Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
High school senior projects are a powerful and life-changing way to send your high schoolers off into the world of college, careers, and adulthood. But what do you do? How do you start? What is a powerful high school senior project example?
This post highlights examples of some life-changing high school senior projects done by my own students. I hope they can at least offer some ideas and inspiration for senior projects with your own students.
The way that I look at high school senior projects is that they are a college and career readiness strategy. The idea is to prepare students for what comes next, and I believe that should be done by getting students involved in the community, involved in the concepts, managing projects as would be done in any setting outside of school, building soft skills, and getting excited for the future.
Therefore, my senior project experience is very experiential.
Senior projects are important for a variety of reasons, and taking an experiential approach really hammers in those benefits. Senior projects, when done experientially, promote college and career readiness, offer important 21st century skill-building opportunities, and give students the confidence to take the next big step in life, among others.
High School Senior Project Example Framework:
The high school senior project examples that are in this blog post follow my own personal senior project experience framework. My students complete the following components for their comprehensive senior experiences.
Students explore careers of interest, research the logistics that come with those careers, design and lead their own community action projects around issues relevant to a career of interest, develop 21st-century skills, and build a stunning and robust career portfolio to showcase these learning experiences.
Students develop a personal learning plan for the senior experience. The PLP is a place to house student interests, goals, career aspirations, and more.
Part of the senior experience is for students to explore careers of interest. They explore careers using a self-directed project-based learning approach.
The steps in self-directed project-based learning include researching careers of interest, organizing authentic learning experiences to go along with the project such as shadowing someone in the career, conducting interviews with people in that line of work, developing an innovative final product to demonstrate learning, sharing with an authentic presentation, etc.
Because it is a project-based learning experience students develop essential 21st-century skills in the process, network with relevant community experts, share their work with a relevant audience, and so much more.
Career related community action projects are my favorite part of the senior project experience. Community action projects can be life-changing.
Students research a problem or issue in the community related to their career of interest. Then they develop a plan of action to tackle that issue.
I also love this piece of the senior project experience because it is a fantastic adventure to put on a resume, or in this case, in their career portfolios. It demonstrates leadership skills, involvement in community issues, and more.
The 21st-century skills portfolio is a place where students showcase evidence of 21st-century skill-building.
In the process of developing an action plan for their community action projects, for example, students might build skills in creative problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, etc. Students would show evidence of that experience and reflect on how that experience helped the student build those skills.
The career portfolio is where students get to brag about and showcase these learning experiences as well as demonstrate their value to any college, organization, company, etc. that is looking to work with that student.
So what I've just described is the general framework of my senior project experience. You can modify, add, or remove any element of this experience to fit the needs of your students, but the senior project examples below do include each of these components.
If you’re looking for more details on this specific framework, head to my blog post how I do high school senior projects with my to soon be graduates.
I also have an implementation spreadsheet that you can grab for free that follows the high school senior project experience framework just described. This free senior project implementation spreadsheet helps you keep your students' senior projects straight and organized. The spreadsheet includes senior project experience-specific tasks.
The examples that I’ve added to this post revolve around the career exploration project-based learning experience, the community action project, and the 21st-century skills portfolio. These experiences all go into the career portfolio at the end of the session or experience as a whole, and the personal learning plan is a method of planning and staying organized throughout the process.
The career portfolios and PLP’s will not, then, be mentioned in each example. The assumption is that these tools will be bookends of this experience; used at the beginning and end of the senior project experience and revisited throughout.
Examples of High School Senior Projects
Senior Project Example 1: Entrepreneurship
I had a small group of seniors (3 students) that were interested in both skateboarding and business. The project revolved around developing and launching a skateboard clothing company.
Career Exploration PBL:
These three students studied entrepreneurship using my career-themed project-based learning resource as their guide. They incorporated the principles of PBL including utilizing community expertise, organizing authentic learning experiences, developing an innovative final product, etc.
These three students interviewed and shadowed local start-up companies and wrote a business plan for a skate company (hypothetical business at the time) using the expertise of these start-ups and the local business bureau.
Community Action Project:
The career exploration project helped launch their community action project idea as well as give them a head start on community collaborations for this experience. The end goal for this action project was to provide funding and healthy/safe activities for urban teenagers.
My students took their skateboard clothing brand business plan from the first part of this senior experience (career PBL) and brought it to fruition, turning it into a fundraiser for urban teens.
My students collaborated with those start-up companies that they connected with in the first part of the project, who granted them the funding to develop their own screen printing shop to print t-shirts. One of the start-ups allowed their marketing coordinator to work directly with my students to develop a logo, a branding strategy, a website, and a launch party plan.
