, but after experiencing it, I feel like more people need to hear about it so they can maximize all that senior year has to offer (and make it out alive!).

You’ll experience stress. The college application journey is overwhelming to say the least, and if you think you were stressed about it before, just wait until it all gets real. Deadlines start to pile up, and so do essays and supplements. Most often, time seems to fly by even quicker, and next thing you know, you’re staying up all night to finish your Common App. Once you get through with just the basic part of the application, you’ll need to fill out your FAFSA, and even possibly the CSS Profile depending on what schools you apply to. In the fall, college applications are a lot of work, and you still have all your regular school work on top of it (which can be a lot, especially if you take AP, IB, or college level classes). The only way to combat this issue is to stay organized. Having a planner, even if it’s your phone’s calendar, will help you keep track of everything, and having your friends and teachers look over your work will provide a lot of reassurance and mental security. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

In the spring, you’ll have less work to do outside your classes, but you might still be stressed about college. Your applications are in, but you’ll be waiting to hear back from all your schools. The waiting involves a lot of anxiety, and you’ll be waiting to hear on both acceptance and financial aid. College is expensive, so you’ll also be looking for ways to pay your balance if your financial aid and scholarships aren’t enough. Luckily, scholarship services like FastWeb and CollegeXpress can help you find scholarships that you qualify for, and have a good chance of getting. Your school also might have opportunities for scholarships, so be sure to ask your guidance department, your NHS advisor, your teachers, your administration, or whoever you have a good relationship with and may be able to help you. 

You’ll be conflicted. Very conflicted! Choosing your path after high school is a big, daunting decision. After all, it seems like you’ll be deciding on everything about your future. Regardless of what your options are, you’ll face some level of internal divergence, and it’ll be hard to make a decision on your school, your major, and your future. Here’s what isn’t as advertised, though: you can always change. I know so many people who have started on one path, and changed their minds along the way. Whatever decision you make, you’re allowed to switch at any point and readjust as you grow as a person. Even if you’re not totally not sure what you want, you have options. For example, going to community college for two years is a great way to find yourself and sort out your thoughts on academics and career paths. If genuinely don’t know, make your decision based on your current self and your current knowledge, you can always change as you go! 

You’ll have some tension in your friend group. It may not be bad tension, but things will get awkward. You’re all going to be in this strange place of transition, and everyone handles it differently. Some friends may be more excited and willing to move on to their future lives and, unintentionally, start to leave the high school life behind. Others become so focused on trying to sort out all that’s going on in their life that they lose focus on living in the moment. The summer following graduation, you’ll probably start to lose touch with many of your classmates. It may seem sad at first, but it’s totally normal. College is a transitional time, and you’ll be making new friends, who you may even end up being better friends with. If you’re really lucky, you’ll meet friends you’ll be close with long after commencement.

I really hate being this negative, but there are certain things that rising seniors need to know! I hope that from this article, you’ll be able to know what to expect so you can make the most of the fun moments, while still knowing how to handle the difficult times. High school only happens once, and it can be a total blast when you know what to expect. Just know that no matter how rough the times get, you have so many amazing experiences ahead of you, so be sure to embrace it all!