Changes To Expect In Late Adolescence

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 12, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

You may feel that adolescent struggles end after graduating high school or experiencing typical teen milestones like physical development. However, another round of development happens between ages 18 to 25, as the human brain doesn't fully mature until age 25. This phase of life often involves significant transitions for young people, like going to college and choosing a career.

Because your mind may still be growing, how you deal with any excitement or pressure of venturing out on your own can have a lasting impact on your future success and wellness. Late adolescence or young adulthood can be a significant time to learn healthy coping strategies to support you throughout your lifetime.

Changes during adolescence can be sudden and confusing

Stages of adolescence

The periods of changes you may go through during adolescence can be broken down into three separate parts:

  • Early Adolescence: Ages 11 to 14
  • Middle Adolescence: Ages 15 to 17
  • Late Adolescence: Ages 18 to 21, with some experts noting an adolescent age range from 18 to 24

By the time you experience late adolescence, you may have lived through several life transitions, such as puberty, which may involve hormonal and body changes, breast development, body hair growth, and a growth spurt or two. You may have also experienced your first relationships during this time. However, while high school may have ended, your mind and body may continue to make changes throughout your formative young adult years. 

These last significant shifts often happen when you start to take on adult responsibilities such as college or a new career. Late adolescence can be a potentially vulnerable time for your mental health as the brain continues to develop, with 75% of mental health conditions starting before 24.

According to the World Health Organization, 10 to 20% of adolescents experience mental health conditions that often go underdiagnosed and undertreated.

Knowing what to expect during this phase in your life may allow you to seek support as you choose who you want to be as an adult.

Finding your identity as a young adult

Being young may be an opportune time to test your identity as your mind and body undergo developmental changes. Late adolescence may allow previous hormonal levels to stabilize, and you could begin navigating life on your own terms for the first time. Many young adults enroll in university, start thinking about a long-term career, and stabilize long-term friendships. 

During late adolescence, you may get the chance to try new ideas and sort through what you truly believe in. As a child, your parents may have influenced your morals or opinions. As an adult with a stronger sense of self, you might decide you no longer agree with previous lessons and find that previous peer pressure doesn’t matter as much as your own moral reasoning. 

The adolescence definition may provide the framework for significant decisions, like choosing job safety over a career you are passionate about. A more developed sense of impulse control may lead to improved decision-making.

As you take on new challenges and grow, you may learn that mistakes are not reflections of self-worth but the information you may use to change who you want to be. Young adulthood can be a period of self-exploration and self-reliance.

Getty/Luis Alvarez

Changes during late adolescence

Late adolescence can feel like a strange in-between place. You're not a teen anymore, but you may not fully feel like an adult. Your body and mind may feel ready to "take on" the world, but you might be unsure where to start. During this phase, you may experience the following.

Physical changes

By late adolescence, you may have already experienced body changes like growth spurts and are now at your physical peak for hard work and safe reproduction in sexual relationships. Although you may feel at your prime as far as muscle mass, adult height, and self-esteem, you may sometimes push yourself past your limits. 

You might push boundaries by pulling all-night study sessions, working out through pain, and partying for the entire night without feeling physical effects. However, your habits in early adulthood may have a lasting effect on your future health.

As you get older, your body can take longer to regain balance after going past your limits. Skipping sleep or meals, not getting enough exercise, and going through long periods of stress may strain your body's natural cycles. 

Many studies observing heart health have found that positive habits in late adolescence (like regular exercise and eating well) can lower the risk for heart disease in middle age. 

Relationship changes

Platonic and romantic relationships in late adolescence may expand your understanding of the world through new experiences and caring for others. As you age, your reasons for making friendships may change from your younger years. You might start forming connections based on common ideas and values rather than overlapping activities. You may also start enjoying stability, intimacy, and support over social status or superficial connections.

Though many teens start dating in high school, late adolescent romantic relationships may focus less on exploring likes and dislikes. However, this may be different for LGBTQ+ youth, who may explore romantic and sexual desires at a later age than heterosexual peers.

Though you could still be figuring out what you desire in partners, your young adult years may include learning more about love, intimacy, and long-term commitment. You may also explore what it means to have healthy relationships with others, particularly if you weren't exposed to that at a younger age. This often involves complex decision-making that may not always be possible for early adolescents to fully comprehend.

