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Freshman vs. Senior Year of High School: The Biggest Differences

What are the biggest differences between freshman year and senior year of high school? From your classes to your relationships to your, well, you, it's a lot.

What are the biggest differences between freshman year and senior year of high school? From your classes to your relationships to your, well, you, it’s a lot.

It's not easy being a high school freshman. Ask your parents or older siblings what they were like as freshmen—many will cringe and use any one of a long list of unflattering labels to describe themselves. But then ask them about their senior year and they're likely to describe themselves very differently—for the better.

Students change in many ways between freshman and senior year. Some changes are obvious; others, more subtle. If you’re wondering about what might lie ahead between freshman and senior year of high school, or if you just want to reminisce, keep reading…

Classes and academics

Freshman year of high school is all about firsts, many of which are academic. For many students it's the first time they change classes for each period, which means they have to develop good time management and organizational skills (and regularly ask themselves questions like “What classes do I have today?” “What books do I need?” “How long will it take me to get to my next class?”). Not to mention the pressure of remembering that all-important locker combination. Putting a schedule together is another big adjustment, since prior to freshman year, most students' schedules are pretty much decided for them. Freshmen may be in classes with upperclassmen for the first time too, especially electives like phys. ed. or art. And freshmen find out very quickly that the pace of high school is different than junior high: projects are different, papers require more critical thinking, deadlines come faster, and assignments are just overall more demanding. (Or maybe it just seems that way because there is more work than in junior high!)

That adjustment period is long over by senior year. The confusion over classes and newness of the way high school works fades away. A lot of the initial excitement about high school fades away too, especially as seniors face the struggles and stress of applying to colleges while balancing all their other responsibilities and tougher classes. Speaking of which, seniors often have the freedom to take more specialized high school classes, like electives, and can take advantage of AP and other challenging top-level courses. Then there’s senioritis, that blah feeling that often comes after getting college acceptances. You feel like you’re on autopilot to graduation. Why keep trying in your classes when your future is already decided? Plus, you’re exhausted after long four years of high school and you’re totally distracted by excitement/fear about going to college. Of course, though a little senioritis probably won’t hurt you, it’s important to not throw in the towel on high school just yet. A serious dip in your grades can have real-world consequences, like missing out on scholarship opportunities, disappointing potential future recommendation writers (for scholarships or internships), and maybe even losing your college acceptances. Graduation—and vacation—will come soon enough. You can make it until then!

Physical changes

Not to get all health class about it, but many of the most obvious differences between high school freshmen and seniors are their physical transformations. Freshmen are right out of junior high and still look like kids. Many have braces, glasses, acne...all common headaches of adolescence. Many are skinny and undeveloped, while plenty of others still have a little baby fat hanging around. But, eventually, braces come off, contacts replace glasses, and slowly, freshmen start to transform into stronger, better versions of themselves. With those physical changes, a lot of students gain more confidence—although, of course, most students still struggle with self-image and self-esteem to some degree. Some freshmen are almost unrecognizable by the time they're seniors, while others keep changing (a lot) well after high school.

Maturity levels

Students are more mature by the time they're seniors (well, usually). They often take on much more responsibility by the time senior year rolls around. Many get their first jobs, a driver's license, and/or they start volunteering in the community. More is expected of you by the time you’re a senior—whether it’s higher expectations from your parents, teachers, coaches, or after-school employer. And those higher standards and tougher challenges can naturally help you mature.

College

Whether taking the SATs or researching schools, most college preparation actually happens in the junior year, which seems like forever away when you’re freshman—but it comes up fast. By the time senior year starts, students should be narrowing down their college choices, filling out applications, and waiting for those all-important acceptance letters.

Related: Find colleges that fit you here

The beginning vs. the end

Freshmen are just getting started. The next four years are wide open in terms of new friends, relationships, activities, classes, sports, and experiences. But they’re also four years that should be taken seriously, because they’re the foundation for your college and career choices—and you need to start building that foundation as a freshman. It starts with choosing classes as wisely as possible and working hard and doing your best in them. You don’t need to start choosing colleges or majors; in fact, you probably shouldn’t, because things will probably change a lot by senior year. However, freshman year is a good time to start thinking about some of these issues, because they can keep you motivated.

While freshmen are looking ahead and planning what they want their high school experience to be, seniors are doing some reflecting. Most are looking back at the last four years and marveling at how quickly it went (and it does!). But they’re also looking ahead to their futures, whether it's college, work, the military, taking a gap year, or a combination of these things. And, of course, senior year is full of lasts: last first day of school with your BFFs, last game, last school play, prom, and, finally, graduation. They’re bittersweet times, but they can also be some of your most cherished memories.

Once you start high school, you'll probably hear something like “enjoy these years—they go so fast” dozens of times, but that's because they do. High school is an exciting, confusing, and stressful time, but they are four of the most important years of your life. So enjoy them—they go so fast.           

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