Striking a Balance: Tips for Leveraging Your High School Senior Year

by Desiree Stanton
• 6 min read
TheBestSchools.org

Through a combination of dual enrollment courses and taking advantage of opportunities presented to me, I graduated high school a semester early.

As a rising senior at Johnson C. Smith University, on track to graduate in three years, I can attest that taking advantage of every opportunity my high school provided, on and off campus, led me to a successful transition to college and a smooth understanding of my interests.

While not every student may have these opportunities — or goals — my experiences can help you have the most successful senior year possible. My top tips are to:

Consider dual enrollment or dual credit; Set your priorities, and be sure your well-being is among them; Make time for extracurricular activities; Build your network; and Advocate for yourself.

I was able to get ahead of basic high school requirements by taking advantage of these opportunities. However, I also saw the downfalls of prioritizing academics over personal development.

Consider Dual Enrollment or Dual Credit

Based on first-hand experience, I understand: Senioritis is real. Not being able to stay focused and motivated during the last days of your high school career can sneak up quickly. By the time my senior year arrived, I was tired of learning the same things.

During my junior year of high school, my counselor offered me the opportunity to take some college courses both on and off campus through dual enrollment.

Dual Enrollment vs. Dual Credit

  • Dual enrollment = Students can enroll in both high school and college at the same time.
  • Dual credit = Students receive credit toward both high school and college from the same courses.

Simply put, dual enrollment allows students to enroll in both high school and college at the same time, so they can gain college credits before being an official college student.

Dual credit is an even simpler concept: Students receive credit toward both high school and college from the same courses. Dual enrollment students can both build their college transcripts and access the same opportunities as fully-enrolled students, such as student help centers, tutors, and in-person classes.

I used dual enrollment to fulfill my high school credits faster. I also experienced a glimpse of college life, had more free time, and began building my college transcript.

Set Your Priorities — And Include Yourself

During high school, I was considered a social butterfly because I was involved in almost everything. I found there were two keys to being successful through it all:

Staying present to strive for the future, and Remaining authentic and being honest with myself.

I quickly learned that professors, counselors, and peers are all resources available to be used. While most of the work and motivation has to come from you, people are rooting for you and are there to help.

While most of the work and motivation has to come from you, people are rooting for you and are there to help.

Being honest with myself when I needed support and felt overwhelmed helped me learn when to take a step back and evaluate the moment. One of my biggest discoveries was learning it's OK to feel tired and take a rest, but to keep pushing to gain the best future possible.

I also found that being in different leadership roles and participating in several organizations allowed me to blossom. It was important to learn to not overwork myself while remaining honest and loyal to my peers. Humility allowed me to ask for help when needed and surround myself with people who liked to work hard and have fun.

My environment and mindset allowed me to balance both my studies and social life.

Make Time (And Balance) for Extracurriculars

Senior year isn't complete without an extracurricular (or two). Having that extra sense of family and joy outside the classroom can help keep the motivation and eagerness spirited, and building long-lasting relationships with peers, advisors, and coaches can give you a sense of family away from home.

I found the best time to join an organization or club is during your freshman and sophomore years because it gives you more time to grow personally and in your role within the organization.

I found the best time to join an organization or club is during your freshman and sophomore years because it gives you more time to grow personally and in your role within the organization. Getting that full experience of learning more about what you're involved in can be an essential part of leveling up in your high school career.

However, it is never too late to join anything! A lot of higher positions, internships, and leadership roles may not be offered until students are upperclassmen. Being in an organization opens doors to learn more about yourself, reward yourself, enjoy your friends and teammates, and have some fun.

That said, being involved in extracurriculars is not always easy. I was involved in many organizations during high school and often felt overwhelmed.

During my junior and senior years of high school, I was the cheerleading manager, a lead editor for my high school's yearbook club, and a member of National Honors Society. Those three roles kept the organizations going, so I had to make sure to attend to all that was on my plate.

Challenge yourself, but stay in control of your priorities.

School didn't just stop on Fridays for me. I also participated in two programs outside of school: Chicago Scholars and Urban Alliance - Chicago chapter.

Balancing all these extracurriculars with my accelerated progress through high school taught me that while it is important to step outside the box and enjoy yourself, balance is extremely necessary. Challenge yourself, but stay in control of your priorities.

Don't Forget to Network

Meeting new people and joining new organizations opens doors and teaches you how to stand out.

My best lesson was to learn that with any opportunity received or any team I joined, I should make sure to connect with someone new. For me, networking during high school looked like attending college fairs, building relationships with college counselors, having an elevator pitch prepared during events I attended, and pushing myself to stand out — even in uncomfortable situations.

What is an Elevator Pitch?

An elevator pitch is a 30-second overview of a person's professional, personal, and/or academic accomplishments relevant to their skills or career goals.

For example, I attended a citywide college fair in high school. In the beginning of my high school years, I didn't have the best grade point average. Moreover, my high school was a gifted and selective enrollment school, so I had competition in attempting to stand out.

During the college fair, a section asked for seniors with a GPA of 3.7 or higher to attend; mine was a 3.3. But I still went.

Although I was the oddball in the room, according to the GPA scale, I was the only student prepared to speak and sell myself. I entered the room knowing that I didn't meet a big requirement, but I was confident that I had the skills they were looking for. I stayed true to myself and my journey and challenged myself by entering a room where I felt like an interloper.

I stayed true to myself and my journey and challenged myself by entering a room where I felt like an interloper.

I explained my journey, growth, and change to the recruiters. Later, those recruiters offered me the same opportunity as students whose GPAs were higher than mine, and I had a chance to win a huge scholarship. I realized then that you are the only person who can put restrictions over your life.

Be Your Own Advocate

Many times during my high school career, I was selected to attend several events and meet people who could help with my college journey. I gained so many of these opportunities by just starting small conversations and always being ready to speak about myself and what I wanted. I found that sometimes the doors are right in front of us — we just have to make room for ourselves.

Putting forth your best effort inside the classroom leads to opportunities outside of them. Graduating early came from me speaking up for myself and my peers to the guidance counselors and principal about how our time in that setting was complete. I noticed that I had fulfilled all my credit and service learning hour requirements, so I went to my counselor. I had a conversation with her and our principal to give my side of the story.

My friends and I had put in overtime during our 3.5 years and thought we could spend our last year preparing for college. With the combination of being outspoken, offering proof through school records, and being open-minded, it led to an agreement of early graduation.

I had several peers who had transcripts and resumes that looked just like mine. Speaking up for myself, others, and my ideas all helped distinguish me from my classmates.

Remember: The key to ending your high school career successfully is to appreciate your authentic characteristics and take advantage of the opportunities that surround you. Keeping a balance between academics and social life is important for true enjoyment.

A great quote to always think of is this one from Janet Ledford: "You can have fun while working hard. You have to get focused and then laugh all the way."

Desiree Stanton is a senior at Johnson C. Smith University majoring in communication arts. Over the course of her academic career, she has developed her passion for editing, writing, and poetry and their impact on society. Stanton holds several leadership positions, including serving as the public relations officer for the NAACP on campus and serving as class senator. In her spare time, Stanton can be found traveling across the world with her family and friends.

Header Image Credit: 4x6, Jose m. Alvarez | Getty Images

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