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Senior Year Struggles

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Archie: But why the heck are we playing seniors in the show? I mean, we're juniors in real life.
Kevin: Well, senior year is just so much more kickin' for the storyline. Teens on the cusp of the rest of their lives.
Riverdale, "Archie: The Musical"

The last year of High School is ripe for drama. Instead of being naïve freshmen or complacent sophomores, seniors have graduation looming over their heads and are thus under more pressure. This trope encompasses the struggles students experience in their last year of high school.

Going off to college is the biggest issue — middle-class and rich students are panicking about getting into (often prestigious) schools, which may conflict with characters who are resigned to entering the workforce after graduating. Characters who were previously aimless in previous years now have to get their act together, as a Graduation for Everyone ending is not guaranteed. Many countries also conduct university entrance exams which seniors must study for long in advance. University often means that the high school friend group is breaking up, and characters may struggle with the possibility of being apart from their friends, high school boyfriends/girlfriends, and family.

Because of this major upcoming change, seniors also end up nostalgic. Barring the New Transfer Student, they've spent the last couple of years in this school and will surely miss it, so major school events are now much more important. There will be a lot of emphasis on the last big sports game, as well as dances like prom and homecoming. Any "Last Day of School" Plot focusing on seniors just about to graduate will likely be filled with mayhem. The work may or may not have a High School Rocks vibe depending on how much the characters enjoyed their school experience.

Insecurity and uncertainty about college graduation is a similar, albeit less common, beast. In this case, the conflict will be about the expectation of becoming fully-fledged adults after graduation, and characters will struggle to find jobs or grad school programs. Still, these stories share similar themes about leaving a school and a group of friends behind.

Note that not every story with a senior year cast qualifies for this trope. There must be an emphasis on graduation and what comes after it.

The Coming of Age Story is often set in senior year for this reason: it's a very transient and change-filled time that has a lot of dramatic potential. This often overlaps with Bittersweet 17 as many seniors are about that age. Growing Up Sucks might be a factor as well. Contrast First Day of School Episode, Graduate from the Story, where graduation writes seniors out of the plot and the story continues without them, Freshman Fears, which portrays students at their first year at a secondary or tertiary school having struggles or fears, and Second Year Protagonist, which puts the protagonist in a middle year to avoid senior year stress.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Asteroid in Love:
    • Part of Mikage's storyline involves the fact that despite being a high school senior in a cast where everyone else has some kind of Goal in Life, she never had any, not even a single career goal, and finds it depressing.
    • Mari goes through a slightly more dramatic version of it: she gets a rejection from her first-choice college the first time around and suffers a Heroic BSoD. She later gets in the hard way.note 
  • Downplayed in Azumanga Daioh but still present when the gang enter their senior year in the back third of the series and the series gets a tick more melancholic, with the girls having entrance exams to study for and some contemplative moments sprinkled in about the passage of time and what that will mean for their friendships. They eventually resolve not to dwell too hard about that and focus more on living in the moment while they can.
  • In Digimon Adventure tri., Joe Kido, the oldest of the Chosen Children, is in his senior year. He's very stressed about his university entrance exams as he wants to be a doctor. It gets worse when there is trouble again and due to his cramming, he can't help his friends save the world.
  • Free!: Haruka and Makoto are high school seniors in the second season, Eternal Summer. Both of them are trying to figure out what they want to do after graduation, with Haruka in particular suffering from the expectations placed on him due to his considerable talent as a swimmer, when he just wants to be free and take it easy. They're also sad to leave their friends Nagisa and Rei, who are a year below them, as well as the swim club they founded.
  • Haikyuu!!: A minor plot point is the third years choosing whether or not to stay in the volleyball club after the Interhigh Preliminaries — this is made a big deal, as third years are typically pressured to retire from club activities so that they can focus on studying for exams for the rest of the school year. Against their school advisor's wishes, the Karasuno third years decide to continue activities so they can have a chance at Spring High, much to their underclassmen's relief; although Takeda supports their decision, he also reminds them that they are at a disadvantage compared to other students and that he'll stop them if club activities end up hindering their studies. Most other teams follow suit — Date Tech's third years are a notable exception, although their tears in the locker room after playing their final match show they feel bittersweet about it.
  • A serious Heroic BSoD occurs in the otherwise lighthearted Hidamari Sketch when Hiro, on the verge of graduation, falls into a bout of depression. Particularly, she found herself not wanting to graduate.
  • Jewelpet Sunshine is about a troublesome class of students in their last year of high school. A theme throughout the series is the students figuring out what they want to do with their lives once they graduate.
  • Just Because! focuses on a group of senior year students in their last semester. They each have their own anxieties about graduation. This is further complicated when their old friend transfers back in at the last minute.
  • The final arc of Kimi ni Todoke focuses on the teenage cast (now in their third year) finishing high school and their plans for the future, with majority of them studying for university entrance exams and feeling anxious about being good enough to pursue their goals. Another concern of theirs is being separated from friends and loved ones, especially the main couple Sawako and Kazehaya.
  • K-On!: In the second season, four of five members of the light music club are now in their senior year and preparing for university entrance exams. The one junior, Azusa, worries about being left alone with the club after they all graduate. The girls decide to give it their all for their last performances.
  • Paradise Kiss's protagonist Yukari is a senior who is focusing solely on her studies and getting into a good university. This monotony changes when she falls in with a group of design students who introduce her to the world of fashion, and she begins to consider it as a serious career path after high school instead of her original plan.
  • The Quintessential Quintuplets: The second half of the story covers mostly the senior year of high school for both Fuutarou and the Nakano sisters, since his main goal is to ensure they all graduate, while at the same time dealing with part-time jobs, as well as a lot of love-related issues as the girls fall for him and race against each other to earn his affection.
  • Sket Dance starts with the main characters as sophomores, but the story follows them until the end of their senior year. Said senior year is fraught with angst as they have to figure out how the club they started will stay afloat after they're gone (they do manage to find successors) and come to terms with their impending separation.