The students learned so much from this experience, applying their interests and real-world needs to the project. They also ended the senior project with a full business plan and experience starting a businesses, branding, creating a product and marketing it, organizing a philanthropic event, and more, all of which were added to their career portfolios in the end.
The students were able to add evidence of significant skill-building to their 21st-century skills portfolios because of this experience. They added planning and organization, technical writing, tech literacy, research, communication, collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, leadership skills, and so much more.
Senior Project Example 2: Biotechnology
One of my students was enamored by science, particularly biotechnology and botany. We were brainstorming senior project ideas one day, and knowing that his interests lied in these areas of science, I mentioned algae as an experimental idea for biofuel.
He dove right in. His senior project revolved around developing his own biofuel from algae. I wasn’t sure he could pull it off. I didn’t personally have the resources for him to do this. But he was determined and resourceful and got it done.
Career Exploration PBL:
This student started his senior experience by, again, exploring his career of interest through project-based learning. His focus was biotechnology on a vague level. He wanted to explore all of what biotech had to offer rather than just algae as biofuel at that time. He wanted to discover his options in biotech.
He interviewed researchers from the department of biotechnology at our local University and toured the labs. He ultimately ended up creating a brochure on careers in biotechnology, and the biotechnology department used that brochure for prospective students.
Community Action Project:
This student’s career exploration project really focused on just that; exploring his options. His community action project, then, became developing his own algae as a biofuel and sharing that experience with other young people with the intention of encouraging careers in biotechnology.
He started by connecting with one of the researchers that he met with at the university during the first part of this project. That researcher, who specifically focused on algae as a biofuel, offered to take my student on as an assistant in his lab.
He taught my student about the different types of algae, how to grow algae, and then how to turn it into biofuel. He then loaned all of the equipment to my student so he could grow his own, which he did successfully.
The second part of this community action project, or the ultimate goal, was to inform other young people about career options in biotechnology. The student ended up connecting with an organization called Advanced BioFuels USA. They offered to GIVE my student a free ticket to a conference that just happened to be going on in a couple of weeks IN OUR CITY on algae biofuels. They paid for our student to attend the conference in exchange for an article written by him for their newsletter.
This experience included a variety of very cool opportunities to gain those soft skills that companies and organizations look for in the 20th century, especially in the world of science.
This student did a ton of critical thinking, networking, collaborating, communicating, and problem-solving. He worked his tail off, and when things became difficult, he pushed through.
This particular student was not a fan of writing, and the amount of writing that this project required, writing that would be seen by the masses, was scary for him. But he pushed through because he was interested in the topic and was personally invested in the outcomes.
Career Portfolio: I wanted to add as a side note to this particular project that published work looks pretty darn good in a career portfolio!
Senior Project Example 3: Marine Biology
One of my students was very interested in marine biology - a topic that many of my students are interested in, which is fascinating because we live in Minnesota. Marine habitats are nowhere to be found for literally over 1000 miles!
Anyway! She was particularly interested in endangered marine animals. She ultimately ended up focusing her project on endangered sea turtles, teaching tourists how to effectively protect sea turtles as they travel.
Career Exploration PBL:
My student started her career exploration project on careers in marine biology in general. The sea turtle piece of this project didn’t come until later. With my help, she connected with a few marine biologists to chat about their jobs.
The student developed interview questions along the lines of careers in marine biology. She interviewed a sea turtle researcher from USGS, a manatee expert from Mote Marine Laboratory in FL, and even participated in a webinar on Adelie penguins literally streaming live from Antarctica.
She put together a digital book of interviews with a variety of marine biologists and shared the link to the book with a variety of high school and career counselors. Her interviewees even helped distribute links to the book in their area.
Community Action Project:
This student decided to focus her energy on sea turtles. In her conversation with the sea turtle researcher, she learned that a big part of the problem for sea turtles is tourism. Lights on beaches, disturbing nesting habitats, touching the animals, etc. all play a role in the vulnerability of the species to extinction.
So this student decided that she would take action by creating a responsible tourism brochure for travelers visiting or vacationing near sea turtle habitat. The brochure included tips on how travelers could help protect sea turtles as they travel.
She created the brochure on Canva, printed out several copies, and sent those copies to hotels in the U.S. located along sea turtle nesting beaches, requesting that the hotels put her brochures in their lobbies.
She then copied the Canva brochure link and shared it with literally 100’s of hotels around the world, again, asking that they either print and place the brochures in their lobbies or add the link to their websites. The response and reception to the idea was phenomenal.
