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Articles / Applying to College / A Serious Senior Year

A Serious Senior Year

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Aug. 11, 2018
A Serious Senior Year

If you're a rising senior, the final phase of your high school marathon is about to begin. For some of you who are heading to college, the finish line may seem to appear either in mid-December this year or early spring next year. You may think that the finish line is your college acceptance news. However, it's not quite that simple.

There are two critical phases of your senior year: The part that leads up to your acceptances and the part that comes after them. Senior year is when you have to keep the academic and extracurricular momentum that you've gained so far rolling. There's no room for a letdown on either end of the year.

I'm talking about that dreaded condition called senioritis. Your senior classes are no doubt set. You can see the challenge that lies before you in black and white on your schedule. Don't fall into the “GPA trap" by thinking that easier courses, if you have some, can help bump up a faltering grade point average and make it look more impressive. That's a cheap trick through which colleges see immediately.

As you think about your upcoming college admissions process, you may be planning (or have even completed) some college visits. Try to see things through the eyes of a college admissions officer who will be looking at your high school transcript and your overall profile. Your high school career is a kind of race and it may by now actually be feeling like that marathon I mentioned. Even if it has only a 10K kind of feel, you have to finish strong.

Many races are won at the end with the runner squeezing the last ounce of energy and speed from his or her body's reserves. That's why you have to show those admissions folks that you have run a good race and have not eased up your pace during the home stretch. Don't underestimate the effect of your senior year on admissions decisions!

Every late summer and early winter, I warn about senioritis. You probably know what it is, but if you don't, here's a definition with a few details:

Senioritis is a colloquial term mainly used in the United States and Canada to describe the decreased motivation toward studies displayed by students who are nearing the end of their high school, college and graduate school careers. It combines the word senior with the suffix -itis, which technically denotes inflammation but in colloquial speech is assumed to mean a general illness …

… In some more serious cases where students allow their grades to drop quite significantly, universities and high schools may rescind offers of admission. Those who experience senioritis are often shocked when colleges and universities send them a letter the summer before their fall semester starts telling them that they can no longer attend the college due to failure in the academic rigor that they promised in the interview or application process …

… senioritis in high school may still cause the incoming college freshmen not to be as adequately prepared for the rigor of college level studies, and may decrease their ability to gain entrance scholarships. Because Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and other advanced classes generally do not have their final exams until early May, they provide a challenge to seniors who are battling with senioritis issues, since most college and university admissions are decided in March and April and students in advanced classes have to overcome the pull of senioritis during the time gap between those two events. In addition, some advanced classes have tests, projects, and other major things relevant to the curriculum spread throughout the second semester; thereby ensuring that students remain busy with a constant stream of deadlines.

Can Acceptance Be Revoked?

College Confidential's discussion forum and Ask The Dean section have numerous threads and articles along the lines of “Will my acceptance be revoked?" I'm always surprised every late spring and summer when I see these threads because it's fairly common knowledge that colleges don't like to see students they have accepted suddenly getting C's and maybe D's when before they were solid "A" and "B+" students.

I'm pretty sure that all of you -- well, maybe nearly all of you -- reading this know better than to slack off, grade-wise. However, what about putting off (shall we also say "slacking off?") your college admissions planning?

I've run a few marathons in my day, including Boston. When I've been training for those 26.2-mile endurance events, I've often thought of an analogy between a marathon and a K-12 educational career. There are some similarities. First of all, it can seem endless. It's better not to think about how far there is to go, but rather, about how far you've come.

Also, there's the famous “wall" with 10K to go. That's where your muscles have burned almost all of their glycogen and the lactic acid is sending waves of fatigue across your body, not to mention your mind. Don't give up before you finish!

It is a fact that colleges have been known to revoke the admission of students who cool it, academically, after they have been accepted. Of course, there are other non-academic reasons for the revocation of an admission, such as criminal behavior, but the point of my post today is to warn of slacking off in the classroom. That can be especially dangerous if your senioritis attack commences even before your college applications go in.

I remember clearly that when I was in high school (even as far back as junior high school), the waning days of August were a bittersweet time for me. I loved being with all my classmates who became scattered over the summer, but I groaned at the thought of homework, tests and my loss of freedom to lie in our hammock under the apple tree in our backyard and lazily read Archie comic books while following Mickey Mantle's quest for the Triple Crown. (You can do a search for “Archie" and “Mickey Mantle" to get an idea of just how long ago my summers included them.)

If you are a high school student, or even a junior high school student, maybe you share the same feelings that I had. Preparing to go back to school after a long summer can be a chore. What should you do? How should you think? What will you need? How can your transition from summer bliss to homework and tests be made easier … and be an antidote to senioritis?

Consider These Strategies

- Concentrate on the entrance requirements of the colleges that have caught your eye. You can go to the websites for any of these schools and see what prerequisites they're are looking for in their applicants, as far as language, math, test scores, etc. Then, even though you may not be able to precisely say “I want to be a marine biologist!" you can say, “I'd like to consider the following colleges and here's what I need to be a competitive applicant."

Your counselor should be able to help you adjust your schedule to meet those requirements. That's what counselors do (or should do). This kind of mental activity can go a long way in keeping you focused, and help you avoid the gravity of the senioritis black hole.

- In my opinion, social media tools are among of the best and worst inventions of all time. It is true that colleges can and do look at some applicants' Facebook, Instagram and other pages to see what kinds of behaviors their applicants display. Common sense dictates that you shouldn't post pictures of yourself chugging beers or setting cars on fire. Additionally, don't dilute you school days by covertly craning your neck checking who just texted you. I think there's an app for that. Focus on your schoolwork! “Social media" can sometimes be spelled "s-e-n-i-o-r-i-t-i-s!"

- Once you're in at your first-choice school, you may think that there's nothing left for you to achieve, so you back off. BIG mistake! I mentioned above about the sad tales we see on College Confidential every year about seniors who turned off their academic spigots and had their acceptances revoked because of a precipitous nosedive in their school work.

You have to keep up your effort -- the effort that got you into that first-choice college, until you cross the final finish line: Graduation! Don't be fooled. Colleges keep an eye on their admitted applicants.

You may be thinking that I'm exaggerating for effect about senioritis. Well, I thought I'd do a quick search to confirm my cautions for you. Among many articles that address this issue, I found a good one on Time Money, which says quite clearly:

In fall 2009, 22 percent of colleges said they'd revoked an admission offer, according to the National Association of College Admissions Counseling's annual State of College Admissions report. The association hasn't asked colleges about revoking admissions more recently, and most of the 20 colleges MONEY contacted about the practice declined to answer questions about it.

Gonzaga University Dean of Admissions Julie McCulloh says she usually sends a warning letter to students whose grades drop a bit. She generally reverses about two admissions decisions a year for lowered grades when an applicant's GPA falls significantly. One student last year, for example, maintained a 3.4 GPA throughout high school, and then earned four D's and a C in his second semester of senior year. Another earned a mix of A's, B's, C's, and D's, but his overall GPA dropped in his senior year by almost a full point....

Now, head out for a serious senior year. Keep your quality academic and extracurricular ball rolling. Don't be one of those about whom we'll sadly read on CC. Resist being rescinded. Be alert for the warning signs of senioritis and respect it for being the threat that it is!

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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