    Comic Books 
  • The final arc of Robin (1993) prior to it being replaced with Red Robin focuses on the stress of Tim Drake's senior year of high school. This is compounded by the Gotham gang wars the fact that Bruce Wayne is missing. Tim suspects Bruce isn't dead, so he chooses to make that his priority and ends up dropping out of school altogether.

    Films — Animation 
  • Regular Show: The Movie: The conflict of the film originates in Mordecai and Rigby's senior year of school just as they're on the verge of graduating. The two had hoped to go to community college together, but Rigby's GPA is so abysmal he is rejected. Desperate not to lose his friend, he fakes a rejection letter for Mordecai as well. The truth comes to light in the present day timeline of the film and threatens their friendship. What's more, the villain is their high school science teacher and volleyball coach out for revenge against Rigby for costing the school the volleyball championship. By the end, we see that their past selves ended up expelled for causing a lab explosion when tampering with the coach's experimental time orb.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Booksmart is about two seniors on the eve of graduation. Feeling like they hadn't had enough fun in high school due to studying all the time, they decide to bid farewell to their senior year by attending a schoolmate's Wild Teen Party and grow up a little bit in the process.
  • Dazed and Confused takes place on the last day of high school, and focuses in part on seniors Passing the Torch to freshmen — the senior football players haze the freshmen, then the rest of the film involves Randall mentoring Mitch, a Freshman, in the ways of parties, etc.
  • The original Fame's final act focuses on the pressures of getting into prestigious (performing arts) higher education or entering the (again performing arts) workforce after graduating. This pressure brings the issues that Ralph, Hilary, Coco, and Leroy have had the previous three years to a head: Ralph, would-be stand up comic, gets a significant gig; Hilary has a shot at a ballet scholarship; Coco is auditioned by an "independent producer;" and Leroy is being recruited by Alvin Ailey. In each case, how well they've internalized their teachers' mentoring affects the outcome.
  • One of the reasons Ferris Bueller takes Cameron and Sloane to Chicago with him in Ferris Bueller's Day Off is because as seniors it's probably going to be the last big adventure they'll have together; he knows that he and Cameron will be going their separate ways after they graduate so he wants to make the most of that day off.
  • Grease: Downplayed. Although it doesn't affect the plot much, all the characters are in senior year, which gives them a limited window of opportunity to get back together and decide what they want to do with their lives before going their separate ways.
  • High School Musical 3: Senior Year: The protagonists are now in their last year of high school and are now worrying about college applications. Homecoming is also a major plot point. Sweethearts Troy and Gabriella are also grappling with the potential of a Long-Distance Relationship.
  • In The Half of It, senior Ellie wants to escape her small town and go to college for Iowa, which is complicated by her burgeoning feelings for Aster and the possibility of leaving her lonely immigrant father by himself.
  • "Honor Society" : The high achieving main character, Honor Rose, spends the film trying to get a recommendation letter for her application to Harvard.
  • Lady Bird: Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson is a senior in suburban Sacramento who dreams to go to university on the East Coast, which puts her in conflict with her family. She also starts to fall In with the In Crowd, which causes tension with her longtime best friend in their last year of high school.
  • Pitch Perfect: Part of Aubrey's motivation in the first film is that it's her last year at Barden University and she wants to lead the Bellas to one last victory to make up for how she ruined their chances at winning by throwing up on stage. The sequel deals with how the rest of the Bellas will graduate and are nervous about moving on. Chloe mentions deliberately failing classes so she can stay at Barden.
  • In Superbad, Evan and Seth are both in their senior year and are determined to finally lose their virginities and go to a party before they graduate. However, the film subverts Sex as Rite-of-Passage, and the emotional heart of the film is the bubbling conflict between Evan and Seth because they're going to different colleges next year, signalling the end of their friendship.

