Advice From a U-M Senior to Seniors in High School

You’re not alone if you feel nervous about the future.

By Alexis Howard August 2, 2022
Advice From a U-M Senior to Seniors in High School

There is this grand idea built up in society about what it means to be a senior: excitement, status, accomplishment. In my experience, it absolutely is all of those things. But I think it’s time we recognize that being a senior is about a lot more than celebrations and send-offs.

If you’re reading this blog post, there is a good chance that you’re somewhere in the college search or admissions process. You’ve taken the SAT/ACT, signed up for campus tours, and admittedly spent a late night or two going down the rabbit hole of admissions requirements and financial aid and dining hall reviews. You’ve likely thought about where you want to apply to college, but you don’t know yet where you’re going to end up.

Confession: I don’t even know what state I’m going to be living in at this time next year, and that terrifies me.

Like many of you, I’m going into my senior year. This time though, I’m going to be a senior in college. Looking towards my last year at the University of Michigan, I’m feeling everything from proud of how far I’ve come, to nervous about planning for the future, to deeply grateful for having found organizations and friendships that are going to be so hard to leave. It’s like my senior year of high school all over again.

Photo of Alexis in front of campus fountain in high school graduation cap and gown holding diploma.
Photo of me on the U-M campus after my high school graduation.

The title of this blog post promises advice, and advice I will try to give. But you should know that this guidance is as much for me as it is for you. I write this post not as someone who has figured it all out, but as someone who has gone through what you are going through before and is experiencing something very similar now.

With that in mind, here is is my best advice to seniors in high school, from a U-M senior:

Trust the process and yourself

What I remember most about the admissions process is the waiting. After putting months into your applications, waiting for decisions can feel like an eternity. Trust that you put your best self forward. Once you hit that submit button, know that you’ve done what you can. Enjoy life in the meantime.

Make your college decision based on what matters to YOU. Everyone has their own rubric when it comes to where they want to pursue their higher education. Personally, I was drawn to the University of Michigan for the quality of the public policy program, the Michigan Marching Band, and the adorable campus squirrels. I have friends who came to Michigan for research opportunities or proximity to Ann Arbor or quality of faculty. Different things are going to be important to you than they are to your friends, and that’s OK. As challenging as it can be, get comfortable understanding and applying your own criteria. After all, it is your future.

Above all, trust that it will work out. I promise you. I was rejected by three schools in one day, and now I truly couldn’t be happier to call Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan my home.

You really don’t need to know your major going in

If you feel like you’re 17 and don’t know what to do with your life, just know that the almost 21-year-old college senior writing this blog post has no idea either.

One of the biggest reasons that I chose the University of Michigan was precisely because I had no idea what I wanted to study. When I was in high school, I was interested in political science, mechanical engineering, and music education. All great fields, not super related to each other. Given my wide range of interests, it was really important to me to find a university with top-rated programs across the board so that I could decide my major once I got to college. The University of Michigan became that school for me.

At this point I feel confident in my choice to major in public policy, but I still haven’t figured out where I want my degree to take me post-graduation. Should I go to law school? Do I want to work in domestic or international policy? What jobs should I even apply for? Like many of you, I have a lot of questions, and I’m just beginning the process of figuring out the answers.

The best part, though, is that we can change our minds. You can change your major. I can apply for a new job or go back to school. That “senior reveal” post that you’re stressed about? No one is going to hold you to that, and many of your peers will change their minds. Many of my high school friends (myself included) have changed majors. Many of my college friends were undecided for years before settling on their path. Celebrate your plans now, and don’t worry if you’re still figuring it out or if something else sparks your interest down the road.

Don’t get so caught up in planning for the future that you miss the present

If you take one lesson from this blog post, please let it be this. I will scream this advice from the rooftops, not only because I think it’s important but also because it’s something that I’ve struggled for so long in taking myself.

This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad for six weeks in Spain. But, I flew across the world without having a plan for the five remaining weeks of summer I would have once I got home. Looking back, I spent too much of my valuable time writing and perfecting and stressing over job applications when I could have been eating tapas with friends or talking to my host family.

I understand that there are parts of high school that you won’t miss. I completely get that college applications can be a huge stressor and that it can take many hours to write and rewrite your Common App essay.

Put in the time, yes, but please don’t let college applications take over your senior year. Make time to enjoy your last track and field season, your last high school play, your last robotics competition. Go on that picnic with your friends. College is a whole new journey, and you’re going to have a lot of fun. But, you’ll never get your last year of high school back. Don’t forget to live in this moment while you’re planning for the next. I know that I’ll be doing my best to take breaks from job applications this fall so that I can soak up every last minute of my final season with the Michigan Marching Band.

Above all, it’ll be OK

As you go into your senior year, remember that you’re not alone if you feel nervous about the future. I was in your shoes four years ago, and I feel like I’m back there now as I’m trying to plan for life after college. Know this: I’m proud of you, and everything will be OK. Enjoy your senior year, trust yourself, and take comfort in the fact that you truly don’t need to have all the answers.

Alexis Howard
Alexis Howard

Alexis Howard is a senior from Pinckney, Michigan studying public policy through the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy with a minor in Spanish through the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. Alexis works as a tour guide on campus and loves meeting prospective students. Outside of class, she plays trumpet and is a rank leader in the Michigan Marching Band. In her free time, she enjoys trying new vegetarian recipes and admiring the squirrels on campus.