What should I be doing now? 12th Grade

Dates & Deadlines

There are two more SAT tests, on January 21 and March 11. There are also two more ACT dates January 13 and March 3.

There are few good reasons to take another test. One is that you took the test only once, in the fall, and there was a problem. Maybe you were sick, or you couldn’t find your contacts and took the test half blind, or the person sitting next to you was smacking gum really loud. Maybe (I’ve seen this happen before) you were taking the test in a large room with lots of big windows, and there was a huge thunderstorm and the room literally shook every 20 seconds with thunder and you thought maybe the windows were going to blow into your face and so you were maybe a little distracted and not at your best.

But even in these cases, you would only take the test because a college asked you to as part of their conditional acceptance, or because you’re hoping to apply somewhere that accepts very late and/or rolling admissions. Most 12th graders are done with standardized testing. Except, of course…

AP Exams are May 1-12. You should already know which AP classes you’re taking and which exams you’re likely to take. But seniors are in a weird spot. High school AP Coordinators have to turn in registration materials in March at the latest, and many get exams ordered much earlier. So you have to sign up for AP exams not knowing how they might affect you or if you really want to take them. For example, if you end up going to a school that doesn’t give credit for AP exams, or will only give credit for a 5 when you’re on track for a 3, then you may not want to bother taking a test that’s not going to benefit you directly. But you usually have to register for the exam long before you know which college you’re going to next year. Here’s the best thing to do: go ahead and register for exams and act as though you’re going to take all of them. Act as though each score of 3 or higher will get you college credit, potentially saving you time and money. If that turns out not be the case, then talk with your teachers and counselor about what to do. Many seniors end up going into the exam room knowing that the exam either doesn’t gain them anything or that they’re not likely to get a good score, and so they go to sleep. While this practice, honestly, is not likely to have personal negative repercussions for you, it may have negative effects for your AP teachers and your school. So be thoughtful about how you handle an exam that you’re neither expecting to get much from or put much into.

Work at being good at high school

It may seem silly to talk about being a good high school student in the spring semester of your senior year, but the fact remains that you're still in high school and there's still more to be done. And yes, I'm very aware of "senioritis." Your parents and teachers may not want me to say it, but slowing down your last semester is completely normal and fine. Because it's true, you're not just a regular high school student any more. On top of your normal classes and activities, you also have a lot of college decisions to make. Many seniors go on more college visits once they get their acceptances and have to make a decision. Your time in high school is just about over. There are often Prom and Senior Trip and Senior Gifts and Senior Pranks to organize. And so it's normal and fine to begin a transition and be less committed.

But think about it this way: how crazy would it be for an athlete to be told she's going to be on the Olympic team, and then stop working out and practicing? How self-destructive would it be for an employee to get a big promotion and then celebrate by not showing up to work half the time and being rude to his team that helped him get the promotion? You're almost out of high school and into college. That's wonderful! But don't let that be an excuse to start acting like a seventh grader again.

One way that senioritis works is for students to suddenly take on the "I don't need it to graduate" standard. Even good students find themselves failing classes or dropping their extracurricular activities simply because they don't need them to graduate. If your family has raised you with the bare minimum of parenting required not to get arrested for neglect, and your teachers have only done what was required to not get fired, then the "I don't need it to graduate" attitude is understandable. Otherwise, it's pretty reprehensible. Don't celebrate your transition to adulthood by acting like a toddler. It's that simple.

(I can tell you about one exception. Years ago I had a senior really stressed out and apologetic because he was behind on his final AP Lit. project due for me the week before final exams. I told him--not in front of other students--not to worry about, to skip it. He looked confused. I told him: "Look, even if you get a zero on this project, you're still going to end up with an A average for this class. You'll still be valedictorian in two weeks, and you're still going to Yale. You've earned this; skip it." But the chances that you're in a similar position are very very low.)

So then what is a more healthy and productive transition? What, if you will, is Good Senioritis? Good senioritis is the kind that begins to move away from high school realizing that you're moving Up. You act even more like a leader in your extracurriculars to pass your skills along to next year's seniors. You let the adults in your life know you appreciate all they've done to help you get to this new space. Even though you really are tired and stressed, you ask a lot of questions instead of whining are dropping out. Seriously, the last thing your teachers and parents need is for you to tell them how hard it is to be a responsible adult. They know. So ask them for guidance and be honest about your fears.

If you begin to jettison time-wasting school activities, fine. But also think about jettisoning time-wasting activities outside of school. The best way to prepare for college is to be a good high school student. While it's different being a high school student your last semester, you still need to be good at it. 

Choose a college

Most colleges ask for a commitment by May 1, and that’s the standard deadline for accepting or rejecting their admissions offers.  Take a lot of time to think about this. Talk to your family. Talk to your trusted teachers and counselors. Talk to your smart and ambitious friends. Talk to the financial aid offices. You’re not just making a choice about classes and professors, but a big part of your identity. Go back over the Five Foundations, especially the part about treating it like a relationship. Remember that while some schools may be a better fit than others, it’s hard to make the “wrong” choice unless you choose not to go anywhere.

Get financial aid

Most students depend on at least some financial aid to get through college. For most, the final decision about where to go is heavily--if not completely--influenced by financial considerations. Look through your financial aid offers very carefully. Ask a lot of questions. Talk to you family about money, often. Don't be afraid to ask a school for more money--I'll write about how to do this next week.

Make summer plans.

What do you need to do to get ready for college? Don't wait until the week before the fall semester to think about clothes for a new environment, bedding for a dorm, and transportation issues. If you've had a sluggish spring and need intellectual stimulation, see what your local museums or community centers offer. If you haven't had a job during high school, now is a good time to get some work experience, even if you don't think you need the money--especially if you don't need the money. It's tempting to treat this summer like a long nap, getting rested and doing very little before school next fall. But this is the best time to get prepared. Wherever you think you need improvement, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, intellectual, or any combination, now is the time.

If you have any spring semester advice that I've missed, please leave a comment. Share this with someone who would like to read it.

 Photo by Angela Elisabeth Portraits

Photo by Angela Elisabeth Portraits