Senior Sums

High costs of senior year reflect need for societal changes

Senior year is supposed to be a 265-day experience we’ll never forget. Year after year, you hear about the upperclassmen absolutely tearing it up at school dances, senior parties, and then leaving graduation in triumph. However, many of these traditions come with a cost. Not only do graduating students have to worry about paying for college tuition or supporting themselves after high school, but they also have to think about paying for all the school perks seniors just can’t miss out on. 

     Prom alone can cost hundreds of dollars, and that on top of tickets to other dances and events, senior pictures, graduation cap and gown, and so much more adds up quickly. These costs make it expensive to participate in all these events and get all the fun swag that comes with surviving four years of high school. These might all seem like frivolous extras that are fun if you can afford them, but high school culture—as well as general society—puts a huge emphasis on these expensive signifiers of hitting this milestone. 

     There are supports in place for students who struggle to afford school related things. Students can talk to a counselor or administrator if they are concerned about paying for activities, and organizations such as Abby’s Closet exist to help teens find formal wear so financial situations don’t lead them to miss out. However, activities and extras aren’t the only things lightening senior wallets. 

     College applications can also be incredibly expensive. A survey by US News found the average cost of college applications to be around $43, with application expenses getting as high as $100 in some US schools. College Board recommends applying to five to eight schools, which would result in a student spending well over $200 with no guarantee of being accepted. 

     These costs might just seem like another branch of the ‘paying for college’ issue, but they reflect larger problems within society. We live in a materialistic society that emphasizes celebrating many milestones. While honoring achievements is a wonderful idea, the belief that every occasion considered important has to involve fancy clothes, gifts, or overspending is problematic. These ideas lead to many people, especially teenagers, feeling left out just because they are less privileged than some of their peers.   

     Seniors have enough to worry about with paying for college and financially supporting themselves after high school, especially with the costs of just applying for college being so high, they don’t need the societal pressure to spend money on every possible thing. Whether this is the expectation of buying fancy clothes, paying for professional photos, graduation announcements, or throwing a graduation party, the assumption that the ‘norm’ is to spend huge amounts of time and money on these things can be harmful. 

     There’s no simple solution, but society at large could benefit from learning to acknowledge important occasions without feeling the need to throw lavish parties. We should remind ourselves that an event can be just as memorable and mean just as much whether or not it involves balloons and fancy photos. 

     However, as much as we would benefit from moving away from materialistic celebrations, the solution for anyone struggling to pay for these fun experiences should not be to have to make do with less or have fun without it while more fortunate people still enjoy all the extras. This societal shift needs to start with the people already able to afford these traditions. Those of us lucky enough to be financially stable and able to participate in all the fun shenanigans without worries need to examine society and acknowledge that many of these spendy rites of passage aren’t necessary. Truly important accomplishments will mean just as much and be just as memorable whether or not we mark them with extravagant celebrations. If everyone privileged enough to spend this money in the first place realizes that we can celebrate and be proud of achievements without these huge expenses for parties and mementos, we can make good progress towards societal change that benefits all of our students. 

     Senior year is an experience well worth celebrating, but it can end up being a major expense that adds unnecessary stress to graduating students. The shocking financial totals reflect the larger issues society has with measuring the importance of milestones by how much we spend celebrating them.