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Surviving Senior Year and Off to College – Reflections from a Dublin High Parent

August 5, 2012

By Michelle McDonald (Dublin High School parent)

What to say about this process, the one that concludes with your precious child leaving home, headed off to their new life as a college student?

It’s stressful to be sure, seemingly never-ending at times, exciting at moments, frustrating at others.

But it always feels like a process, one with a conclusion finally in sight. Even with a mere 40-something days until my own daughter leaves for college at Santa Clara University, we aren’t done yet.

We are close. We are buying bedding and computer locks and personal fans, running into friends at Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond doing the same. And we are starting to say goodbye as my daughter’s friends as Dublin High’s Class of 2012 begins to depart for universities across the country, from Massachusetts to Indiana to New York and Arizona.

The students who are attending “semester” schools will be gone in the next few weeks. The “quarter” school students will leave about a month later in September.

And the circle of (school) life goes on. The next group of seniors and their parents step up for their turn as the new academic year starts. And as part of that circle, it’s time to share our experiences.

1. It’s going to go fast. (And so is your money).

Friends who have been through this before will warn you – senior year flies by.

The only thing that goes faster is your cash.

The year is book-ended with pictures. Senior portraits to start and graduation ceremony photos to end. In between, there are so very many things to be paid for: tickets to senior events like Banquet and Picnic and Grad Night, prom dresses and corsages, caps and gowns, announcements, and ads in the yearbook.

And that doesn’t even account for the money you will spend on the fees that go with college applications, transcripts, and sending your test scores to the schools of your choice. Planning to visit a few campuses…ring it up.

Just look at it as a warm-up for paying tuition.

2. Senior year is divided into three distinct parts.

The first part of the year – from the start of school until the holiday break, is all about the application process. Finishing those SAT and ACT exams, trying to convince your student to work on his essays ahead of time, gathering years worth of extra-curricular activities onto one or two pieces of paper.

The actual applications come with their own to-do lists. Letters of recommendations, transcripts, deadlines, and those blessed essays. Your kid will say they have it handled.

You will nag and cajole. You will want to look over their shoulder, perhaps give the essay a quick look-see. Conflict isn’t merely possible, it’s assured. Brace for it.

All the while, your student is trying to hold it together in the classroom, keeping those grades looking good for the first-semester transcript.

By December, early January in a few cases, it will all be over. Applications will be submitted and you are on to phase II.

Just in time for first-semester final exams and the better part of the next three months, you’ve hit the grumpy phase.

The kids are done. Done with high school and teachers and sometimes a few of their friends. They are uptight, waiting on their fate, with months left to stew. Meanwhile, you are now trying to get them to fill out scholarship applications.

This, school administrators might admit to you, is the toughest time of year for the seniors and those who educate them. The horizon is still distant, so many unknowns still floating about.

But spring break will come just in time and soon you will be well on your way to both a decision and what we call the “I-love-you-man” phase.

Sentimentality and class pride kick in around mid-April as students prepare for the start of senior events and the reality that graduation is approaching. The mood seems to lift, even as the big decision is about to be made.

3. Picking a school doesn’t mean you are done.

The day that your child makes their decision is a really, really good day. A huge relief. Like what I would imagine reaching the end of a marathon feels like.

May 1 is the day on which most college students have to commit to the school of their choice.

Welcome to the land of deposits, housing forms and meal plans.

Your school of choice still needs transcripts. You’ll need to sign up for orientation and get the list of stuff you need for a dorm room. For the briefest moment you will feel like you’ve reached the end of something. Turns out it’s just the beginning of something else.

4. You dread the change. You are excited for the change. You dread the change.

The weeks before graduation are an undeniably emotional time. Your kids are nervous, you are nervous. You are holding on, they are pushing away. Boundaries are being stretched, privileges extended and emotions are often right on the surface.

Watching them don a cap and gown and walk across that stage is a surreal moment of pride and melancholy. And then it’s over and it’s genuinely time to get ready to send them off.

It’s an exciting time of transition. The anticipation is building along with the farewells.

You’ll have questions about things like classes and payments and move-in day.

They will be on the way out to the door to spend time with their friends.

More pulling and pushing.

There are days when it seems like it’s time for them to go. And days when you can’t imagine what it’s going to be like when they aren’t here. Sometimes that’s the same day.

5. Everyone will survive.

I’m fairly sure of that now, when I wasn’t nearly so sure a few months ago. Dorm assignments are in, classes have been selected. As of Tuesday morning last week, first-quarter tuition has been paid.

Next up, it’s time to buy some books, get a roommate assignment and start making a “dorm-room” pile in the garage.

We are so close and we are all thrilled to be at this place.

I will cry the day I leave her to her roommate and her college adventure. But they might just be tears of relief that we made it through the year.

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  1. Kerrie Chabot permalink
    August 6, 2012 9:34 am

    Loved this article! Thank you, Michelle. And best of luck and warm thoughts to dear Annie! Our turn now.

  2. Tamara E. permalink
    August 6, 2012 11:13 am

    Brilliant recap. Thank you (I think).

  3. Cindy Young permalink
    August 6, 2012 11:38 am

    Very well said….having gone through it 4 times you captured everything perfectly! Glad it’s behind me!


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