  • While all of Carrie's high school experience has been an ordeal, it gets much more intense and awful in senior year during Carrie. She gets her period for the first time, much later than anyone else, discovers her powers, and she goes to prom and tries to fit in specifically because she is so full of dread about the end of school marking an even darker and more hopeless end into adulthood.
    • Another Stephen King book, Christine, begins with the main characters about to enter their senior year. It should be a straightforward Coming of Age Story about meek and nerdy Arnie Cunningham buying his first car, getting his first girlfriend, and becoming independent from his parents. Unfortunately for him, it's a Stephen King book.
  • Catalyst: Kate's plot deals with her naive determination to go to MIT. She only applied to MIT and lied about it to her dad, leaving her in a very difficult and confusing position when MIT actually rejects her and she has to deal with the fallout.
  • Discworld, Pyramids: The last year at the Assassins' School (Upper Sixth, analogous to real-world senior year) in Ankh-Morpork is literally a matter of life and death, as the Final Exam involves a very real threat of flunking out - terminally — if they fail the exam.
  • The novel We Regret To Inform You has the main character, Mischa, in her last year of high school dealing with college applications.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Awkward.: The penultimate season involves Jenna and her friends having their Senior Year. Highlights include Jenna ruining the Senior Prank by being too eager, she and the others figuring out where they want to go after high-school, and a disastrous Senior Movie Night featuring a showing of Pink Flamingos. Jenna also spends the entire year trying to finally resolve her relationship with Matty before both of them have to leave for college.
  • The series finale of Clarissa Explains It All sees Clarissa unexpectedly being offered an internship at a paper in New York City, and wondering if her parents would let her delay college for a year.
  • In Glee's third season, the original characters are now in their senior year and most have their own post-graduation subplots. Rachel and Kurt want to get into the prestigious NYADA, Finn tries for a football scholarship, and Mike conflicts with his parents regarding future plans. Also, Brittany is now class president and gets to plan the prom.
  • Hannah Montana's final season, Hannah Montana Forever, took place during Miley and Lily's senior year. Miley started off her senior year struggling to even graduate as she almost didn't get registered in time, which would've forced her to miss an entire year of school while her friends experienced all the senior year things she wanted to do. After she finally reveals the Hannah secret halfway through the season, more issues arise. For example, her grandma doesn't get to take a graduation picture with her, and she has to choose between filming a movie in Paris or going to college with Lily.
  • Downplayed in House of Anubis's finale movie, The Touchstone of Ra. The students are preparing for their graduation day and most of them have their paths figured out, but Willow's subplot is about not having enough credits to graduate unless she does extra credit work for the graduation. Meanwhile, they have to deal with four freshmen living with them at the same time, interrupting their celebrations. The students get nostalgic at the end when they realize they're all leaving the school they've lived at for several years.
  • Itaewon Class begins with the main characters in their last year of high school, which sets up the conflict for the rest of the show. In the first episode, Soo-ah and Saeroyi take their college entrance exams, but Saeroyi's police academy dreams are dashed after he is expelled from school for getting in a fight with the son of the powerful Jang Daehee. Meanwhile, Soo-ah gets into her college of choice and is offered a scholarship by Jang Daehee (who is now Saeroyi's Arch-Enemy), setting up her conflicting loyalties between the two for the rest of the show. The show focuses on Saeroyi's attempts to build a food business, both as a revenge plot against Jang Daehee as well as because his job options are limited because he didn't graduate from high school.
  • Never Have I Ever season 4 chronicles the senior year of Devi and friends. The primary concern of the narrative is where to go to college (and the nerds are deadset on going to prestigious universities), but also parting with friends and family, prom, self-identity, and cleaning up romantic loose ends.
  • Invoked on Riverdale when Kevin and Clay write a musical about their fellow high school juniors, but bumps them up to seniors in the script because senior year is just that much more dramatic. So it's the last first day of school, the last chance to be varsity champions, college next year, prom night, etcetera.
    Kevin: Teens on the cusp of the rest of their lives.
  • In the second season of Veronica Mars, Veronica and her classmates are in Senior Year and are attempting to prepare for their future. Recurring issues that get brought up are college scholarships and which college to attend, the Senior-class events, and having good enough grades to graduate properly. Of course, there's also the issue over the fatal bus-crash that makes the year just a bit more stressful and troubling than most, even without worrying about what college will accept you.

