Michele, Colfer and Monteith, who play Rachel Berry, Kurt Hummel and Finn Hudson, respectively, started as sophomores on "Glee" when the series debuted in 2009. Although Murphy has only confirmed the trio's departure he has said, "More [students] are leaving than are staying."
"You really can’t win either way, can you?" Murphy told the Hollywood Reporter. "You can keep them on the show for six years and people will criticize you for not being realistic or you can be really true to life and say when they started the show they were very clearly sophomores and they should graduate at the end of their senior year. That was more real, I felt it was more responsible and true to the fans."
The upcoming stories for Michele, Colfer and Monteith will center more on the graduates' plans after high school, rather than the status of their current relationships. Rachel Berry will focus on how to obtain her dreams post-McKinley High and fixate less on her relationship with Finn. However, there is no word if the students will attend the same college or if a "Glee" spin-off is in the works.
"We always knew we'd graduate in real time," said Michele via her Twitter account. "It's all part of the plan and it's all good! It's going to make Season 3 amazing!!!"
As far as the underclassmen at McKinley, "great" stories are in the works for Harry Shum Jr. and Jenna Ushkowitz, who play Tina and Mike, respectively; Naya Rivera (Santana), Heather Morris (Brittany) and Amber Riley (Mercedes). Chord Overstreet, who was not picked up as a series regular, will also appear in the third season, and Murphy said that "there’s great opportunity for him for growth" since his character is a year younger than his peers.
Also on season three will be the winner of Oxygen's "The Glee Project." Plans for the winner will involve a story with Sue Sylvester, played by Emmy Award and Golden Globe winner Jane Lynch. When Sylvester plans to run for Congress, the new student will get in her way. She will hate the character upon first sight and plan to destroy him or her.
Murphy is also interested in pursuing a second season of "The Glee Project," which he believes is "a great training ground for people to come on 'Glee.'"
The New Directions from McKinley High School will be back Sept. 20 when "Glee" returns to its Tuesday-night slot at 8 PM ET on Fox.