What does senior year look like at Waterloo?

August 25, 2022 | Craig Doerksen

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Your senior year is a great time to be in high school! Will you coast through the finish line, or will you make the most of the time you have left? Dr. Christina Swan (admissions, sciences) and Craig Doerksen (director, humanities) recently had a chat about how Waterloo empowers seniors to get a head start on college and life…

What does a typical senior year look like?

SWAN: Seniors usually go one of two ways. We met one of the first types the other day. She likes everything, and she doesn’t know what she wants to do. That’s a perfectly normal, natural place to be. Senior year is a valuable chance to explore strengths, aptitudes, and interests.

Other kids know what they want to do. They have a passion for something — often in the arts and sciences. At Waterloo, they can use their senior year as a springboard, scheduling internships, relevant projects, and courses that offer college credits.

How do you help seniors find out what they want to do?

SWAN: We guide all seniors through the YouScience assessment that helps them identify their strengths and aptitudes. It helps match them up with careers they could excel in. Based on that, we can direct them to internship opportunities and mentors in those fields.

DOERKSEN: Traditional high schools often don’t offer much space to explore skills and interests beyond basic extracurriculars. For most people, this opportunity doesn’t come until college — just look at how many freshmen and sophomores change their major.

These kids are hungry to learn those real-life skills and start doing something meaningful. We can begin that process now. We love to walk alongside them as they discover and explore who they want to be and what they want to do — it’s an exciting time. It’s all part of our vision for Waterloo graduates.

What about the kids who have a clear direction?

SWAN: When kids know what they want to do, we’re there to help them get the most out of their senior year. They start becoming very pre-college-focused. We can help them…

  • Get internships tailored to unique skills and interests
  • Connect with mentors in their target industry
  • Take dual-enrollment courses with college credit. We have three classes offering three credits each at UT. That’s up to nine credits.
  • Take classes at ACC
  • Custom tailor projects and courses to their interests

For many seniors, their transcript is basically done after junior year. We’ve all heard of “senioritis;” it’s no surprise seniors check out when their work no longer feels meaningful. We want to encourage them to take advantage of the time they have left! Senior year can be your springboard into college, career, and life.

How does senior year at Waterloo prepare students for real life?

DOERKSEN: There’s a growing trend of kids taking a gap year. They increasingly recognize that they are not ready to transition to college or “the real world.” They don’t know what they’re good at or interested in. They don’t have much time to explore other skills and gain real life experience. A gap year makes sense. You need experience transitioning from the child world to the adult world.

At most traditional schools, senior year is the same as any other year — plus college applications. At Waterloo, senior year is your transition year. You develop real-world personal skills like teamwork and collaboration. Your cadence is slower and more college-like. You learn to manage your time.

SWAN: I love seeing our seniors thrive at Waterloo. We say, “the city is our school,” and they get a lot of confidence from that. They learn to navigate South Congress, spend more time talking to adults, go off campus to get lunch, and get on and off the bus.

DOERKSEN: November through February is the window of time when you cease to be a high school kid and realize you are transitioning into an adult. During that time, our senior English course is reading great literature about other characters coming into their own. Yes, we’re still reading and learning to write, but the atmosphere is different. We’re having open conversations about what that transition looks like.

Last year, one of my seniors in that class told me, “You said this class would be useful for me, and it actually is. Adults usually say that, but they’re wrong.”

SWAN: Some people say they are “waiting for their life to begin.” At Waterloo, we say, “Why wait?” Our seniors are just getting started.

Craig Doerksen

Craig Doerksen

Prior to becoming the director of Waterloo School, Craig provided leadership for a number of prominent institutions, including Regents School of Austin; the Bluetower Arts Foundation in Eugene, OR; and Trinity School in Raleigh, NC. Craig holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Ireland and graduated from the University of Oregon with a bachelor’s degree in English.