    Video Games 
  • Goodbye Volcano High starts with this; on top of regular senior year struggles, Fang has come into their own over the summer and they've decided to begin pursuing music as a professional career. But their friends and band mates, Trish and Reed, have other ideas about how they'll spend their senior year and adulthood, leaving Fang lost and confused. Things go From Bad to Worse with news of an impending meteor that will wipe out the dinosaurs.
  • In Growing Up, most if not all routes hit their most dramatic points at around senior year of high school. With finals looming, this is your last chance to bond with your classmates before you inevitably part ways.]
  • Twisted Wonderland: Senior Night Raven College students leave campus for internship and are rarely present at the school, if at all. This is why there are no fourth-years in the main character lineup. Arc 7 begins on an orientation for junior students to introduce them to various internship options.
    • Lilia Vanrouge quits school before he could attend his senior year, as his age has weakened his magic to the point where continuing to study magic or interning for magical jobs would be impossible. Struggles other people have regarding his (lack of a) senior year is what kick-starts arc 7.

    Visual Novels 
  • Naturally downplayed in Double Homework, as the senior year of the summer school class takes place after the story’s climax. The protagonist and Tamara especially are torn about what to do after they graduate.
  • I Wani Hug that Gator!: Inco was forced to transfer to St. Hammond High for senior year, and is trying to keep his head down and get through the year with as little conflict as possible. Unfortunately, he quickly gets intertwined with the lives of the school's other social outcasts.

    Web Comics 
  • The plot of the short webcomic August 32 follows four friends the summer after graduation. The plot is kicked off because of the protagonist's fears of them all going their separate ways.

    Western Animation 
  • Doug: Less high school and more elementary, but the penultimate episode of the Nickelodeon series rings of this with Doug leaving 6th grade and about to head to middle school. Worried about the future going forward and surprisingly finding Roger, the local bully, feels the same.
  • In the The Loud House episode "Senior Moment", high-school seniors Lori, Carol, and Roger watch a movie about high school seniors doing various activities. Lori believes these activities to be "rites of passage" and convinces her friends to hurry up and do them with her before they graduate. When they fail, Lori's mother Rita gives her a pep talk about how those activities are not actually rites of passage.