Again, the skills developed here are incredible. You’re probably starting to see a pattern with the skills. One of the best parts about experiential learning experiences like these is that they organically infuse opportunities for skill-building. It’s just the nature of the approach.
This student showed impressive communication and collaboration skills. She showed resourcefulness, fantastic research skills, critical thinking, and so much more.
Senior Project Example 4: Travel Careers
Our school has an educational travel program, and because the school is experiential, we try to involve students in the process of planning, coordinating, fundraising, etc.
One student proposed that her senior project be about careers in travel. Her senior experience, then, revolved around planning a school trip to Hawaii, which she did, as well as develop and write a blog about her experience.
I realize that actual travel is farfetched for most of you. This might be possible for parents that are homeschooling teens or those educators that work in a school like mine.
But if this is NOT possible for your student(s), the motions can still be the same. The only difference is that your student doesn't actually go on the trip they plan. They can even plan a trip to their own hometown for others traveling to that location to utilize.
Career Exploration PBL:
My student explored careers in travel by talking with and shadowing travel agents, travel bloggers, tour guides, budget travel companies, homeowners that rent their homes to vacationers, and more.
She settled on a travel agent as the focus for the rest of her project. She ended up developing a short video promotion that focused on a career as a travel agent.
Community Action Project:
The focus of this action project was to get her peers, students that haven’t traveled outside of their own state let alone across the world, to Hawaii. She knew it would be life-changing for her and every other student who came along. She wanted to give this travel opportunity to those that would otherwise not have the chance.
Her project, then, was planning and fundraising for this trip. She spent countless hours organizing and executing student fundraisers, ultimately raising enough money to take a group of students to Hawaii. She planned the entire trip on a budget as a budget travel agent would (with my guidance), took the trip, and blogged about the experience daily as we traveled the island.
My student shared the link to her blog with friends, family, other students, and more, to show that anything is possible. She never in a million years thought that she would be traveling to Hawaii at 17 years old or having made that opportunity possible for others.
Note: Again, one option for students that cannot actually travel is for them to develop several trip plans on a budget as a travel agent might do and donate those plans or share those plans with budget travelers.
Planning trips, even if just planning a local camping trip or even a field trip to the zoo, is an incredibly valuable experience when it comes to 21st-century skill-building.
Planning and organization don’t necessarily come naturally to young people. The experience of planning a travel experience helps them build these skills. They build budgeting, time-management, analytical thinking, coordination, team-building, and communication skills.
Senior Project Example 5: Web Design
This student was interested in exploring careers in web design. She explored the career of a web developer and then personalized the experience by developing her own website on a topic of personal meaning and relevance; grief.
Career Exploration PBL:
This student started her senior experience by researching a career in web development. She interviewed web designers, graphic designers, SEO experts, and more. She created a video tutorial with the steps required to get into a career in web development and also included a little snippet on the steps to designing your first website and then published it.
Community Action Project:
This student first came to me as an 8th grader. She was very quiet and difficult to get to know and understand, which speaks volumes at an experiential school where relationship-building is the backbone of the program.
After many many months of chipping away at her, she finally told me that her father had gotten cancer that past summer and passed away two weeks after diagnosis. He died in her arms. She was 13 years old at the time.
Fast forward many years to her senior year. She had been grieving the loss of her parent for many years and wanted to connect with others that were going through or had gone through losing a parent.
She decided to build a website specifically geared toward people grieving the loss of a parent. She combined her interest in web design as a career with her own personal life experiences with the intention of serving others that could relate. She built a website with community resources, a forum for support, interviews with those who had lost parents, and more. It was a beautiful thing to watch unfold.
This most obvious skill at play here is tech literacy. She learned about web design graphic design, SEO, and technical writing. She utilized communication and collaboration skills, and on top of that, she empathized with her audience. The character-building skills involved in such an experience are priceless.
I love all of these examples of high school senior projects because, yes, they were incredible learning experiences for my students. They were life-changing and impactful not only for the students but for those they collaborated with and served.
But I also love these experiences because they were so highly personalized. Not all senior projects will seem as impactful as others or as grand or gold standard as some, but if you make sure to let each student lead the experience with their own interests, passions, goals, and aspirations, the outcomes will be great.
Not every senior project needs to change the world. It just needs to impact and inspire one student. Put those 5, 10, 50, 200 single impacted and inspired teenagers together, and THAT will change the world!
If you have any questions about senior projects in general or my senior experience process, please reach out! You can email me anytime email@example.com) or use the contact form on this website.
Are you looking for more blog posts on senior projects? Don’t miss these!
Take a peek at the resources in Experiential Learning Depot’s senior experience bundle:
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Observe. Question. Explore. Share.
To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.