Editor’s note: Hannah Croft graduated in May from Santa Rosa High School and later this month starts classes at Cal Poly, where she’ll be majoring in journalism.

By HANNAH CROFT

Seniors, listen up. I’m only going to say this once.
Senior year is by far the most fun you could possibly have at high school. But it’s also, undoubtedly, the most stressful year of high school. The trick is finding the balance between going all-out for homecoming and bending over backward to ensure UCLA will accept you. (For the record, they didn’t accept me.)
Let’s start with first quarter:
We have the start of the fall sports season, the rude awakening that its no longer summer and the openings of the first college applications. Three big issues. Sounds like no big deal, right? Wrong. Here are some tips.

On school events:
1. Go to the football games and act foolish. The senior section, as I’m sure you all know, is a real place. But be nice about it when you’re kicking a naive freshman out of your spot. Really, it doesn’t matter where you sit, so long as you’re there, cheering on the team and you come home with a sore throat.
2. Senior year is when you reunite with kids you haven’t talked to since middle school. Trust me. The stress of college and the excitement that is senior year bring everyone together. Start a tradition, or at least continue one.
3. If you’ve always wanted to be in Key Club or Climate Protection Club or the pep band, do it. It’s your last chance. Don’t save all the fun stuff for college.

On college:
1. Finalize your list. If you’re applying to 15 schools, then apply to 15 schools. But if you’re applying to a school just because your parents want you to or because it sounds cool to say you’re applying there, don’t waste your time. You’ll run into essay questions like “Why do you see yourself at Stanford?” and stop dead in your tracks because you can’t answer it if you have no real passion for the school. Admissions officers can see through any facade you throw at them. Don’t waste the $75 application fee, unless you can really see yourself at the school and happy to be there.
2. Do not procrastinate. I started my UC essays the summer before and by the end of the application process I had gone through six or seven different topics. Get started early so that you have plenty of time to improve. If you haven’t already, brainstorm ideas for your essay. Things that make you you, the reason you act the way you do, the people who inspire you, the way you want to change the world. From there, hopefully, things will flow from your fingertips.
3. Once your essays are written, share them. Give them to friends, teachers, your counselor, anyone who could give you feedback. But keep in mind, you are not the only one who is asking teachers for help, so make sure you give them plenty of time to go over it. Something I found surprisingly helpful was the “notes” feature on Facebook. Throw your essay there, explain the prompt and anyone who’s lurking online will help you out.
4. If you need letters of recommendation, get on it. My strategy was to ask a few teachers, give them the paper work and submit more letters than necessary. What’s one more nice note going to do? Hurt you? I don’t think so.
5.Remember: Nov. 30 — the deadline for UC and CSU applications — is sooner than you think. So is Jan. 1, for your private school applicants.
Throughout the entire year, you should be staying in touch with your counselor. Believe it or not, they know what they’re doing. They help seniors with this stuff year after year. Ask them questions. And if you don’t like the answer, ask a different counselor. It’s a team effort.
As get further into the year, you’ll be feeling lazy. You think you’re lazy now? Wait until February. Senioritis is a debilitating disease. Try to fight it. The downfall of my senior year was how lackadaisical I got in all my school work. I threw myself into college applications, leaving my immediate concerns to, well, rot.

Second Quarter:
You better be just about finished with your UC applications. You should have submitted your CSU applications — they’re a piece of cake. You should have asked your teachers and counselors for letters of recommendation. In the next few weeks, you should be ready to hit “submit.” That is an amazing feeling and a cause for celebration. But be sure to finish your private college applications before winter break.
Third Quarter:
You’re done. You’ve indulged, probably too much, in holiday goodies and holiday spending. Now, back to reality, which is pretty sweet for the next month or two. From January to March, you will feel anxious. You will jump every time you get an email from your colleges. But trust me, they won’t tell you early. The date they plan to notify you is the real deal. Clearly, they don’t mess around.
Now that you’re done with college apps, every teacher knows you couldn’t care less about their class. Fake it. If my time in AP bio taught me anything, it’s that if you sleep through class, you end up with a 0 percent in the class.
If you’re planning a senior prank, make it a class prank, not a few people. Do something. Chalk is always fun.

Fourth Quarter:
Be sensitive. The most difficult part of this college business is watching your friends get rejected. Or, watching them get accepted while you’re collecting rejection letters addressed to “Dear First Name.” The University of Chicago clearly cared about my application.
But really, don’t ever make your Facebook status “6 for 6. I got into BERKELEY!!!” For one, it’s tacky. For two, think about how many kids didn’t get in. I’m not saying don’t tell anyone about your accomplishments, they’re something to be proud of! But don’t be boastful.
When it came to college acceptances, I decided to put it into a baseball perspective. No one ever bats a thousand. No one. And you’re a stud if you’re hitting anything over .300. I got into four out of 10 schools to which applied. Batting .400? Nothing shameful in that. And think about it: Why would you want to go to a school who rejected you?
After all that college business is over, and every one is meandering around campus in university apparel, you’ll be accosted by AP exams. Tear them apart. My P.E. teacher told me to “be a pitbull” on the tennis court. I should have taken that philosophy with me into the testing room. Prep, and prep some more. Just don’t forget about them, otherwise they WILL destroy you.
And then you graduate. And you’ll probably want to cry. If you do, you’ll be really upset that your eyes are all puffy in photos. In all seriousness, cherish graduation. Throw tortillas. Blow bubbles. And when the choir is singing “Loch Lomond,” don’t pretend like you aren’t moved by it. After you’ve turned your tassels, and your principal tells you to clear the area so the cleanup crew can get to work, don’t listen. Take more photos. Hug everyone. Jump into your best friend’s arms and scream and shout and smile. You deserve every minute of it. I can’t tell you too much more without spoiling the fun, and I want you to find out for yourself.
Have an amazing year, Class of 2011.