Our relationships, both friendship and romantic, expand our understanding of the world through new experiences and learning what it takes to care for others. As we get older, our reasons for making friendships change from what was important to us in our teen social lives. We generally have a greater ability to form connections based on common ideas and values rather than overlapping activities. We also start enjoying the stability, intimacy, and support between our close friends over large groups.

Though many teens start dating in high school, during late adolescence, our romantic relationships become less about exploring sexuality and more about love and telling personal experiences. Ideally, we eventually find how to balance attraction, enjoyment, and respect to build the foundation for healthy relationships with the people we want to have our lives with.

Getty/Halfpoint Images
Changes during adolescence can be sudden and confusing

Intellectual changes

Different body parts grow at different rates during the teen years, which also happens in the brain. In early to mid-adolescence, the areas that guide intense emotions and impulses develop before the parts that help us problem-solve and think ahead (also called the prefrontal cortex), which can explain why teens often react strongly to various situations. However, by the time teens arrive in late adolescence, the reasoning part of the brain is close to being fully formed, often resulting in enhanced emotional stability and the ability to delay gratification.

The reasoning centers of the brain allow us to think in more complex ways. It may feel easier to pursue your goals when you learn how to plan things out, test ideas, and consider different points of view. You may feel more able to walk in others' shoes, challenge childhood beliefs, and form your own thoughts and values. As you push back on ideas, you might realize there are various solutions to life's problems. Critical thinking may become a common strategy in your life, and you may develop more defined work habits.

Since your brain is still forming during these years, you may be more open to learning new information, including coping mechanisms, new languages, and new ideas. Start trying out health habits and coping strategies often so they may become a regular part of your lifelong toolkit for dealing with challenges.

Learning to take care of yourself

As a young adult, it may be the first time you're responsible for every part of your life, from cleaning to health to choosing your schedule. Being away from family may tempt you to indulge in taking risks or trying new activities. However, indulgent or unhealthy risks may have consequences. 

Starting self-care habits can be a positive choice for yourself and the things you want to accomplish. The longer you practice these habits, the more naturally they may happen without thinking about them. Self-care can be fun, and doing things that make you feel happy can be a way to cope with stress. 

Recognizing and meeting your needs can help you avoid mental burnout during challenging times. Try to balance productivity with skills that make you happy and healthy emotionally and physically.

Ivy Villani, LICSW, LCSW
Ivy was an outside voice for me as I struggled with parenting a teenager. She helped me see things from my son’s perspective and just helped me think through ways I could change my reactions to help his reactions.”


Late adolescents should generally try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. Exercise benefits your mental health, so caring for your physical body can be essential. You might utilize short or beginner exercises, such as taking walk breaks or stretching before school. Making your physical activities social could help you stick with it, so consider finding a friend to exercise with. 


Try to make time for eight hours of sleep, or rest when needed between work, classes, and hanging out with friends. Practice good sleep hygiene by not scrolling through your phone before bed. Instead, try doing something else you enjoy, like reading an engaging book.

Mindfulness and self-care

Add time for mindfulness throughout your day. Mindfulness can mean noticing your thoughts, emotions, and body without judgment. Think of it as a check-in with yourself that you can do while partaking in daily routines like taking a shower or brushing your teeth. 

Focusing on how you're feeling in the moment may keep stress in perspective and let you face complicated feelings without pushing them away. Mindfulness is often helpful if you've been feeling anxious or self-conscious.

Seek professional help

Anxiety and depression are among late adolescence's most common mental health concerns. You may be figuring out how to be an adult, and it can feel challenging to know if your feelings are "normal." If you feel like something is wrong or could be improved, reach out for support. Look for symptoms like difficulty sleeping, unusual anger or irritability, or low energy. 

Counseling for teens and adolescents has proven to be effective in reducing depression. A study has found that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy are often effective at reducing depressive thoughts and episodes in adolescents. Online CBT and mindfulness training have been studied to be as effective as in-person care online. In one study, those using an online CBT program reported fewer depressive and anxiety symptoms and a higher quality of life.

Opting for online therapy can be an effective solution for busy teens and young adults as they finish high school and move on to college. Additionally, online counseling can be done via video, phone calls, or messages. Checking in with a remote licensed counselor through a platform like BetterHelp for adults or TeenCounseling for those under 19 may be beneficial.


Late adolescence can be a significant transitional period in your life. During this time, you may explore new ideas, connect with new people, and learn the skills to help shape the adult life you want to create. If you face stressors, mental health challenges, or distressing symptoms during this phase of life, you might also consider reaching out to a counselor to gain professional support.

Adolescence can be a challenging life stage
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